It is time once again for our monthly-ish update on the state of MLS Expansion around the country. If you are new to the program, I have a bit of a fascination with MLS expansion (and the growing and contracting of leagues in general). If you are interested in catching up on what you may have missed, I've got you covered.
- December (St. Louis, FC Cincinnati, North Carolina FC, San Diego, Phoenix, Sacramento)
- November (Big St. Louis News, wild Cincy prediction plus a lot more)
- October (San Diego, St. Louis, Nashville, OKC and more)
- September (Phoenix, Nashville and more)
- August (St. Louis, Cincinnati, Detroit, San Diego, Phoenix and more)
MLS Expansion Timeline
Possibly the biggest news coming out of the last month doesn't involve any one specific city, but simply the understanding of how things are going to work going forward in regards to MLS expanding further. First, we'll know teams 25 and 26 (the league is still holding onto Miami as team 24) by the second or third quarter of 2017. The fees for those two teams will be $150 million (up from the $110 million that LAFC reportedly paid). Teams 27 and 28 will have their timeline for announcements decided at a later date (and 28 is where MLS says it's stopping expansion -- for now).
Possibly most importantly the league announced the 10 ownership groups that expressed interest in expansion:
"The league acknowledged ownership groups from 10 markets have publicly expressed interest in securing an MLS expansion team: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa/St. Petersburg."
Applications must be submitted by January 31, 2017. One would assume this is for spots 25 and 26, but who knows. The league had three things listed that would be the biggest factors in gaining an expansion club (emphasis mine).
- A committed local ownership group that has a passion for the sport, a deep belief in Major League Soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.
- A market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.
- A comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.
So those three things are really at least five things. 1) Billionaire Owners, 2) History of Fan Support (attendance of FC Cincinnati or heritage of St. Louis, 3) Physical Club location (ie. filling out the map), 4) Being marketable (see TV money and jersey sponsors), and 5) a plan for a soccer specific stadium, likely downtown.
Don Garber Interview
MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, also gave a wide ranging interview right around when the expansion news came out, which I recommend you read. I'll hit the stuff relevant to expansion.
They love playoffs. The league doesn't see it as fair to those who have paid so much to make MLS what it is. It's not happening, at least not yet. Garber left the door open when he said it's not in the "foreseeable future."
"We are making progress with our plans in Miami. That will get us to 24. ...so 28 is our target. I don't expect we will go beyond that, but I never thought that we would, when I came into the league at 12 and went down to 10 that we would ever get to 14 or 18, let alone where we are now at 23, soon to be 24."
"Certainly that's something we have discussed, and it's important to all of us that are focused on growing the game that the lower divisions have a structure that makes sense. I know that the USL and the NASL owners and the federation's committees are working to try to achieve that. That's what I think all of us are focused on for right now."
St. Louis, Missouri
A minor blow (if you consider $80 million minor) may have been dealt to the St. Louis expansion bid when the newly elected Governor of Missouri declared funding for a stadium as, "welfare for millionaires." On Monday, he took things even further.
"To be very clear, I have completely ruled out state funding for stadiums. We are not going to use money from the people of the state of Missouri for what I believe is corporate welfare."
Now, the second ownership group, Foundry St. Louis, had previously offered to pay the $80 million but hadn't gotten a response. The MLS further distanced themselves from Foundry St. Louis when they said that SC STL were the "only contender(s)" for expansion. For me, the quest for public funding needs to end. Think of Orlando, Minneapolis and San Jose; all teams that privately financed their stadiums. That is the new normal.
The city also released a 130 page document showing the economic impact of a soccer stadium. I'm into expansion, but not that much. Feel free to read it and summarize it for me.
Also a part of the Garber interview and other information that came out, we discovered that David Beckham and his Miami MLS club are on a timeline.
"At some point you need to take a step back and decide whether or not the opportunity really exists. And if it does, we go forward, and if he doesn't we move onto another market. We very much believe in the Miami opportunity. We believe that the stadium is a good one. We are very supportive of David Beckham and Marcelo Claure and Simon Fuller and their partners. And we remain optimistic. I have said for so long that we are making progress, and we are continuing to do so, but we have not finalized a deal yet."
There has been no indication when this deadline is, but it's looming.
Not one, but two bids seem to be emerging from North Carolina (and Garber confirmed the same by mentioning Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham as two of the 10 interested cities. First came the news that was unofficial last month but has since been confirmed that the Carolina Railhawks (NASL) have rebranded to North Carolina FC. As a part of the announcement, the club unveiled a plan for a 20,000+ seat stadium. The team stated their goal is to get an MLS club within the next 12-18 months. That would seem to coincide with the coming announcements for teams 25 and 26, but it could fall into the next timeline which is less firm.
Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg
"Hey, don't leave us out," shouted someone in Florida. On the heels of the news that the Tampa Bay Rowdies would move from the NASL to the USL, now the club is making their MLS expansion ambitions known. The club announced plans to renovate and expand Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida. To top it all off, it will be privately financed, which some hopeful clubs could learn from (*cough*St. Louis*cough).
Nothing much coming out of Cincy other than more news tricking out from Don Garber's visit. The news confirms what we all know, FC Cincinnati need a soccer specific stadium.
"Our learning through the (first) 20 years (of the league) taught us there is not a cookie-cutter solution that works in every market, and you’ve got to really manage what makes sense in each individual city with the owner and with the dynamic that works in the community," Garber said. "The only thing that hasn’t changed is that we must have a stadium our team owns and controls, so we can manage our schedule and manage the effective operations of our games."
Ummm, I feel like a certain Billionaire owns this team. If the folks at FC Cincinnati really want a MLS club, they'll need to (privately) pay for a soccer specific stadium. Everything else is in place based on the metrics Garber has laid out.
Nashville is another city that's included in the list of 10 for potential expansion and contrary to all the other markets, it appears their government is willing to help finance a stadium. The plan, introduced by State Senator Steve Dickerson, would use future sales tax from things like concessions, ticket sales and parking fees to pay back the government. This is in stark contrast to most of the rest of the country who are not giving even incentives to get stadiums built. Apparently a similar plan was used with the Tennessee Titans (NFL), Nashville Predators (NHL) and Memphis Grizzlies (NBA), so maybe it can work.
Also out of Nashville, news of a lead investor has emerged. John R. Ingram, the Chairman of Ingram Industries Inc., would appear to the be on of the heirs to the Martha Ingram fortune (valued at $4.1 billion). That would appear to solve the ownership side of the Nashville equation. They obviously fill out the map geographically. Plus, with the support of Chattanooga FC (a fourth division club), there appears to be a desire to watch soccer in Tennessee. Now they just need a stadium plan, which could be a partnership with Vanderbilt University. Their USL club is coming in 2018.
OKC Energy FC
News out of Oklahoma City is not good if you were hoping to get a MLS club. The OKC Energy announced they will not be applying by the January 31st deadline.
"It would be disingenuous on our part to apply for this expansion deadline because there would be too many unknowns," Energy Owner Bob Funk Jr. said. "We would have to sit down with all of the city stakeholders. Everyone would have to be behind it and ready to make that push. The long-term goal is to get to MLS. It's just not to get to it within this tranche of teams."
With so many clubs competing for a spot, not having things in order could hurt OKC's chances of landing a team in the next round of expansion. For the Energy's sake, they better hope expansion goes beyond 28 teams.
Louisville City FC
Louisville is another city not being mentioned by Don Garber and their Chairman, John Neace, doesn't sound like he's making a bid for this round of expansion. The focus in Louisville is on getting a soccer specific stadium, as they currently play in a baseball stadium (hey, Sporting KC fans can relate). This doesn't mean they aren't interested in coming to MLS, it's just going to take a while. The club anticipates having their new stadium done in two to three years.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Las Vegas City Council appear set to make another run at getting an MLS franchise. They are in much the same position as they were last year when the MLS rejected their bid in favor of Minnesota United. The Council was split between two potential sites and still are, with a third (the potential Oakland Raiders stadium) now creeping into the mix. I'll personally be interested to see how the new NHL franchise, the Golden Knights, draw a crowd. That could be a precursor to any more professional sports. The Mayor, Carolyn Goodman, has vowed to "keep fighting as long as I breathe," which seems positive for that effort at least continuing.
Not really news, but a fantastic story on SB Nation about Detroit City FC and their support of a team, not a league.
Still nothing new out of Sacramento, but SI.com has a good piece detailing where things stand for them.
Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC)
- LAFC and the Orange County Blues (USL) have entered a multiple year agreement.
- New renderings of that beautiful LAFC stadium are out.
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):
- Grant Wahl predicts Miami, St. Louis and Sacramento will be teams 24 through 26. Oh and Zlatan to LAFC.
- The Division 2 decision has been delayed between USL and NASL (we all know it's going to be USL right?)
- The New York Cosmos (NASL) officially ceased operations.
- An interesting piece on how the NASL can rebuild and thrive with D3 sanctioning.
- Is all this competition between leagues hurting the game?
- Oh, the Jacksonville Armada have released all their players. That seems bad.
- North Carolina FC want an NWSL team too.
- A history of MLS expansion.
EXPANSION POWER RANKINGS
1. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 1)
All they are is a privately financed stadium plan away from gaining admission into MLS.
2. Sacramento Republic (Previous Rank: 4)
They are quietly just doing things right. They've even broken ground on that new stadium. They are just waiting for the call.
3. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 2)
What is happening in Miami? MLS still says they are the 24th team but I'm not so sure. They now have this deadline (and reportedly paid to extend it once already). I feel like ultimately they'll get a team, it just may not be the 24th one in MLS.
4. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 7)
They are one of two cities (along with Charlotte) who don't have a team and keep getting mentioned. The MLS wants to be in San Diego.
5. North Carolina (Previous Rank: 8)
They have two of the 10 locations that Don Garber mentioned. NCFC also have a stadium plan and ambitious owners. They are definitely stepping up their game at the right time.
6. Nashville, Tennessee (Previous Rank: 10)
With the news of their government supporting a soccer specific stadium and a billionaire owner, things just go really positive for Nashville.
7. St. Louis, Missouri (Previous Rank: 2)
The Governor-elect has made it clear there will be no public money for a soccer stadium but SC STL are holding out hope (Rebellions are built on hope). As soon as they drop the demand for taxpayer dollars St. Louis shoots up to first (or second).
8. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 5)
They are a victim of the teams/cities below them simply making more waves. They do still have two billionaires and a city that appears to be embracing soccer.
9. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 9)
Northing new here, but they made the list of 10 possible teams.
10. Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg (Previous Rank: NR)
With their move to the USL and their announcement about the stadium, they've put themselves into the conversation. And their name was on Don Garber's lips, so that counts for something.
No Longer Ranked: Phoenix, Arizona
A word on Phoenix. I live in the valley and I'm exited about the rebrand to Phoenix Rising FC (from Arizona United). They have a (small) stadium plan and are moving to a central location. That said, they weren't mentioned by Garber and it's yet to be proven that a team can work in the desert (hence why Vegas fell out of the rankings before and likely stayed out of Garber's mouth).