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MLS Expansion Update: Nashville SC, St. Louis, FC Cincinnati, Phoenix Rising, Detroit + Power Rankings

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It kind of sounds like we know the next two teams, but nothing will be official until December. We also have updates on the other 10 bids and other expansion related news.

Courtesy of Nashville SC

It is time once again for our monthly-ish update on all things MLS expansion. And boy is there big news this month, with about two months left until Major League Soccer make the first two announcements official. Before you dive into this month’s edition, we kind of assume you are a bit in the know. Catch up on the past updates below.

  • September (Don Garber speaks, Miami, Sacramento, Nashville and more)
  • July (Phoenix, San Diego, Cincinnati, Nashville)
  • June (FC Cincinnati, Miami, San Diego and more)
  • April (Bad St. Louis news, LAFC alone in 2018 and more)
  • For all of our expansion coverage, bookmark this page.

Nashville SC

On Tuesday, trusted internet soccer reporter, Jeff Rueter broke the internet by reporting that Nashville SC were a lock to get an MLS team in this round of bidding. He later removed that information and left us with this:

In the past Rueter has been known to have good sources. If you couple the potential Nashville news with Sacramento’s news last month (which I’ve later confirmed is more than just my hunch), that would be our first two announced expansion teams. MLS has always said they’ll make it official in December, but the first leg of the race appears to be over.

In other Nashville SC news that may have spurred on the leak from Rueter, the mayor of Nashville announced a preliminary agreement to put a stadium on the city’s fairgrounds. The city plans to have the Metro Council vote on the proposal, which must approve it. A conservative think tank, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, want it to go to a public vote but the mayor isn’t required to do so.

SI.com is reporting that the private portion of the stadium funding is for 90%, plus the MLS expansion fee ($150 million) plus any cost overruns. The stadium is rumored to cost $250 million, leaving the city on the hook for $25 million plus an additional $25 million for infrastructure costs. That is nothing compared to the $292 million voters approved in 1996 for the Tennessee Titans stadium.

In a related but perhaps unimportant bit of news also from The Tennessean, Vanderbilt University will not share a stadium with Nashville SC if they are granted an MLS club.

For his part, Nashville Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Yuri Cunza, came out in support of the stadium as well.

St. Louis, Missouri

The chance for Sporting Kansas City to have a cross-state rival may not be dead yet. After nearly five months of silence, Paul Edgerley, the chairman of the MLS2STL group, spoke on the subject.

"We remain committed to providing more than a quarter of a billion dollars of private investment for the project, both to pay the expansion fee and to fund the majority of the cost to build the stadium. We’ll continue to consider any and all ideas to fund the project, but believe public participation consistent with what Proposition 2 would have generated is required to make an expansion team and the stadium a reality. We believe MLS intends to act by the end of the year, and to position St. Louis to win, any proposal must be fully committed in the next 90 days to have a chance to be successful."

Those comments came on September 5th. Nearly a month later and only crickets can be heard from St. Louis. Prop 2 was voted down on April 4, 2017 by a mere 3,300 votes. That is leaving a $60 million shortfall that sent St. Louis from contender to pretender. If that money is made up, there is no reason to believe MLS wouldn’t want to come to St. Louis.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also spoke to a league source leading up to the Edgerley quote who said:

“This was St. Louis’ to lose. Look, if Dec. 7 rolled around, or whatever day we have the (expansion) meeting, and St. Louis had a commitment to a stadium, and Paul Edgerley and his group were sitting there, I would put it at 99 percent that they get it.”

It seems like an additional owner needs to be added to the group with $60 million and we’ll call it good.

FC Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Inquirer was quick to get confirmation that the Nashville news was false, but that still leaves FCC reeling without a finalized stadium plan. However, the Cincinnati Business Courier (behind a pay wall) has indicated the team has lined up stadium financing.

The situation in Ohio is still confusing. There is a “Build it Here” movement to try and get the team’s stadium built in Cincinnati. The problem is the team wants $100 million in public money for the stadium, not including infrastructure costs, that it seems unlikely to get. What complicates things is there is money available just across the river in Newport, Kentucky.

There was a meeting at the Hamilton County Commissioner’s about this very subject with many in support of the stadium, but some calling it “welfare for billionaires.” It’s hard to disagree since FCC’s owner, Charles Linder III, is worth about $1.7 billion.

Sacramento Republic FC

Another month where not much happened in Northern California. KCRA has a quick story about fans waiting for an announcement at the Republic’s final home game of the 2017 USL season. That of course won’t happen until December.

The team also announced a “citizen architect contest” for fans to be able to help design their potential new MLS stadium. The same stadium they started construction on last month.

Finally, the team has launched a new website in preparation for their impending announcement to join MLS.

Phoenix Rising FC (and North Carolina/Tampa Bay)

If no news is good news in Sacramento, Phoenix has to be the city hurt the most (besides maybe Cincy) about the Nashville leak. They still haven’t released their stadium plan, though I imagine they will in the coming weeks/month, but that Sports Illustrated story sure makes their hopes look grim. One line stands out:

“It’s unclear whether bids in Phoenix, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Raleigh have the necessary financial backing.”

It got me thinking. Phoenix specifically have appeared to be the most shovel ready of the projects (behind Sacramento). They have the lands for the stadium. They have financing lined up. They aren’t asking for any public money. They just need to release the images/plan for the stadium, which they are reportedly down to three firms. So what about them says they are missing “the necessary financial backing.”

If everything else is inline, maybe it’s the ownership group. The Phoenix Rising group is made up of lots of people, including famous athletes and musicians, but the lead investor is Berke Bakay, the CEO, President and Director of Kona Grill. When trying to pin down Bakay’s net worth, I had little luck. The best estimate is around $100 million but there is no conclusive data. That is nothing compared to John Ingram’s family worth of $4.2 billion (Nashville SC), Dan Gilbert’s $5.8 billion (Detroit) or Charles Lindner III’s $1.7 billion (FC Cincinnati).

Searches for Steve Malik (North Carolina FC) and Bill Edwards (Tampa Bay Rowdies) also returned little in the way of net worth. MLS really does love billionaires.

Detroit, Michigan

Arn Tellem, who is handling the bid for MLS Detroit on behalf of billionaires Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert, says Detroit can be ready to play by 2020, the targeted launch of teams 25 and 26. Later in October, they will get to make a presentation to MLS as Commissioner Don Garber is coming to town.

The Detroit Free Press also has an interesting story on MLS’ desire to bring soccer to the inner cities. They appear to be targeting athletes who may have previously looked at basketball, baseball or football as an avenue.

Indy Eleven

As if the MLS bid out of Indianapolis wasn’t bleak enough, they are now a Division III team now that US Soccer has moved the NASL out of it’s Division II status (NCFC are in the same situation).

Obviously the goal of Indy and North Carolina are to be MLS teams, but since they face longer odds, the Indy Star is reporting that talks of moving to the USL (D2) by Indy and NCFC has them “at least exploring the possibility.” With the NASL fighting to even survive, that’s one more problem their teams face over USL bids.

LAFC

Not much news out of LA on their 2018 team (though the floodgates are about to open). The club signed another player, Rodrigo Pacheco, who will finish the year on loan with the Orange County Blues of the USL. He’ll join Carlos Alvarez and Bassey Etim with OC.

Attendance

As always, phat7deuce from Reddit is keeping us updated on USL/NASL attendance. Here is how the rankings shake out through Week 27:

  • Rank/Team/2017 Attendance Avg/% Up or Down
  • #1 - FC Cincinnati - 21,199 - Up 22.6%
  • #2 - Sacramento Republic FC - 11,569 - Up 0.5%
  • #4 - Indy Eleven - 8,276 - Down 1.4%
  • #5 - San Antonio FC - 7,207 - Up 18.8%
  • #7 - Phoenix Rising FC - 6,122 - Up 250.5%
  • #8 - Tampa Bay Rowdies - 5,888 - Up 0.2%
  • #14 - St. Louis FC - 4,494 - Down 8.7%
  • #15 - North Carolina FC - 4,285 - Down 15.3%
  • #31 - Charlotte Independence - 1,600 - Up 16.4%
  • Detroit/San Diego/Nashville don’t yet have active teams in these leagues

Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):

EXPANSION POWER RANKINGS

Note: Due to the league limiting expansion to just the 12 markets that have applied, I'm going to limit my power rankings to those 12 markets plus Miami (at least until Miami is officially the 24th team).

1. Sacramento Republic FC (Previous Rank: 1)

They broke ground on a new stadium. You don’t build an MLS size stadium unless certain assurances have been made that you are getting an MLS team. I’ve also spoken to multiple people who believe Sacramento to MLS is a done deal. Now we just wait until December to make it official.

2. Nashville SC (Previous Rank: 5)

I always said they were the dark horse to take this thing. I thought that was for spots 27 and 28. I had no idea 25 and 26 were in play. The league won’t make it official until December but it seems possible that this is basically a done deal too. If they start building that stadium on the fairgrounds, we’ll know for sure. I’d like to have seen them play games in the USL first to see how it went, but look at Atlanta United. They never did the minor league thing and they are killing it. MLS sure does love billionaires.

3. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 2)

Don Garber said an announcement was coming by the end of summer. By my count that was late September. Here were are in early October. This thing could still fall apart and let one of the below teams in.

4. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 4)

They basically have a stadium. Strangely it’ll be in Kentucky. I’m sure everyone would love a re-brand to FC Kentucky. But they do have that whole billionaire thing figured out, even if said billionaire is asking for (and getting... like in Nashville) public money.

5. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: 3)

They are the 2nd most ready team behind Sacramento and they look like they are getting left out. They are averaging less than 100 fans under a sell out every week and have a diverse and enthused ownership group. They have land, financing and aren’t asking for any public money. It appears they need a billionaire to swoop in to become the lead investor since MLS apparently only see dollar signs.

6. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 6)

Two billionaires. They just need to get that whole stadium site figured out and they probably leap a few spots by default.

7. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 7)

No billionaire. But they have a stadium already built, a plan to expand it and a huge media market. They are doing well in their first season in USL too. Attendance is still a bit low compared to capacity though.

8. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 8)

They are sitting an waiting for a vote in November 2018. That’s a long wait. So much could change by then.

9. St. Louis, Missouri (Previous Rank: 11)

Now this is just silly. Basically nothing has happened. Other than that league official saying they were 99% certain St. Louis was in if they had the money. Who has $60 million just laying around? I know a team you can buy into.

10. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 9)

Probably unfairly, I just keep dropping them down. They have a good record and rich owners. Their attendance is decent, though about 1,200 tickets per week appear to be going unsold, so that hurts. They need to crank up their PR team and generate some excitement.

11. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 10)

Attendance doesn’t look good. Competing bids in their state is weird. At least they are in second in the NASL standings. That’s more than can be said for the next guys.

12. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: 12)

They have great attendance but they are playing bad soccer. They are last in the now third division NASL. Plus they still appear to be seeking public money which isn’t coming. This bid hardly seems serious.

13. Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: 13)

Always been last, always will be last. I only keep them on here because they technically put in a bid. Louisville City FC and the OKC Energy FC seem like they have better chances and they didn’t even apply.

Let us know what you think of our rankings in the comments.