For those of you that are familiar with my writing or have visited my previous Sporting Kansas City site, I love talking about MLS expansion. I don't know if it's because NFL expansion ended for me when I wasn't quite a teenager or that I missed out on all the major expansion in MLB and less so with the NHL, but the concept is intriguing to me. Whatever the reason, I love to talk about it. I've even gone as far as to invent a wild Promotion and Relegation scheme for MLS that includes lots of expansion. Let's jump into some of the top expansion stories from around the country.
St Louis, Missouri
Probably the most important possible expansion site for Sporting KC fans is across the state in St Louis. The Swope Park Rangers just played St Louis FC and the turnout looked to be quite good, including SPR fans making the trip.
The latest news is that, while there is still no majority owner stepping up to the plate, the St Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting there are lots of minority owners. One of those is former St Louis Rams player, Chris Long.
"I've been told that I will have an update in a couple of weeks. I'm still very interested. Hopefully the dialogue will continue," Long said to the Post-Dispatch.
Another important investor is former Anheuser-Busch executive, Dave Peacock. He has reached out to another former NFL player Aeneas Williams, though he seemed less interested. Another important move towards soccer in St Louis was the recent friendly between Liverpool and A.S. Roma, which drew well at Busch Stadium.
Huge Expansion Fees
Big news came out of the recent MLS Board of Governors meeting when MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott dropped a bomb while talking to Bloomberg.
Following the Board of Governors meeting, the league is continuing to work on the timetable and the details, including pricing, for future expansion and no decisions have been made. Based on the increasing value of MLS clubs, expansion fees could be as high as $200 million."
That is a huge sticker shock considering LAFC held the previous record at just $110 million. NYCFC was the previous record holder at $100 million. At the All-Star Game the Sacramento Bee was hearing $125-135 million, which is still a big jump. This is big money considering that Real Salt Lake (2005), Chivas USA (2005) and Toronto FC (2007) paid a reported $10 million followed by the Seattle Sounders (2009) paying $30 million and the Portland Timbers (2011) paying between $32-34 million. It's about to get crazy.
Cincy is a city that has basically came out of nowhere since the formation of FC Cincinnati (USL) and their ability to draw enormous crowds to minor league soccer games. FC Cincinnati had hoped to draw 10,000 fans per game but they are crushing that with a 17,000+ average. They also played a friendly against Crystal Palace and brought out an amazing 35,061 fans. That's over 15,000 above the "capacity" of Children's Mercy Park. If they can keep it up, there is no reason to believe Cincy won't land in the next wave of expansion that will bring the league up to 28 teams.
Minnesota United FC
ESPN is reporting that Atlanta United are a lock to debut in 2017 (but we knew that), more importantly MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, elluded to Minnesota being the 22nd team with an announcement expected "in a couple of weeks." The Pioneer Press is stating the Minnesota still are waiting on the state Legislature to approve a property tax exemption, something they have done for all the other professional teams in the state.
No word on whether Minnesota will have to drop United from their name (even though they had it before Atlanta). It's silly that Atlanta was allowed to take it knowing Minnesota and D.C. United already share that name. Regardless, Minnesota will likely end up in the Western Conference facing SKC, which will hopefully be a couple of easier games next season. It's unlikely though as Sporting struggled to defeat the NASL team when they met this season in the US Open Cup.
It looks like Detroit hasn't made much progress since the announcement of the super ownership group of billionaires Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers Owner) and Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons Owner). They are still stuck waiting on Wayne County who own a jail site that is in the ideal downtown location that MLS looks for. That has to put Detroit behind several other cities.
San Diego, California
The situation in San Diego, much like Detroit, is very dependent on the future stadium site. Right now they are holding out for a site they would share with the San Diego State University football stadium. The problem is that site is currently home to the San Diego Chargers of the NFL, who may or may not be leaving after the 2016 NFL season.
Whether MLS comes to San Diego or not, it appears some sort of professional soccer will come. The United Soccer League has been linked to San Diego expansion, which is the route many teams have taken to MLS (Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps). Also on their side is Landon Donovan who moved back home to San Diego and has been linked to possible ownership groups.
"If I can be a part of that, it would be tremendous," he said. "I would love to see this area have a USL (United Soccer League) team or MLS team. This is a crazy soccer market."
The blog the Upper 90 has put together a statistical study oh where expansion is likely to end up for MLS. The site uses a series of statistics including (but not limited to) political views, number of billionaires, population, median household income and distance from another MLS team. The winner? Phoenix, Arizona. It was given a sustainability rating of 76 percent. 12 points higher than St Louis who came in second and 25 points higher than San Francisco which came in third.
I live in a Phoenix suburb and I can tell you right now, there is no way this is right. There is a USL team here, Arizona United SC. They consistently draw about 1,000 fans to their games. The reason? Well there are many but one has to be the location, they play in the far West Valley (nowhere near Downtown). But the bigger reason is probably the heat. With the MLS season stretching from March to November/December, it's consistently over 100 degrees as early as April/May all the way to September. Without a dome, MLS and professional soccer will not thrive here. I say play in the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium. It's downtown and it's got a roof. I know it's not perfect, but it's accessible and more importantly air conditioned.
Corner Kicks (for the rest of your expansion news)
- The USL will further expand (both teams and their schedule -- which climbs to 32 games next year)
- Atlanta United signed their first Designated Player, Hector Villalba. See the behind the scenes of that process.
- Speaking of Atlanta, SB Nation blog Dirty South Soccer wants MLS to decide on Minnesota and if there will be an expansion draft next year.
- LAFC owner, Will Ferrell, explains how he got into the LAFC ownership group.
- LAFC will aim to build their Headquarters and Training Facility in Orange County.
- LAFC has extended the Metro Expo Line to their future stadium site.
- San Antonio faces a stiff challenge to gain MLS expansion.
- If Sacramento joins MLS (or when they do) their stadium will hold 19,621 fans.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he turned down David Beckham to join his future Miami team. That makes sense considering Miami still isn't even a lock to start in 2018. Ibra is just on a one-year deal with Manchester United, so I won't be surprised if this is revisited next year.
- Nashville will join the USL next season.
- Some think that MLS has to do away with the salary cap after this expansion boom ends. I'm not one of them since that will ruin any bit of parity that remains.
- This isn't even American based, but the Football League (in England) is looking into adding a fifth division to their pro/rel hierarchy.