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Nashville MLS franchise hires former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre to run club

MLS commissioner Don Garber credits the ownership group, stadium plan and community as Nashville's keys to becoming the newest MLS franchise.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre believes he found the right fit with the chance to build Major League Soccer's Nashville expansion franchise from the ground up.

"Watching from afar and living in the U.K., everybody's got one eye on them because it's really coming into its own," Ayre said of MLS after he was hired Monday as Nashville's first CEO.

Ayre became Liverpool's managing director in March 2011 following the club's purchase by Fenway Sports Group and was promoted to CEO in May 2014. He left in February 2017 to become managing director of second-division 1860 in Munich but lasted just three months, quitting the day after the club was relegated to the third tier.

Now 55, Ayre said he wanted to make sure Nashville had the necessary pieces to create something special when he met lead owner John Ingram. Nashville and the city's people also helped convince him.

"All those ingredients were here so it was in relative terms a very easy decision for me," Ayre said.

Now he finds himself working in MLS, a league Ayre said has had an upward trajectory in the past five years.

"You can see growth in revenues, in quality of players being developed domestically and coming in internationally and then in addition the size of the attendances and the crowds, so it's all very positive," he said. "And I think an opportunity to build something and be a part of that was a big attraction."

Former Liverpool CEO becomes the first CEO for Nashville's MLS franchise.

MLS awarded Nashville the league's 24th franchise in December with no year announced yet for the team to start play. Ingram said they should hear a final decision within weeks on whether it's 2019 -- which the owners prefer -- or 2020.

Ingram also said he believes in hiring the right people, then letting them handle their jobs. Nashville's ownership used a search firm to help identify Ayre, who plans to hire a general manager.

Ayre said his contacts will help as Nashville gets busy analyzing players that will be available and begin recruiting. He also has to look at the franchise's overall business plan and continue to develop that, along with infrastructure projects. Ayre made it clear he wants the Nashville team to be unique.

"We want to be ourselves," Ayre said. "We'll do what we need to do to deliver that."

The franchise already has a plan and site approved for a new stadium, but the mayor who oversaw the council approving both resigned in March after pleading guilty to felony theft of taxpayer money connected to her affair with the head of her security detail and their travel together.

David Briley took over as mayor and attended Monday's news conference introducing Ayre. Briley is running to complete her term, but some of his challengers have questioned the soccer stadium amid some budget issues.

"I'm very hopeful that whoever the mayor might be that once he or she knows all the details that they would be equally as committed," Ingram said.

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