Without Butch Spyridon, Nashville wouldn’t be Music City. The mid-state capital of Tennessee would probably be The Athens of the South, The Buckle of The Bible Belt or the ultra-catchy Healthcare Capital of the World.
“I think his biggest contribution to the city has been that he identified and pushed the idea of Nashville being Music City,” said Karl Dean, Nashville’s mayor from 2007 to 2015. “It’s something the city has embraced and has been a key to its success as both a convention and tourist destination, but also to the larger economy in the sense that it emphasizes Nashville’s position as a creative and entrepreneurial city.”
“I worked closely with Butch in the early 1990s as Nashville was marching towards its renaissance,” said musician Marty Stuart, a member of two revered Nashville institutions, the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. “Butch believed in the town. He always talked in terms of all that Nashville could become. He had a vision for the city. Take a look today at all Nashville has become, that was Butch’s vision.”
Spyridon joined Nashville’s tourism division in 1991 after 13 years marketing Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, as tourist destinations. A native of Pascagoula, Mississippi, he followed his two siblings to Vanderbilt University in Nashville where he earned a business degree. Raised on the Gulf Coast, he thought he would always work near the water, but he said Nashville “had a soul.”
“I jumped in and never looked back,” said Spyridon, who retired as president and CEO of the Nashville Visitors & Convention Corp in June. He will serve as NCVC’s strategic consultant for two years consulting on efforts to recruit major global events including NFL events the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, Combine and Draft; and college basketball’s NCAA Final Four and SEC championship games. He will also focus on recruiting additional nonstop international flights.
Spyridon chose the word “surreal” to sum up his career. “I want to compete with the best that there is,” he said. “That was always my drive. How can we be better? How can we chase the best? If there was one thing in my DNA, it wasn’t about being the best, it was about beating the best.”
When he started, the NCVC’s budget was $2 million and the city’s main tourism draw was the Opryland Theme Park, which closed on the last day of 1997, and a small downtown convention center with 118,000 square feet of exhibit space. Spearheaded by Mayor Dean and Spyridon, today the 3.1 million-square-foot Music City Center offers 350,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, securing Nashville’s place as the No. 2 U.S. city for meetings.
Since the Music City Center opened in 2013, the number of hotels has increased 46 percent from 187 to 273. Hotel rooms have gone from 26,175 to 38,976 and hotel room revenue has swelled from $730 million to $1.9 billion.
The statistics are impressive, but Spyridon’s contributions go beyond booking conventions. His career has been distinguished by major strategic ideas, collaborative partnerships and a steadfast belief that Nashville could be more.
Spanning three decades and six mayoral administrations, Spyridon has worked on nearly every major economic development project in the city. He was a central figure in recruiting professional sports to Nashville: the NFL Tennessee Titans, NHL Nashville Predators and MLS Nashville SC and he was at the forefront of deals to build Bridgestone Arena (1996), Nissan Stadium (1999) and Geodis Park (2022).
Nissan has been home to the Music City Bowl, CMA Music Fest, the St. Jude Rock and Roll Marathon and half marathon and numerous stadium concerts including Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and The Rolling Stones.
“You aren’t building a stadium for eight games, you are building a stadium for a city’s evolution,” said Spyridon, who will consult on bidding for a Super Bowl for a $2.1 domed stadium for the Titans. “And 25 years later, it worked. Now the opportunity to go to the next level is too good to pass up.”
With an enclosed stadium scheduled to open for the 2027 season, the city can chase Final Fours, college football playoffs, the Super Bowl and mega concerts in the winter months, when the city needs the business, according to Spyridon.
When the city conceived the idea of building a new downtown arena, they had high hopes, but not a single tenant.
“When Mayor Bredesen launched the idea of providing ‘civic furniture’ to drive development and economic impact — this arena being the first piece of civic furniture, if you will — not a lot of people believed in that, but Butch did,” said Sean Henry, CEO of the Nashville Predators. “It transformed who and what we are as a city.”
“If the mayor was interested in building a football stadium, then Butch was helpful to that. If the mayor wanted to build an arena, then he would be helpful to that,” Dean said. “He was a reliable partner for those who wanted the city to be a more attractive destination.”
Henry and Spyridon worked together on a variety of high-profile events, including super-sizing the NHL All-Star Game in 2016, outdoor watch parties for the Predators’ Stanley Cup run in 2017 and the NHL Draft & Awards in June.
The conversations went like this: “Butch, let’s do something no one has ever done before,” Henry recalled.
That included multiple days of outdoor concerts for the NHL All-Star Game, a takeover of downtown Nashville with playoff parties that drew 100,000 fans for the Stanley Cup Finals, and the first-time presentation of the 2023 NHL Draft & Awards.
“The league wanted the city to do the NHL Draft or the annual awards ceremony,” Henry explained. “I said, ‘Let’s do them both.’ It’s been in the same city one time in 110 years and had never been in the same venue in the same city in the same year. Butch was lockstep with me. It turned into a four-day party with thousands and thousands of people enjoying being outside and three days of internationally televised events instead of one.”
It was an NHL first, but Spyridon had some NFL experience to draw from. In 2019, he partnered with the NFL on the hugely successful NFL Draft, which drew 600,000 attendees over three days for major concerts with Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Moon Taxi and 30 other performers. The event generated $133 million in direct spending and the television coverage reached 47.5 million viewers in 155 countries.
“We just kept adding and building our event reputation, which showcases the city and showcases music,” Spyridon said. “We never let anything happen without music.”
“There are so many examples of Butch jumping into things that most people in his role aren’t part of,” explained Henry. “I’ve worked in a lot of different cities and was very fortunate to work with a lot of dynamic CVCs and in each of them, none of Butch’s counterparts were looking for teams to come or looking to build sports and concert venues.”
Spyridon developed partnerships with major brands and national events, including Music City Grand Prix and WWE SummerSlam. He launched two signature music events, Let Freedom Sing: July 4th in Music City and Nashville’s Big Bash New Year’s Eve. Attendance annually exceeds 200,000 for each event, including international visitors.
He was a founding board member of the National Museum of African American Music, which opened in 2020. He created the Music City Walk of Fame, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with inductees including Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood, Johnny Cash, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kings of Leon, Jack White, Loretta Lynn, Keb’ Mo’ and Sam Moore.
In May, Garth Brooks inducted Spyridon, who received the 100th Music City Walk of Fame star.
“I think it’s only fitting since he created this whole program down here that the 100th star has his name on it,” Brooks said during the unveiling.
“It’s always a team effort and if you think you’re doing it alone, you’re gonna lose,” Spyridon said.
After extensive research and presenting his case for the Nashville Music City brand to then Mayor Bill Purcell (1999-2007) and 140 community leaders in 2003, Spyridon’s ongoing contribution has been his ability to keep Nashville’s hospitality industry, entertainment community, business leaders and government officials connected and focused on moving the city forward.
Spyridon “was really successful in convincing Bill Purcell who was mayor at the time, that there was opportunity in the hospitality industry for Nashville, but the industry was fragmented and lacked synergy, lacked connection,” explained Ralph Schulz president and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “What I mean by that is you had attractions, you had hotels, a convention center, all these things and they were all operating in their own silos.”
Under his leadership, Nashville’s hospitality industry and Music City have evolved into a top global destination, generating nearly $10 billion in visitor spending annually. He led efforts to bring British Airways’ nonstop flight to London in 2018, which was a significant achievement for a mid-size market.
“Early on Butch saw the potential for Nashville the city to become Nashville the brand,” offered Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Nashville-based Country Music Association. “Not just for people within driving distance, but certainly with people outside the country. We saw that passion and tenacity as he approached getting the British Airways direct flight here several years ago and how he embraced particularly the TV show ‘Nashville’ and also supporting our properties internationally including C2C, Country to Country.”
He helped market the city with two documentaries, which received Silver Lion Awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. With the NCVC’s ongoing sales and marketing initiatives, Nashville hotel demand has grown faster than any other top 30 U.S. city since 2013 and the city has been named a top destination in the world by multiple publications for 12 consecutive years.
“He’s a yes guy. A let’s-go-do-it-together guy,” Henry explained. “And he brings competing companies together for the greater good of our city.”
Spyridon’s efforts have been good for business, especially helping to attract professional sports franchises, the Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans.
“From a business perspective those were huge stimuli to marketing this city to places and people and businesses who may have never thought about Nashville,” Schulz said. “Butch was a fundamental part of an awakening in Nashville and hospitality, tourism and the brand were fundamental to projecting that vitality.”
Even with network coverage and global ratings generated by the teams, Spyridon never lost sight of the brand and its foundation: Music.
“When the Titans hit town, in the opinion of some, Nashville was no longer Music City U.S.A. All of a sudden, the city had a football team and other franchises followed suit,” Stuart said. “Butch, however, remained loyal to the music community. Songwriters and their songs tell stories. Nashville is unrivaled when it comes to storytellers. Butch knows that. I appreciate him being our friend.”
Trahern, who leads the trade organization behind Nashville’s marquee country events the CMA Awards in November and CMA Fest, a four-day festival each June, worked with Spyridon on the NHL All-Stars Game and while in charge of cable network Great American Country (GAC).
“One of the things I think is so true about Butch is that he transcended his role beyond what’s in his job description,” Trahern said. “He wakes up in the morning thinking about what is good for our city. Not just what is good for tourism in our city.”
Spyridon has enjoyed his share of success, but he also experienced knee-buckling challenges including the 1,000-year flood in 2010, a recession, tornadoes and the pandemic in 2020, which left many in the industry jobless and with significant property damage. After the flood, Spyridon and Deana Ivey, who is now NCVC president and CEO, were displaced and worked out of GAC’s conference room while they navigated the recovery.
“During those few days is when we all hatched the idea of doing a telethon for the city,” Trahern recalled. “Butch just raised his hand and said, ‘How can we help?’ So, the next thing I know, he’s created a whole phone bank. GAC could produce a show, but he was able to fill in the pieces we couldn’t and helped us raise almost $3 million for the city of Nashville.”
“The flood could have been a real hit to our hospitality industry – and it was to a degree – but Butch worked with us and others to keep the hospitality business up and running during that time period,” Dean said.
During the pandemic, Spyridon never stopped selling Nashville to clients around the country. While other markets laid off sales staff and cut marketing initiatives, Spyridon drew on the industry’s creative spirit and his longstanding connections with clients and partners to ensure the city stayed top of mind and keep his staff intact. The NCVC is funded by a hotel tax and during the pandemic that figure plummeted from $30 million to $9 million.
He led efforts to raise $3.5 million and distributed $500 gift cards to thousands of frontline hospitality workers and musicians who were tornado victims. He hosted webinars with the industry and public health officials and helped the city open testing centers. He engaged Vanderbilt Health to create a free health program called Good To Go, that helped educate business owners on the best ways to operate safely. The program was a catalyst for Nashville receiving Safe City designation from the World Travel and Tourism Council. And he created Music City Bandwidth to help the city’s live music venues survive the lockdown.
“Keeping people positive in times of crisis is critical,” Spyridon explained. “It’s easy to go, ‘Shit, we’re doomed.’ But we went to work.”
Trahern summed up Spyridon’s commitment to Music City this way: “He can be a leader on a lot of fronts, but he’s also one of those who puts his hand up and says, ‘Put me in coach. Where can I help fill in the gaps?’”
Spyridon’s work in tourism and events has led to global recognition. As part of the Events Industry Council Global Awards, he is a 2022 Hall of Leaders inductee. He was named to the global Top 100 Most Influential People in the Events Industry list in 2022. He and his wife Sunny have four children and five grandchildren.
“I like a good fight,” Spyridon surmised. “And the whole thought of starting at ground zero and building something appealed to me and my inner competitiveness. I’m not the smartest. I’m not the fastest. I’m not the best, but I love a good fight.”