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MLS Expansion-Part Four: The Midwest

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KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 09:  This will be our closest opponent for a while. No easy road trips for us.(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 09: This will be our closest opponent for a while. No easy road trips for us.(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Admittedly, here we are going to drift into mere fantasy. The idea for these posts was brought to me by the question of St. Louis as an expansion market for MLS. The Wizards and Sporting KC have never had the regional rival that other teams in the league have. Kansas City has been the most isolated franchise in MLS, without a single team within four hundred miles and that's by air. Given the vitriol spewed over two teams that last year were on different planets (The Cardinals and the Royals), it would be cool to see a rivalry spring up here in Missouri.

However, as a St. Louis resident, I will tell you several reasons that is not going to happen soon. Two markets which would not help on the rivalry front have emerged that are much more likely to garner support for expansion, chiefly because they have a plan. Both Minneapolis and Detroit have expressed interest in having an MLS club. Minneapolis has talked with the MLS, where the owners of the Pontiac Silverdome have produced some stadium porn that confuses me, but is better than no plan.

Detroit

Market Size

Detroit is the 11th largest TV market and second largest market without an MLS club. The population of Detroit itself has fallen, but the population of the metro area has remained level.

Soccer History

There have been two NASL teams in Detroit, but each lasted less than three years. Like many upper midwestern cities, Detroit has had indoor soccer teams, but no outdoor clubs since 1981. It was a host city for the 1994 World Cup and that was the last competitive outdoor match played in Detroit until last year's Gold Cup.

Stadium and Ownership

They have an owner in place and a stadium ready to be built with private funds. This is not the problem with Detroit. Check out the following link for the designs for the Silverdome and explain what is going on. The plans include a concert hall and arena under the soccer field.

Silverdome renovation must wait in line to attract Major League Soccer to Metro Detroit | MLive.com
At the Silverdome, however, the plan is to remove the roof to create an open-air 30,000-seat stadium, utilizing the upper bowl seating. The upper-floor sports stadium would rest on top of two indoor facilities constructed within the lower bowl level. The lower-floor indoor facilities will include a large concert hall, as well as a multi-purpose sports arena capable of housing everything from ice hockey to basketball and lacrosse. The first pictures of the renovation plans were recently posted on the Motor City Supporters' website.

Sports Competition and Market Problems

With eyes on Detroit, Silverdome owners submit Major League Soccer expansion bid | MLive.com
It's difficult to gauge since there hasn't been a competitive soccer match in Detroit since the Silverdome hosted four games of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, which were a big success 17 years ago.

Can soccer succeed in a market where it has no previous ties? There are enough people in the Detroit area, but can you expect the same fervor that persuades adults to bring an octopus in and toss it onto the ice. Where the teams except for the Red Wings were on a downturn, things are looking up for the other Detroit teams with the Tigers and Lions making the playoffs this year. For a market that whose economic struggles have been overly documented, can they support another team?

Minneapolis-St. Paul

Market Size

The fifteenth largest TV market in the US and the fifth largest without an MLS team.

Soccer History

Minnesota had two NASL teams the Minnesota Kicks from 1975-1981 and the Strikers from 1984-88. They have had a second division team since 1991. The Minnesota Thunder was in USL-1 from 1991 until 2009. After they disbanded, the Minnesota Stars joined the new NASL and were the champions last year after qualfying last for the playoffs.

Stadium and Ownership

Like Arthur Blank in Atlanta, the Vikings owner Zygi Wulf has been trying to get an MLS franchise to Minnesota. He has the same idea of builidng an NFL stadium, but also with the idea of luring an MLS franchise.

Zygi Wilf Says Major League Soccer to Minnesota if Vikings Get New Proposed Arden Hills Stadium | IMS Soccer News
"We feel the Arden Hills location is ideal for our team, for the community, for the State of Minnesota and for all the public. The stadium will be just ten miles from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The proximity to downtown, the retractable roof, will make the stadium a major attraction in the upper Midwest to bring Major League Soccer, to bring Final Four college football bowl games and of course the Super Bowl," said Mark Wilf.

I am perhaps unfairly biased against northern cities having soccer teams, because I have a feeling it will lead to the scheduling argument again. I see this as a detriment of our team, who built this beautiful outdoor stadium that isn't quite as lovely when it is freezing outside. A retractable roof solves that problem, but still leaves us to fill a football stadium like Seattle does.

Sports Competition and Market Problems

Could Major League Soccer Succeed In Minnesota? - SB Nation Minnesota
Quarstad goes even further. "The whole concept of making these teams more urban is where it's at," he said. "Looking at who the target market is, it's the 21- to 45-year-old males. They will go to the beer garden, will buy food, will buy apparel, will go support the team. MLS has found out it's not the moms and the pops that support a team. And where are you going to find this target market? Uptown. The U of M. Northeast Minneapolis. If you put a team in an urban facility that has drinking and entertainment and is accessible by mass transit and bike - that's never been tried here in the correct way."

This whole article, while written in 2010, does a good job of addressing the problems Minnesota has and still has. Although, I bring up lower-level attendance a great deal; they make the good point that it isn't a perfect indicator of future results. However, they need a stadium and they need it in an urban center to draw fans here. Minneapolis isn't starving for professional sports. The idea now that soccer doesn't have enough fans to support teams in major metropolitan areas is absurd, but the teams must be both professional and well thought out. Otherwise, you end up in situations like Dallas having a stadium near no one, or DC and New England simply not having one. Thankfully, demand has meant no expansion candidate can have such problems.

St. Louis

Market Size

St. Louis is the 21st largest TV market and the eighth largest without an MLS team.

Soccer History

A far more comprehensive look at St. Louis soccer history.

Some argue that St. Louis is the birthplace/first capital/center of American soccer. Seriously, just try finding source material for individual cities soccer history in the United States and you'll end up reading too much about St. Louis.

In the 1958 qualifiers, the top amateur team from St. Louis played a few of the qualifiers for the United States. You can argue that this was more indicative of the state of American soccer, but St. Louis dominated the US Open cup for much the mid-century, had the best amateur club in the 1950's, and the best college club in the 1960's. St. Louis University won ten championships in between 1959-1973.

Their history with professional soccer has been more tumultuous. Their NASL team, the Stars, like the early MLS relied on American players, and subsequently they were more often than not bottom feeders. Like Detroit, they have typically had an indoor team, although that team currently is located in Glen Carbon, IL far east of the metropolitan area.

I was actually here for the AC St. Louis/ MLS expansion debacle which both killed the WPS side and then failed on the men's side as well.

Stadium and Ownership

Here is why St. Louis doesn't have a team. Simply, there is no one who has stepped forward. The owners of the local sports franchises have no interest in professional soccer in the United States. Stan Kroenke, the Rams owner, is the owner of the Colorado Rapids and largest shareholder of Arsenal. The Blues have had ownership issues as well with the current ownership group looking to sell after buying the team in 2005. The Cardinals, to expand on a common theme, were purchased by an investor group from Busch, although Bill DeWitt Jr is the principle owner now.

St. Louis has fallen off MLS radar
"St. Louis is going to get something done at some point," said Robb Heineman, CEO of Sporting KC. "Anything we can do to help we will."

"It's amazing not to have a soccer presence in St. Louis," said Cliff Illig, one of Sporting KC's owners, who sits on the league's Board of Governors. "The key is getting ownership. … From a Kansas City standpoint, we'd love to have a Major League Soccer franchise in St. Louis, but it's up to (finding) ownership. We'll do whatever we can to help if and when."

But St. Louis does not have that ownership group, they have people like me with ideas, but no money. Simply put, money is what gets you a franchise and a stadium. (Don't worry if I get rich and secretly fund a St. Louis team, I'll still support Sporting KC.)

Sports Competition and Market Problems

And two, Illig and Neal Patterson, the two Kansas City entrepreneurs who bought Sporting KC from Lamar Hunt, had no history with soccer.

"Our two guys had never been to a game," Heineman said. "They just believed deeply in the community."

I know I'm using our owners as a basis and that is unfair as we aren't the norm, but for this question you must ask about the community. I'm putting the carriage ahead of the horse, because I'm going to write about the divisions in St. Louis for another site, but for now let's just keep it simple. St. Louis is fractured to the point where building a stadium in the city isn't possible due to a lack of funding. Building it in the county isn't possible due to the fractious nature of St. Louis county. Illinois is a possibility but the Collinsville site proposed back in 2009 is away from the Metrolink and traveling through East St. Louis even by interstate isn't exactly anyone's favorite trip.

The fans and the history are here. The owners, money, and stadium are not.