NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ian Ayre may have spent five years overseeing the events on Anfield’s vaunted pitch, but it didn’t take a very hard pitch to sell him on Nashville.
After two visits to Music City over the past several weeks, the former Liverpool top executive was announced as the CEO of Nashville’s MLS team Monday during a ceremony at Nissan Stadium.
“It’s probably one of the most entertaining cities in the world,” Ayre told Golden Goal at the ceremony. “I think it’s a great, vibrant city with a huge entertainment heritage. What a great place to create a new brand and hopefully take the city by storm.”
The MLS is taking the soccer world by storm — a factor that also appealed to Ayre as he pondered his next career step following a brief stint at 1860 Munich.
“If you look at MLS — particularly over the last five years — its trajectory has always been upward,” the new Nashville MLS CEO said following his official introduction. “Watching from afar in the U.K., everybody has one eye on that because it’s really coming into its own. You can see growth in revenues, in quality of players and size of the crowds. It’s all very positive, and an opportunity to build something and be a part of that is a big attraction to me.”
Majority owner John Ingram will hand the reins to Ayre following the new executive’s trip to Kiev to watch Liverpool compete in the Champions League Final.
“It was [an easy decision] for me,” Ingram said. “Because I don’t have much of a background in terms of soccer, it made no sense for me to want to have a businessperson and a soccer person report in to me. It made sense for us to recruit a CEO who was responsible for both sides.”
The organization should know in the next few weeks when it will enter the MLS, although Ingram has an opinion on when that should be.
“We’re aiming toward 2020, but that hasn’t been officially declared yet,” Ingram said.
When asked about starting next year, the owner demurred.
“I think that would be unfair to us, honestly,” said Ingram. “We’re hoping it’s 2020.”
Next up, according to Ayre: staffing the top end of his front office and putting together the bones of the organization.
“The first step is to hire a general manager. It’s important to start early on recruitment and analysis of players and what’s in the market,” Ayre said. “Then, looking at the overall business plan and developing that out and various infrastructure projects — they will be at the top of the list for me.”
Then it’ll be about building a roster. Ayre will rely on his extensive global network to construct a competitive team.
“The connections are all over the world, so whether we’re recruiting in Europe, South America, North America, I have contacts through my whole career,” said Ayre. “I don’t have a particular view of where players might come from at this stage, but it’s a big wide world with a lot of talent out there. What’s important is that we find the right level of quality for our budget and deliver the best we can for the team.”
That process will involve crafting an organizational brand that fits the needs and preferences of the Nashville market.
“There’s a style we need to adopt that’s right for Nashville,” Ayre said. “We won’t be setting out to emulate anybody else in the league. Whether it’s from our brand and culture to our style of football to our roster, we’ll develop what’s right for Nashville and that’ll come as a part of a process over the coming months. We want to be unique. We want to be ourselves. We’ll do what we need to do to deliver that.”
One question we wondered: As the MLS organization takes shape, what does it mean for the USL team? Ingram and Ayre don’t have an answer just yet.
“That’s something Ian and I have already started discussing, and that’s something we’ll work on in short order,” Ingram said.
Plenty of uncertainty remains, but one thing is clear: Nashville has a top boss with a wealth of experience at the highest levels of the game.
“I’m really happy to say we got the target we were hoping for,” Ingram said.