How big of a deal is Spyridon in Nashville? Well, he is credited with coining the title of “Music City” for the middle Tennessee boom town.
Like everything with Spyridon, there’s a story about that.
“A long time ago a local DJ threw out ‘Music City USA’ on a lark,” Spyridon said in a recent telephone interview. “What we did was drop the ‘USA.’ We said, ‘there’s only one Music City in the world and we’re going to own it and make it a brand.’ So, we just took it from a happenstance nickname to a full-on brand.”
That was 2004. Nineteen years later, you’ll find “Music City” signs plastered all over this bustling town of 690,000.
That distinction will be front and center again in a few weeks when Nashville hosts SEC Football Media Days for the first time. The annual talk fest that kicks off football season will be staged this year at the Grand Hyatt Nashville from July 17-20.
Only, with Spyridon involved, the Hyatt won’t be big enough to contain the event. It’s going to spill out onto Nashville’s infamous honky-tonk strip down the street.
“Midland,” a Grammy-nominated country music band, will headline a free concert and “street party” on Lower Broadway on July 18. That’s on a Tuesday evening, the second day of the four-day event. That will be sandwiched between two receptions, one at Bridgestone Arena and the other at Titan Stadium. The “SEC Nation” television show will be a daily presence down on Broadway.
It won’t be as over-the-top as the NFL draft, which was hosted to much acclaim by Nashville in 2019. But neither will SEC Media Days be swallowed up by a major metropolitan city that features four professional sports franchises, including the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators, and more daily live musical performances than any city on Earth.
The fact is, Spyridon and Nashville see Media Days as a chance to flex.
It’s not lost on Atlanta or other U.S. cities that Nashville just approved the building of a new football stadium. The Titans won final approval from the city for a $2.1 billion domed stadium, a deal that includes the largest public subsidy for a stadium in U.S. history – $1.2 billion.
These days, everybody knows what that means. It means a future Super Bowl and all sorts of sports and entertainment opportunities.
Such prospects have as much to do as anything with Spyridon stepping down after 35 years from his role as the NCVC’s CEO. He officially retires from his full-time role Friday. However, he already has assumed a new role for Nashville.
Spyridon will remain on board as a consultant for the next three years. His charge: to pursue major events.
It’s here that Spyridon’s competitive nature is revealed. He wants events in Nashville that traditionally have been held elsewhere.
On Friday, Nashville will submit a bid for the 2031 NCAA Final Four. That pits Spyridon’s town directly against Atlanta. Set to host the 2020 Final Four before the pandemic-forced cancellation, Atlanta was passed over on bids to land any of the next available dates from 2027-30. Those went to Detroit, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Dallas, respectively.
That would seem to make Mercedes-Benz Stadium the favored venue for 2031. But not if Nashville has anything to say about it. A decision by the NCAA will be rendered later this year.
“William Pate, my counterpart down there, is a good friend,” Spyridon said of Atlanta’s Convention and Visitors Bureau chief. “Anytime I can make it harder on my friends, that’s probably the most important thing for me.”
These two Southern gentlemen compete a lot. Atlanta was tabbed one of 11 U.S. cities to serve as a host site for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Nashville’s bid to do the same was unsuccessful.
More battles are expected. Nashville already serves as a semi-permanent host for the SEC men’s basketball tournament, something Atlanta used to do on the regular. Meanwhile, the SEC’s football championship game has been played in Atlanta every year since 1994. But Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s contract with the SEC expires in 2026. Spyridon will point out that Nashville’s new enclosed stadium is set to open in January 2027.
Which brings us back to this year’s little ol’ SEC Media Days. Nashville was set to host in 2021, but then the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the 2020 media days in Atlanta. The SEC sent its midsummer event back to Hoover/Birmingham in 2021, then returned to Atlanta last summer. Nashville agreed then to host in 2023.
“We saw it as one more step to building a stronger relationship with the SEC,” Spyridon said of getting into the rotation. “Atlanta knows how valuable that conference is. And then, our new enclosed stadium just amps the importance of the relationship for the long term. … We’ve always done good with SEC basketball, but we have the opportunity to talk about more down the road, whether it’s support for the college football playoffs or other events that the SEC could help us with.
“I mean, Atlanta is the model for collegiate sports. So, we’re going do our best to stay in lockstep with them and have a strong relationship with the SEC.”
For now, SEC Media Days will be the last major event for which Spyridon has overseen the city’s planning. He’s credited for making the 2019 NFL draft one of the greatest that league has ever seen. If SEC Media Days come off as he hopes, Spyridon will get a chance to bring even grander events to the town with the nickname he helped mint.
“We want the SEC to ask us back,” he said. “We know we’re going to invite them back, but we’d like to do a good enough job where they say, ‘can we come back?’”
COLLEGE FOOTBALL / SEC MEDIA DAYS
Brian Kelly, LSU
Eliah Drinkwitz, Missouri
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M
Hugh Freeze, Auburn
Kirby Smart, Georgia
Zach Arnett, Mississippi State
Clark Lea, Vanderbilt
Nick Saban, Alabama
Sam Pittman, Arkansas
Billy Napier, Florida
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
Shane Beamer, South Carolina
Josh Heupel, Tennessee