- I think everybody wants to know the 2.2 billion dollar, you know, question about the new stadium, what that means and what that looks like for Nashville.
- Sure, look, I think we've really been focused on three things from the beginning.
First is, is finding a better path forward for the taxpayers of Nashville.
- [Jerome] Okay.
- Second is to look at this as a game changing opportunity.
In terms of what a facility could mean for the next generation of stadium here in Nashville.
And then, the third thing is returning valuable land to the city of Nashville.
(rhythmic music) - How's it going?
Welcome to another episode of a "Slice of the Community."
I'm your host, Jerome Moore.
Today we have the CEO and President of the Tennessee Titans, Titan-up Burke Nihill.
How you doing Burke?
- Doing great.
Thanks for having me today.
- No, I'm excited about this conversation.
As a Nashvillian, it's Titan-up for life for me.
You know- - I appreciate that.
I was young enough to not have picked the team yet.
It's a lot of Nashvillians because they haven't been around long enough they have other teams, you know- - Right.
- Rightfully or wrongfully so than the Titans at this point in their life.
But, you know, Titans.
- We'll win them all over eventually.
How would you sum up the season of the Titans for the 2022-2023 season?
How would you sum it up?
The team, the team grinded.
It's really, I'm really proud of the culture that's been created here with the football team.
I think it's expands beyond the football team.
- [Jerome] Yeah.
- The football team really sets the tone of, of just being gritty and, and hardworking, and willing to tackle every obstacle.
This year had a whole bunch of injuries that made it particularly hard, but the team grinded till the, till the end and everyone's already back to work looking to put a great product on the field next year.
- Yeah, and I think we all excited for next year too, when you don't, when you don't ever go to the Super Bowl, you always excited for like the next year.
Because you know, everybody's gonna make it the next year.
- Right, its coming.
- It's coming.
Your journey into the CEO President role, right, I did my research.
You know, I'm a Chicago native.
I know you wanted to play for the Cubs.
It didn't work, it didn't work out for you.
- Did not work out.
- You know, you come from a family of, you know, tradesman, tradeswoman, electrician, dentist, your father.
And so here you are though, you know, started off in general counsel with the Titans and now you're in this role of President and CEO.
What does that mean?
(laughs) - Yeah, I don't, I think it's, it's interesting with, with an organization like ours, not surprising, There's a lot of people that are interested in coming and working and, and very often they ask me for advice about, about how to get into the industry and, ask me, you know, questions about my personal journey.
And I, my personal journey was certainly not a straight line to get here.
I, I think at any point, to your point, I would've loved to have played professional sports when I was younger, but the talent was, was hardly good enough to play high school sports.
- And at any point I would've, I would've loved to have worked in professional sports.
And I, I didn't, I didn't spend my career though trying to, to do that.
I was maybe, maybe too practical.
- And I was a lawyer, and worked in private practice and worked for a couple different companies as in-house lawyers.
My last stop was at a technology company based outta Silicon Valley.
- And, you know, about 15 years into my professional journey, I stumbled on a LinkedIn advertisement- - LinkedIn (laughs) - Yeah.
For the General Counsel position of the Titans.
And I thought, man, some somebody's gonna get my dream job.
- And I mentioned it to my family just in passing.
And everyone encouraged me to, to throw my hat in the ring.
And I did.
And to my surprise and delight, kept making it through the process and ended up moving down here in 2016 as General Counsel of the Titans, which just fell in love with the city right away.
Fell in love with the organization and- - So you had never been to Nashville or visited prior?
- We had, we had visited once or twice- - Because now everybody from Chicago is here now.
- I know.
- You brought the, you brought everybody with you.
- It's a, it's a well worn path down I-65, that's for sure.
But I, we had, we had started to get stirred a little bit about the possibility of moving both my, my wife and my family just back to generations.
Had had lived not in Chicago, but, but in more rural areas of Illinois.
And we had never really thought about moving.
And, the couple years before that, we had thought about it and we immediately identified a couple cities that were interesting to us.
- [Jerome] Right.
- And Nashville was one of them.
And so we spent some time on summer vacations, we would just make sure that we spent a couple days around Nashville and some of these other cities just to kind of get a taste and a flavor.
And it's probably why I got caught up in that LinkedIn algorithm because we had looked for legal jobs.
- The algorithm- - in Nashville.
- Will get you every time.
- Got us.
It got us.
I'm glad it did.
- Well that's, that's amazing here because, you know, Nashville is an amazing city.
1996, you know, we got the, we got the football team from Houston, the Houston Oilers, right?
And that brought a lot of joy and light to, I think to just, to the city of Nashville as a growing city.
I think our leagues at the time just, you know, we want the sports team.
I know I think the Bridgestone arena was being built during the same time.
So that was like, oh, you got this whole arena and the football team.
So I think it was just, I think it was great.
And I think people are still, you know, probably 80-some people a day are still moving here.
- I, it's interesting that, I wasn't in Nashville, at the time, I wasn't, I think I was probably in high school at the time that some of those conversations were starting to merge in the early 1990s.
But I've become a, a student of, of that time just learned about it.
- [Jerome] Yeah.
- And it was obviously a really exciting time and, and things happened really quickly and the, the journey of the Oilers coming to Nashville was really kind of unexpected.
- [Jerome] Right.
- There were, there were other places that, that the NFL was focused on.
And, Bud Adams, our our founder, really just felt this kinship with Nashville and with Tennessee.
- Texas and Tennessee, you know, like, - Made a lot of sense.
- Tomato, To-mot-o.
(laughs) - He, really just kept pushing towards Nashville.
And, and it really is interesting looking, looking back at where Nashville and Tennessee were at at that time.
When there were just, there was a thought about building an arena.
And, and the, the team was the, the NFL football team was just starting to kick the tires on the possibility of moving here to, you know, what's happened through the last, you know, 25 or so years.
It, it's been an honor for this organization to be on that journey with Nashville and Tennessee.
And now it seems like we can't stop building stuff in Nashville.
In 25 years, like last year has been 25 years since Tennessee, the Tennessee Titans been here.
We'll talk about that little later part of the future.
But I think everybody wants to, to know the $2.2 billion dollar, you know, question about the new stadium, what that means and what that looks like for Nashville.
I, look, I think we've really been focused on three things from the beginning.
First is, is finding a, a better path forward for the taxpayers of Nashville.
- Second is to look at this as a game changing opportunity.
- [Jerome] Right.
- In terms of what a facility could mean for the next generation of stadium here in Nashville.
And then, and then the third thing is returning valuable land to the city of Nashville.
- Because our lease right now encompasses all the parking lots around Nissan Stadium.
- And that ultimately is something that can be put to better use, and so I think, you know, this has been something that's obviously been a really big topic of conversation in Nashville for the last year or so, but it's really been something that our organization has been focused on working with the Sports Authority for probably four or five years now.
- I guess it's longer than that because when I first started in 2016 and I was going to Sports Authority meetings, regularly, some of these, these long-standing Sports Authority members were asking a question about, you know, how do we ultimately resolve what is an aging building.
- [Jerome] Right.
- That is requiring an increasing investment and, and a lease that puts a lot of that responsibility, most of that responsibility on, on the taxpayers in Nashville.
And so we started this journey of finding something that is a better outcome.
- And we're really proud of where it's landed in that if, if this deal were to continue to proceed through City Council and Sports Authority over the next couple months- - What would you say to those who may feel like it's not a better outcome?
A lot of people have said the 1.8 billion renovation is overstated.
This might be a little exaggerated.
Can you speak to that a little bit?
Because of the people that, that may have that narrative, that may feel that way.
Happy to do it.
I look, I think 1.8 billion is a number that's been thrown out there by Turner.
It's a group that we worked with to do some estimates.
We're certainly not contractors, we're not qualified to do that work ourselves.
The city hired their own consultant, VSG.
- [Jerome] Right.
- And took a totally different methodology about trying to identify the, what that liability would look like from the city.
And the number they came up with was also about 1.8 billion.
- [Jerome] Okay.
- Here's what I would tell to you.
I think it's really hard to know what the exact number is.
- And, that's what we have been saying from the very beginning.
- The reality is it's a risk.
- For the city and its taxpayers and it's, it's a really big one.
- Whether it's 1.8 billion, whether it's 2.2 billion, whether it's $1 billion dollars.
- It's a risk to the taxpayers of Nashville under this current lease and how it's structured.
And what we're trying to do with this better outcome for the, the, the Nashville taxpayers is to, is to take what our logical revenue streams, like in stadium sales tax.
- And sales tax from around the area- - the hospitality... - And hospitality industry has stepped up and, and there's a 1% hotel tax that would go towards.
- It's like three or four sources.
And, and those sources ultimately are what the city would be putting towards revenue bonds.
- [Jerome] Right.
- That would support the path forward.
And then anything going forward, there's just the risk position has been shifted from the taxpayers to the team.
- So who knows what stadiums will be like and what the NFL's expectations will be over the next 15, 20, 30 years.
But once and for all the taxpayers go from that risk position and, and instead it's transferred over to the Titans.
- I think it's important too to kind of highlight some of those kind of stakeholder meetings.
Y'all have been having to involve community organizers, leaders, and just bringing as many people to the table as possible to talk about this stadium and what that means.
And one of the things I know, I was involved in was one of those stakeholder's meeting was the East Bank.
And how much control, or say-so would the Titans have or have at all or influence of what happens with that land usage?
Because from a Nashville perspective, you know, things are go to Metro and they say, "Hey, we going to, you know, this is what are gonna happen to this land," and maybe something different happens, right?
Maybe it doesn't go to those people who may be marginalized, disenfranchised.
Maybe the affordable housing is not so affordable.
Who knows once it's, once it's done, who knows what, what is y'all role in that?
Is there any commitment that you all are trying to get Metro Council or the city to make and say, "Hey, we want this land to be used in this particular way?"
Or is it like, you all can say that, but what ultimately happens kind of just happens.
- So the technical structure of the deal, this, the land will go back to the citizens of Nashville.
And, and so it will be up to the city in terms of how specifically that lands developed.
Again, very technically, there's a request for qualifications out there for developers who would be able to, you know, express to the city their interest in working on this project and you know, explain that they're capable and qualified to do so.
- That's the technical answer.
We will not be involved in this technical answer.
- There is a practical answer though too that, that we, we just feel like given, given that you know, we've been a part of this journey and getting to this outcome, given that we, we do feel like we've got good relationships with the people at the city that are making these decisions.
We have a seat at the table.
- And, and so with that seat at the table, we have tried to do exactly as you explained.
- We've been trying to meet with as many people in the community and get their feedback and then express that feedback in using that seat at the table.
So, you know, we have heard in through whether, whether it's piggybacking on some of the Magin East bank campaign meetings, that the city was putting on.
We made sure that we had people there at every point - Right.
- And could have conversations directly with our neighbors.
We've had people coming through our headquarters building, whether they're representing important community organizations or, or their other neighbors in our community.
And just soliciting their feedback.
And, we have taken the information that we've heard and as we're having conversations with the mayor's office, with city council, with Sports authority- - Right.
- with others, we've been able to share the information that we've received.
We've also taken a step further and there's things that we can kind of under our own control, right?
- And so we've had a community impact organization for a long time- - Right.
- with Titans and really proud of the heart and the work and the resources that have been put into that.
- But at the same time that we're having these stadium conversations about what could be next for a stadium, we were asking ourselves, what, what do we want to be as a community service organization here?
We understand we've got this, this really disproportionate in some ways, influence and ability to affect change in this community.
And so as we've heard from our neighbors and other organizations about, you know, wanting to see more attainable housing right?
That wanting to help small businesses, you know, stand up and- - Exactly.
- and succeed all of these things.
We've found ways to create our own programs.
- And to, to really kind of streamline our community impact organization into something that we believe is going to create sustainable and meaningful change so that, you know, 5, 10, 15 years from now, we'll be able to look and measure, you know, house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, the impact that we're having.
We put this under a program we call One Community.
- One Community stands for Opportunities, Neighborhoods and Education.
And, and so across those three concepts we have 17 community partners that we're looking forward to really digging in with and really affecting change in this community.
- And I, we going to dig in that too a little deeper, but I want to go back to the mayor's office.
How does Mayor Cooper not running for re-election and then possibly even a shrinkage of our metro council here at Nashville, does that affect any of the, the current negotiations that are happening or around the stadium?
What not possible?
Or is this kind of things just kind of set and you all just kind of wait until the dust settles around that?
- I mean, certainly they're new dynamics that we're paying attention to, but if, if we go back a few months, Mayor Cooper and his administration had agreed to a term sheet that was a very, very detailed document.
- That set set out the overall framework of what would be a better way forward right?
Sports Authority and City Council both approved that term sheet in December.
- And so what's left now is just taking that term sheet, which was already very detailed, but really getting into the legal nuts and bolts and and creating the documents, like lease development agreement, that sort of thing.
And, ultimately giving those back to Sports Authority and City Council for final approval.
And so we're focused on just, you know, continuing that work and continuing the conversations to be sure we're answering all the questions related to the final documents.
- And it'll be a minimum 30-year lease and possibly 2026 is still, is that still, the deadline for the stadium?
- It's, it's- - Is it it moving or is it sliding?
- 2026 is looking more and more challenging all the time.
But, but certainly no later than 2027.
I know you talked about the One Community, but also just the NFL in general around like some of the things they have taken on upon themselves around social justice issues, right?
I think a lot of it especially came to hit with the Colin Kaepernick and kind of how people politically was on like, it was just polarizing in general.
So I, I want, to start personally and then kind of go into- - Sure.
- What that looks like from a Titans standpoint.
Personally, when the whole Colin Kaepernick thing was happening, 2020 and just George Floyd everything, and then you see the NFL now really making a push around social justice and being really intentional about it.
Where were you at personally around like those things and just like privilege and your own kind of just whiteness and things like that?
Did that hit you at all personally through just throughout your career or did they even hit you more coming into the NFL kind of building in the Colin Kaepernick thing?
- It did.
I, I would like to think that I, that I approached that, that season of my life with a degree of humility and recognizing that there were, there were questions that I had never asked.
- And, and there was, there were conversations that I needed to have.
- And I, I have, have really, they were really, really hard and challenging conversations that I personally had during the summer of 2020, in particular, that I think have changed me forever.
And have had helped me to recognize that, you know, personally that, that I need to continue to learn and continue to grow.
- What was one of those things that really hit you?
Like that you can just come to mind?
Like, man, I've never thought about asking myself that question.
- I'll give you a very specific example.
Are our dress code at the Titans has evolved over the last, let's say five or six years and has become more casual.
- And, there was an African American colleague of mine who was regularly wearing suits.
- And I had taken notice of it.
- Didn't really think much of it, but I'd taken notice of it and, and we were having a conversation and I was, I was just asking him to just tell me things that I'm, that I'm missing because his experience has been different than mine, right?
- And one of the things that he mentioned to me as a part of the reason why he wears a suit is because if he's, if he's at a gas station, or if he's, if he's pulled over.
That he feels, he feels differently wearing a suit than, you know, what I was wearing that day that was more casual.
- And there, there were just things about conversations like that one that just, that just had me coming from a different place of, of understanding that, that my journey hasn't been like his journey.
- And, and that I need to just be in a continuous place of learning.
- So within the Titans organization, because you see now the diversity, inclusion, equity, that's kind of like a, like a hot buzzword and or just, or what is it, paraphrase, you know, that people are just using now, what does that look like in the Titans?
And does it go, how deep does it go?
You know, and I think a lot of people just want to know this even just from an NFL level, right?
- Because owners all, each owner is different, each organization is different, each city is different, right?
But I think Nashville is a very special city, especially when we talking about social change, freedom writers, the Jubilee singers.
- [Burke] Sure.
- You know, John Lewis, Fis, you know, we just have a really unique kinda soul when it comes to those things.
So how does that affect the Titans and just, not just you personally, but going into your business and, and creating that environment?
- It's a, it's really important to our owner, Amy Adams Strunk, when you talk more generally about, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion, you know, she brings a different sense as a female owner than, than a lot of other owners would bring.
And so, so it's very important to her.
I think, I mean, it starts with being intentional and appreciating that unless you are intentional, unless you're programmatic about your DEI related programs and recruiting you can want to have an impact and you can want to change, but unless you're intentional about it - Right.
- You may not.
And so from a recruiting perspective and from a development perspective within our organization, we're really focused on our organization being representative of our community.
And that starts with every, every single position that we ever have open.
- You know, whether, it's an entry-level position or a very senior-level position.
We're very serious about casting a wide net, interviewing a wide group of candidates and just, just making sure that we are, we're just doing it right.
we're doing it carefully.
And I, our executive staff in particular, really starting to see our executive staff being representative of our community.
And it's something we'll continue to focus on.
We got to continue to, to work on and grow.
We just recently for the first time named a Vice-President of DEI - Oh wow.
- As a stand alone position.
We've always, it's been important to us.
- For the last several years certainly, but it's the first time we've had a stand alone Vice-President level position.
- [Jerome] Yeah.
- And so we'll, we'll continue to invest and engage.
Is the NFL taking more of a responsibility to look at those things too?
Or is it organization by organization?
- I think it's both.
- I mean, I don't think there's an NFL meeting that I've been a part of over the last two or three years, where diversity and equity isn't something that is, stressed and there's education- - Right.
- From leadership at the NFL.
There's been policies that have been implemented by the NFL and reinforced by the NFL.
But it's certainly something that if it's going to really affect change in Nashville, it's going to have to be something that we, we own.
- And, and we do, and again, it's a journey we'll continue to, to grow and, and evolve as an organization.
But we, we believe in, it's missional for us.
- And we'll continue you to invest.
- That serve is right there in the mission.
We'll move into the future.
It's been 25 years almost to date since 2022, 1996.
I got my math going.
The Titans have been here in Nashville, you know, now we have some amazing new things happening.
We have that One Community program that is just robust.
We have a new stadium.
Also, we have a new General Manager, you know, Ran Carthon.
- Yes, sir.
- First black General Manager of the Titans organization.
What does, what does that mean?
Like how does that, how does that make you feel when you hear that?
- I, I'm so excited to, to work with Rand for years to come.
Look we, we took a process with the General Manager interview like I was describing before, where we, we really took our time.
We cast a wide net.
We interviewed a lot of, a lot of talented people.
- With different experience sets from, from around the National Football League.
And at the end of that process we had, we had five people that were on our interview committee and unanimously Ran Carthon, we agreed, was the best candidate to, to be our General Manager moving forward.
And he's been here about four weeks now.
- Is he like in Nashville?
- He loves Nashville.
- Just making sure you ran it.
- He's, he's good.
He loves this city already.
And what's been fun to see is people, people they love him too.
So he is, he'll go out to a restaurant or, you know, be walking out to his car, parked down the block and people recognize him and are giving him a warm natural welcome.
- I got to ask you this because from the outside looking in, we always hear about the owner and general manager coach, the CEO and President, not like, not so much.
Why, why don't we see you doing press conferences and, and answering questions about, you know, whether the team is winning or losing or like how does that play into your role?
Or does it, you know?
I'm okay with that.
I'm okay being in the background.
I look, I think, I think the job of really everyone in this organization is to, is to support everyone else in this organization and, you know, as to Amy and Ran and Mike Rabel, I see my job as, as just supporting them.
- [Jerome] Right.
- To help their jobs go more smoothly.
To help them be able to do a better job.
And I'm, I'm proud to work with all of them.
- And it's, we've had something really special happening here over the last five or six years.
And this off-season is really sensing an acceleration of that, of that process.
There's really good people that have joined this organization, that love this city, that want what's best for this city.
- [Jerome] Right.
- And it's like, there's a story being written and excited to see how it all unfolds.
- What does the next 25 years look like for the Titans?
- Well, you walked into a lobby this morning that didn't have any Lombardi trophies and so I think that that will change over the next 25 years.
I think we'll get some Super Bowl trophies in that lobby.
And I do expect we'll have a great, a great team on the field.
It feels like we are just getting our legs underneath us in terms of the community leaders that we can be.
We, we really feel like beyond the football field.
- [Jerome] Right.
This is, this is a city and this is a state where, where this organization can make this community a better place to live.
And we're just really starting to understand, I think, the power of this platform that we have and, and we take it seriously.
We feel a stewardship towards, towards making this a better place to live.
And so I, I expect that 25 years from now, not only will this be a successful run for the Titans on the field, I think, I think it's going to be the sort of journey where, you know, maybe even the people who you described as not Titans fans here, will end up appreciating that the Titans are part of their community.
Don't tell me you're not a Titans fan because you know that won't be a good conversation, especially if you live here.
- I appreciate that.
- You gotta be a Titans fan.
But Burke, I wanna appreciate you.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you for having this conversation and unpacking a lot of things I think people in the community want to hear and know about.
So we gotta do this again.
Gotta come back.
And you, you say you going to give me a suite in the new stadium, right?
- We said we'd talk about it.
- (laughs) Well look, thank you all for watching another episode of a "Slice of Community."
See y'all next time.