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MLS Expansion-Part Five: The West

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GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 19:  Soccer in Arizona looks like this, except the players aren't ageless like Christie Rampone. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 19: Soccer in Arizona looks like this, except the players aren't ageless like Christie Rampone. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
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For most leagues, expansion moved westward. The MLS, being a young league, has never had this problem. It established itself in California and has since moved to establish itself in the Pacific Northwest, creating the most MLS-crazy region in the country. Unlike the rest of the country, the large markets on the west coast are covered for the most part. The markets the MLS is interested in or should be looked at are Phoenix, San Diego, and Las Vegas.

The only other market in the west in the mix is Sacramento, and I would assume MLS does not expand there until they have a solid situation in San Jose. The other three I mentioned are ripe for expansion or re-location for a certain awkward resident of Los Angeles.

Phoenix

Market Size

Phoenix is the 13th largest TV market and third largest without a MLS club.

Soccer History

Not much. Phoenix is a relatively young market for sports, as it's growth has outpaced the expansion of leagues. MLS has recently been holding their training camps in Arizona, much like Major League Baseball does, so they are obviously interested in the market.

Stadium and Ownership

They have one of the few new football fields to use natural grass, but as always it is not preferable to play in a football stadium. However, the stadium isn't the problem.

Time for an adult conversation re MLS expansion - Daily Soccer Fix
It’s about ownership. And, really, not much else. It’s just ownership. There are reasons to consider every one of these cities. Some may be slightly better positioned in terms of geography, demographics, civic support or media interest, all of which figure somewhere into the expansion equation. But none of it matters until someone or some group (preferably local) steps forward and says "We want to own an MLS team, and dagnabbit we’re gonna make it happen!"

I've been looking to include this for a long time, but since Steve Davis wrote that after reading the SBNation Phoenix piece this seemed like the best place. Phoenix seems like a great market for expansion, but no one has come forward. Not even a Zygi Wulf or Arthur Blank, who have MLS expansion as a secondary objective. The money must be there or no team can come, and no stadium can be built. As impractical as Phoenix's growth is, the city will continue to move up that market size list, and MLS will still not be there.

Sports Competition and Market Problems

The Coyotes should be out of Phoenix as soon as possible, as that has been a disaster for the NHL. With the Suns and the Cardinals though, it will remain a major sports market. The attendance for the soccer friendly last year while the Coyotes and Suns were playing was hopeful, but soccer has never been tested in the Phoenix market.

San Diego

Market Size

San Diego is the 28th largest market and 13th largest without an MLS team.

Soccer History

The Sockers, their NASL club, was pretty successful during the 1980's winning two outdoor titles and eight indoor titles after the NASL folded. Coming up once again, eventual Wizards manager Ron Newman played a large part in that as their manager.

Stadium and Ownership

This site just popped up, literally as I was looking into these markets. The idea that they proposed was using Balboa Stadium to house an MLS club. Now, let's be honest, this is not Saputo Stadium or Jeld Wen. They both needed upgrades, but weren't nearly as small as Balboa. It currently has only 3000 seats.

However, don't look at this as a bad thing. Instead, consider that they can build a new stadium around a historic field and have the best of both worlds. The site had stands for 40,000 when it held Chargers games, so building a 20,000 seat SSS shouldn't be out of the question.

As a common refrain again, they need an owner to do such and the only name I've seen thrown forth was Dean Spanos, son of the San Diego Chargers owner, but not at his own accord, just off hand.

Sports Competition and Market Problems

Piecing the puzzle of MLS expansion picture here | UTSanDiego.com
"We continue to believe San Diego could be a very successful market for a Major League Soccer team," Dan Courtemanche, MLS senior vice president for marketing and communications, wrote in an e-mail. "We have always known that San Diego is a passionate soccer market, and the recent World Cup ratings, which were among the highest in the country, provided an additional reason why San Diego should be considered for a future MLS expansion team."

MLS desires to have a team in San Diego. It is probably one of the few markets on this list that I would guarantee could fill a stadium. However, they aren't going to get the twentieth team, and MLS has hinted that they would like to stay at twenty for a while (Or until the right bid comes through their office).

How could San Diego find a team without a home stadium with a following in Southern California to play in San Diego? Los Angeles residents that support Chivas USA may hate me, but I can't see why they haven't looked at San Diego as a landing spot. There is no benefit to them playing second fiddle to the Galaxy even more so with Beckham, Keane, and Donovan returning as MLS champions. It's such an obvious solution that is boggles the mind as to why it hasn't happened yet.

Las Vegas

Market Size

Las Vegas is the 40th largest Tv market and the 16th largest without a MLS club.

Soccer History

They don't have much of a sports history in general. The gambling industry has long prevented major sports leagues from starting up in Las Vegas. They are larger than some major league markets, but the worry is the gambling interests will not work out with professional sports.

Stadium and Ownership

The plan, while hypothetical (not really detrimental to this hypothetical exercise), is to build a large complex near the Mandalay Bay casino which has three stadiums for the Las Vegas 51's baseball team, basketball, and MLS soccer. The man who purchased the 51's with this plan is a developer named Chris Milam. Whether he has the cachet to pull it off or to purchase a MLS franchise, which seems to increase in price by the day, is unknown to me.

The problems associated with the plan seem to indicate that the money is not there. The facility fees that they are trying to pass through state legislature make it seem as though they hope to pay for the stadium out of fans pockets for the first few years. While I do not object to this as a means of private financing of a stadium, it doesn't scream financial security either. As we have stated, owners with deep pockets are the best bet to get a new MLS franchise, even if the market doesn't quite fit.

Sports Competition and Market Problems

There are no professional sports in Las Vegas. The problems lie in three questions. First, is the entertainment market over-saturated, second is Las Vegas large enough, and lastly can MLS see past the gambling culture. The city not only is a mecca for tourists, but the industry also employs a great amount of the people. The involvement with gambling is just a side-item compared to the relative lack of both people and people with free time. The problem with creating a city based on leisure is you need many people to forsake leisure to run it. Tourists alone cannot support another cities (perhaps a rivals) team, although I will agree that a Las Vegas roadtrip would be fun.

I think Las Vegas can support a major league franchise, but I wouldn't be angry with MLS for letting another league like the NBA take that chance first.

Overview

I doubt the western United States is the landing spot for the twentieth team in MLS, but second-tier(NASL) and future expansion of MLS down the road should be keen to occupy these three markets. Phoenix and Las Vegas were two of the fastest growing markets in the United States. (On this note, I didn't even mention San Antonio and Austin in any of these posts, but their growth should interest MLS after or as they address the Dallas problem.) The gambling in Vegas will not keep out professional sports forever, and Phoenix and San Diego are two of the most soccer-primed cities in the United States. There should be no worries of soccer hungry fans in these cities, but two suggestions, don't hold your breath and find someone with lots of money to invest in a club.