The Metro Nashville Sports Authority is considering a plan to defer the Nashville Sounds’ financial obligations to the state since the baseball club could not host fans at First Horizon Park last season due to the pandemic.

Under the terms of the lease, the Sounds pay for use of the state-owned parking garage and parking lots next to First Horizon Park. Club management pays an annual maintenance fee to the Sports Authority, which in turn pays the state.

The financial obligation is covered by revenue generated from games held the previous season. But, like all minor league baseball clubs, the Sounds’ season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sports Authority asked the executive committee of the state funding board to waive the rent and maintenance requirements. Instead, the funding board proposed to add one year on to the end of the lease, which runs through 2044.

The maintenance payment owed to the state is $132,000, which will increase to just over $193,000 in the final year added onto the end of the lease.

The plan needs approval of the Sports Authority and the state funding board.

Monica Fawknotson, director, Metro Nashville Sports Authority (Photo: Nashville.gov)
Monica Fawknotson, director, Metro Nashville Sports Authority (Photo: Nashville.gov)

“Essentially, as a result of COVID-19 and the cancellation of the MiLB 2020 season, no parking revenue was generated,” Sports Authority executive director Monica Fawknotson said. ‘The Authority requested a waiver but accepted the State’s offer of a one-year extension to the lease term…bringing the term to 31 years.”

The lack of fans at games in 2020 created the question of how the city would meet its financial obligations related to its professional sports venues.

The Tennessee Lookout reported last year that the Sports Authority had enough revenue in reserves to meet the debt obligations at Nissan Stadium. Under the most recent lease agreement with the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena, the bulk of the financial obligations shifted to the hockey team.

First Horizon Park enjoys some of the highest attendance in all of minor league baseball. The Sounds are hopeful that as vaccines are more widely distributed, the ballpark will be able to welcome fans in 2021.

“Since first Horizon Park opened in 2015, over 2.8 million fans have attended games,” Sounds general manager and chief operating officer Adam Nuse said. “The parking structure agreement allows us to provide a close and convenient parking option to First Horizon Park. Unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control, the last time the Sounds played a game at the ballpark was Sept. 2, 2019.

“First Horizon Park hosted over 180 events in 2019 as compared to zero in 2020. We look forward to welcoming fans back to the ballpark for the 2021 season and beyond.”