It might just be me, but expansion has always intrigued me. However, most of the American sports leagues have reached a natural spot where expansion is no longer desired or necessary, After last weeks move to re-align the NHL, it would make sense for them to add two teams, but the markets for that expansion are unclear. The NFL wants to expand to LA, but has perhaps the most scheduling and balance friendly format as it is, so unless Oakland or San Diego go rogue or Jacksonville someday isn't viable that is not going to happen. All of the other leagues may only shuffle teams to other markets that have been tried before.
So naturally, the expansion of MLS into new/mostly-new markets is of great interest to me. However, is it of great interest to the MLS? They have stated their desire to expand to 20 the size of the top tiers in England, France, Spain, and Italy (Germany has 18 teams in the Bundesliga). There is an obvious front-runner for that spot in the New York Cosmos, and I'll write about them first. But is it clear that MLS will stop at 20? Obviously, more teams means the talent is dispersed wider, but the rate MLS has grown hasn't shown to hurt the quality of play. The expansion draft has allowed some teams to compete right away and others to make deals to hopefully compete later on. If they continue to play unbalanced schedules, the size of the league matters less and less. No matter what European fans desire, this will most likely never again be a home-away league and the single table format with relegation will never occur.
I don't see any teams looking to relocate their franchises, unless the absolute worst happens in DC (In which case, I don't see them moving far; Baltimore or outside the District.). Both DC and New England need to get their stadium situations worked out, but aren't in danger of moving as of now. Chivas USA should move out of the Galaxy's shadow, but there does not seem to be a great desire to do that. So, for fun we'll take a look at possible expansion candidates in a series of posts. There are several criteria that need to be met to be an MLS franchise and I'll examine them for each city that has ever indicated a legitimate desire to have a team.
Obviously, for the league to grow it needs to occupy major markets. Where MLS and I disagree in this regard, is with regards to over-saturation of markets as opposed to opening new markets. I understand fully the allure of the Cosmos brand to the soccer history in the United States. I don't understand how New York getting a second MLS team increases the league's position. If the Cosmos name was so important, it should have factored in at the league's inception. I understand the legal issues with that, but I'm sure they could have worked something out. Now, they have Red Bull New York, which carries less history but a far more lucrative deal
So based upon market size, where are the next logical expansion targets? I went with every market larger than Las Vegas, because that idea pops up from time to time. I eliminated some cities based on proximity to existing franchises or larger areas on the list (Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham, Asheville-Greenville)
|14||Tampa - St. Petersburg||1,788,240|
|15||Minneapolis - St. Paul||1,721,940|
The Southeast is obviously the most glaring omission in the current MLS. There are four markets which exist here: Atlanta, North Carolina (Charlotte), Florida (Miami and Orlando), and Nashville. Each of them has distinct problems and only Nashville's is its size. However, keep in mind that Kansas City, Columbus and Salt Lake City are 31-33 on this list, and each with the correct infrastructure in place became a solid franchise.
This doesn't include Canadian cities, but they have their own entry so we'll get to that.
Soccer Tradition History
In some of these cities, this will be important. For example, the first entry dealing with the Cosmos will discuss much more than Nashville's history. Outside this example, I imagine this matters little compared to the other issues, but it is the most interesting so I included it.
As we well know, a soccer-specific stadium goes a long ways. Cities need plans for one to be accepted, and even then need a place to play before the stadium is done. No team would build a stadium and expect the league to then give them a team, as Kansas City did with the Sprint Center. Although, in MLS that may actually be the requirement these days. This seems to be the plan in Detroit, but elsewhere is not yet a reality.
Each city has to have an individual or a group willing to invest in a franchise. The bids for a New York team are set at $100 million, and other cities should be around $60 million. That isn't a small chunk of change to buy a team, and then possibly lose some money in the short term. Not to mention if you build a stadium privately or contribute to a stadium construction or renovation. The league needs more owners that are willing to buy into the general welfare concept, so it also requires owners with patience and control. Those aren't often qualities found in millionaires or groups of wealthy men and women, but each city must find someone like that. Some have had their issues, and I'll get to that as well.
Sports Competition and Market Problems
Why is this last? Because when I saw that list above, I thought about how much Atlanta needs another sports team. One of the cities I eliminated from the list was Birmingham, AL. I didn't do it because there are no soccer fans in the South, I did it because they talk about college football year round and there is no room for professional sports in Alabama. Other things draw my eye, like Atlanta losing it's hockey franchise or MLS completely failing in Florida the first time around.
I'll split up the list by region, and write about each city that has shown an interest in MLS or vice versa. The next post will focus on the Northeast specifically New York, then the Southeast, Midwest, West, and Canada in that order.