NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Even while guiding one of the top franchises in the English Premier League, Ian Ayre has been keeping tabs on the progress of Major League Soccer across the pond.
Starting today, he'll be part of MLS's continued growth.
Ayre, formerly chief executive of the EPL's Liverpool Football Club, was announced as CEO of Nashville MLS on Monday. He'll assume responsibilities for the forthcoming expansion club on the field and in the business sector.
“I think if you look at MLS, particularly over the last five years, its trajectory has always been upward,” Ayre said. “Watching from afar and living in the UK, everybody has one eye on it because it's really coming into its own.
“You can see growth both in revenues and quality of players being developed domestically and coming in internationally," he continued. “In addition, there's the size of the attendances and the crowds, so it's all very positive and an opportunity to build something, and to be a part of that was an attraction.”
Ayre spent 10 years at Liverpool, eventually becoming that club's CEO, where he was responsible for all player transfer negotiations, including contract negotiations for the likes of Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Roberto Firmino.
He hopes his many contacts will benefit the new Nashville team, which was officially announced in December as part of the latest round of MLS expansion.
“Whether we're recruiting in Europe, South America, North America, I have contacts through my whole career, really,” said Ayre, who stepped down from his position in Liverpool about a year ago. “But I certainly don't have a particular view of where players might come from at this stage. It's a big wide world a lot of talent out there.”
John Ingram, lead owner of Nashville MLS, said the club targeted Ayre through use of the Nolan Partners search firm.
“Ian understands out vision for Nashville MLS and has the skill and experience to bring the best in soccer to our city,” Ingram said. “His passion for the sport and the business of the game, along with his progressive approach and commitment to community, will help us create Nashville's MLS club.”
Ayre said some of his initial priorities will include hiring a general manager, formulating a business plan for the franchise and focusing on various infrastructure projects. He and Ingram have also started talking about the future of Nashville SC, which is in its first season in the United Soccer League.
A Liverpool native, Ayre had never visited Nashville before the courting process began in Music City a couple of months ago. But Ayre said he finds Nashville's passion for its sports, its music and its city reminiscent of Liverpool.
Ayre actually wrapped up his opening remarks with a reference to another Liverpudlian, John Lennon.
“John said, 'A dream you dream alone is just a dream, but a dream you dream together is a reality,'” Ayre said. “So I look forward to making this a reality with all of you in Nashville.”