Steve Underwood apologizes for soccer fiasco, pledges open gates at Titans games

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Following disastrous management of Nissan Stadium at a U.S. Men's National Team soccer game there on July 3, the Tennessee Titans are pledging better work for its games there this season.

"What we've told our stadium operations people is to have every slot manned and ready, to have every single slot have a ticket scanner so that the waits are minimal," Titans interim CEO and president Steve Underwood said.

"Now if you wait until 30 minutes before kickoff to come in the building, you're going to have to stand in line. But you'd have to stand in line at any stadium in the NFL if you're waiting until the last minute to come into the gate. But the wait should not be unreasonable and it should depend on what time you are trying to get in. If you try to get in at the same time everybody else does and you're going to have a little bit of a wait. Otherwise you should expect to get into the building in a relatively short line."

Underwood maintained the stadium operated smoothly for four nights of CMA Music Festival concerts June 11-14 and for the Rolling Stones concert on June 17.

That operation came crashing down, however, when the U.S. men hosted Guatemala for a Gold Cup warmup match on July 3. One side of the stadium was inaccessible because the city's fireworks were set up there for the next night.

Gates were insufficiently staffed for a crowd of more than 44,000 and concessionaire Aramark relied on volunteer workers who could make money for their organizations for 100 of its 300 workers that night. According to the Titans, 100 workers were absent.

Lines to get into the stadium and for concessions were ridiculously long, and I can attest for it first-hand because I stood in both.

"The soccer game was an unfortunate series of unfriendly fan events," Underwood said. "We did not do a good job at the soccer game. We didn't do a good job ourselves in getting people into the building. We didn't do a good job with the storage lockers outside the building. And our concessionaire did not do a good job with food and beverage. We need to apologize to our fans for the things that went wrong at that game. We did not do a good job."

Underwood said Tuesday he has had as many as nine meetings with Aramark officials since the match.

"They dropped the ball and they know it," Underwood said. "Without trying to make excuses for Aramark, I'm not Aramark. We hired Aramark to do a job and they didn't do it that night. They candidly admit that they failed that evening. We have told them that that kind of failure is unacceptable going forward."

Aramark has pledged it won't happen again and Underwood said he's taking the concessionaire at its word.

"We admit we didn't live up to our commitment and that the fans deserve better," Aramark spokesman David Freireich said.

Another contractor, Contemporary Service Corporation, failed to sufficient staff the gates. They and the Titans use predictive metrics, and a walk-up crowd of between 6,000-8,000 for soccer was unprecedented, Underwood said.

To deal with another stadium issue, the team has hired RPM traffic engineering to consult on improving traffic flow for ingress and egress.

Underwood said the Titans are a public steward of a taxpayer-funded venue and he believes, with the exception of the soccer match, the team has "overall done a good job."

But there were at least two other events within the past year that drew big complaints.

Vanderbilt played a home game against Ole Miss at what was then LP Field on Sept. 6, 2014 and there were large-scale criticism about insufficient gates being open. At least one Titans game last season drew the similar grumbles.

"I admit to you I can't speak to the events that were here not on my watch," Underwood said.

Long-time team administrative executive Don MacLachlan was in charge of stadium operations at that stage. He and the team parted ways in February. Bob Flynn was later hired as vice president of facilities and game day operations.

In a Tennessean article, Flynn detailed plans for improvements at the gates, where 90 chutes can be increased to 115 or 120.

Underwood admitted communication was poor for the soccer game. The city or the visitors bureau put up barricades to steer foot traffic and the rationale was unclear to ticket holders.

Even with the poor customer service, U.S. Soccer told the Titans they were happy with the event.

"They were so pleased with the turnout and the walk-up that they're already approaching us about another date," Underwood said. "Which tells us that Nashville is a better soccer market than we anticipated, and we're going to do a better job in the future."