It is time once again for our monthly-ish MLS expansion updates. I’m taking the “ish” portion really seriously since it’s been about 40 days since the last update. We are about a month out from this first round of expansion being announced and twelve cities being left very disappointed.
- October (Nasvhille, St. Louis, Phoenix -- also, the month it may have been decided)
- September (Don Garber speaks, Miami, Sacramento, Nashville and more)
- July (Phoenix, San Diego, Cincinnati, Nashville)
- June (FC Cincinnati, Miami, San Diego and more)
- For all of our expansion coverage, bookmark this page.
Expansion Timeline & Top Three Teams
We’ve known for a long time that the first two teams will be announced after the MLS Owners meet on December 14, 2017. Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated is reporting that there are only three cities in the running for those two spots. Those cities are Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati. He typed them in that order so I’m repeating it that way. Reverse alphabetical. I’m sure there is no reason for that order.
ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle is reporting an announcement will happen on December 19th or 20th.
With all the talk about which of the 12 teams in the running will get the next two slots, let’s start with the city that no one seems sure will ever join the league. David Beckham’s Miami United may finally be becoming a reality. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. First, the Miami Herald is reporting a judge dismissed the lawsuit aimed at stopping Miami-Dade from selling Beckham the last three acres of land he needs to build his 25,000 seat stadium.
With that hurdle cleared MLS spokesperson Dan Courtemanche told BBC Sport:
We look forward to working with David, Todd Boehly [majority owner] and their partners to finalize their expansion plan. David and his partners have committed a significant amount of time and resources to put everything in place to bring Miami the elite-level soccer team and stadium it richly deserves. We expect to make an official announcement to launch a new Miami expansion club in the coming months."
“In the coming months.” We’ve heard this line before. I seem to remember when MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, “I’m confident we’ll be able to do that (announce Miami MLS) by the end of the summer.” I’m not sure what summer Garber was referring too but it’s closer to winter. We can believe it when we finally see it.
In a surprise move, Detroit’s MLS bid took an unexpected turn at the beginning of November. They announced they have a third billionaire signing on to the bid. The Ford family, owner of the Detroit Lions of the NFL, will join Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.
Along with that news came the dropping of their plan to build a 23,000 seat soccer stadium on a failed jail site in Wayne County. That was part of a $1 billion development plan for the site that was clearly getting approved no time soon. Instead they would play in Ford Field, trying to follow the success of teams like Atlanta United and the Seattle Sounders while ignoring the abject failure of teams like the New England Revolution.
The stadium is downtown and according to Arn Tellem, the spokesman of the expansion group, can be configured to seat 26,000 to 64,000 fans. The MLS responded with a non-response that did slip in they prefer soccer specific stadiums.
Major League Soccer statement on Detroit pic.twitter.com/VgHApFbi7k— Dan Courtemanche (@courtemancheMLS) November 2, 2017
For me, it’s clearly an attempt to be considered for this first round of expansion, which wasn’t going to happen with no stadium land secured and only a month to go. Time will tell if it works. Crain’s Detroit has a really good breakdown of what it all means.
After last month’s news that Nashville may have locked up their spot, the news just keeps getting better. The Tennessean is reporting that the Nashville Metro Council voted 31 to 6 to approve a $275 million plan for a MLS stadium. $225 million will come from revenue bonds. It’s kind of stunning when the MLS bid is coming from a billionaire. To be fair to the Ingram’s, they will reportedly cover $9 million a year of the $13 million and the rest is to be made up of a ticket tax and sales tax revenue with the Metro covering the difference.
In addition to a stadium it’s been reported that a hotel, restaurants, shops and apartments could be built on the site situated on the fairgrounds.
On Tuesday, in a press conference, FC Cincinnati’s president Jeff Berding announced that they would no longer be asking for $100 million in public funding. Instead they will drop their stadium size from 25,000 down to 21,000 and they will privately finance their stadium. No public money leaves out the $75 million they want for infrastructure (roads, parking, etc.), which is often left out by all the groups bidding for teams.
This move feels like a desperate attempt to get back into the top two slots where Nashville and Sacramento clearly sit. It’s odd when their average attendance exceeds that in the United Soccer League. The above story from Soccer America states they are expected to get to 15,000 season ticket holders and Cincinnati.com has already confirmed they are over 10,000. That’s better than most of the USL get in attendance, let alone season tickets.
In a move that may not matter at all, Cincy also announced a jersey sponsorship deal with Mercy Health. The kits don’t look bad, but I kind of like their current look. This could be the alternate/second jersey.
Sacramento Republic FC
There is still not really any news from Sacramento other than that they are building their stadium already (or working on the site). Not to be left out though, they announced a MLS jersey sponsor as well. UC Davis Health will have a five year deal, theoretically starting in 2020.
In a really good piece a few days ago, ESPN’s Carlisle also confirmed Sacramento have 10,000 season ticket deposits. The piece is about the top four candidates which we’ve covered above.
San Antonio FC
I’m not sure if you guys have heard, but Anthony Precourt, the owner of the Columbus Crew, is kind of a jerk. He’s trying to move the Columbus Crew (an original MLS club) from Ohio to Austin, Texas (our own Eric Atcheson actually wrote a really good plea to #SaveTheCrew that you should read).
Well some big news has come out of San Antonio and our SB Nation mother-ship has it covered in great detail. Long story short (and again, you should read it), the San Antonio ownership group appears to be stating they were told to buy Toyota Stadium and put in a bid for MLS but they were told there wouldn’t be a team in San Antonio and Austin by MLS President Mark Abbott.
The catch is when Precourt bought the Crew in 2013 he agreed to keep them in Columbus for 10 years, with one exception. You guessed it. Austin! So MLS new Precourt had the ability to relocate his team to Austin and they still encouraged the San Antonio group to BUY A SOCCER STADIUM. Sounds expensive and really fishy. But truly, read the whole story, I’m not doing it justice.
As for San Antonio’s bid, I believe that it’s borderline dead. I fully expect, based on the press release from Precourt and MLS about Columbus potentially moving, that they’ll definitely move which means there will be no San Antonio MLS team.
I feel bad that I never have any news for Indy Eleven. It’s probably because they aren’t getting into MLS. Good news though, they averaged one more fan per game in 2017 than 2016. Seriously, one more. They still lead all of NASL in attendance and they are respectable numbers, but one more is just kind of funny.
Charlotte, North Carolina
The bid is Charlotte has long been dead but it’s worth noting the Charlotte Independence (USL) may get a renovated stadium which could pave the way for a different path to MLS.
As always, phat7deuce from Reddit is keeping us updated on USL/NASL attendance. Here is how the rankings shake out through Week 31:
- 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 - 8,367 - Down 0.3% (These numbers are off what that other story said)
- #5 - San Antonio FC - 7,153 - Up 15.9%
- #7 - Phoenix Rising FC - 6,127 - Up 316.8%
- #8 - Tampa Bay Rowdies - 5,894 - Up 0.3%
- #14 - St. Louis FC - 4,571 - Down 7.1%
- #15 - North Carolina FC - 4,471 - Down 11.6%
- #31 - Charlotte Independence - 1,615 - Up 17.5%
- Detroit/San Diego/Nashville don’t yet have active teams in these leagues
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):
- North Carolina FC release a cryptic statement about USSF sanctioning. USL bound?
- Soccer Stadium Digest put out their expansions odds.
- Atlanta United are getting a USL team in 2018. Team name TBD.
- Sounders 2 are moving to Tacoma in 2018.
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)
I’ve said it a bunch. They are a lock. You don’t start basically building a stadium if you haven’t been given the quiet nod that you are in.
2. Nashville SC (Previous Rank: 2)
For the second straight month, it really looks like they are in. The stadium financing just further cements it. The only way they don’t get in in is if...
3. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 4)
...Cincinnati sneaks up on them. The announcement of a fully privately financed stadium seems like an attempt to lock things up. Going smaller doesn’t make any sense to me though. Cincy probably has to wait...
4. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 3)
...unless Miami some how screws it up again. Maybe Sacramento, Nashville and Cincy all start in 2020 (or one of those teams, probably Sac, starts earlier). Then Miami can come in with the next wave after they slowly stumble to the finish line later. You just never know with Miami. Not that long ago they were promising to be ready by 2019 but several of these candidates are further along than them.
5. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 6)
This is the ownership group that’s always loomed large with all their money and they went and got richer and have a stadium that is built. It’s not soccer specific, which MLS says it wants, but they want rich owners more. Look at Atlanta and Seattle. Detroit could play in 2019 very easily it would seem. Don’t count them out as a dark horse for this round.
6. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: 5)
They easily have the second most shovel ready project but they still haven’t announced their stadium with a month to go. If they suddenly announced another very rich partner and a stadium plan in the coming days, they could turn it around too. Otherwise, they look like the team that gets left out this round and maybe next. I don’t believe expansion stops at 28 (remember, we’re at 23 with LAFC, 24 if you count Miami) so there is always hope. It’s just way out in the future.
7. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 7)
The order from here out could almost be called random. Tampa Bay seems unlikely to get picked this year or maybe ever. They have everything lined up but they have an owner with some legal complications. They could easily plummet below the next cities once those cities fix their problems.
8. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 8)
Talk to me after that November 2018 vote.
9. St. Louis, Missouri (Previous Rank: 9)
Long ago declared dead they are still just a magical $60 million away from being team 27 or 28. Don’t count them out. MLS wants a team in STL.
10. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 11)
Still is and always was the best bid from North Carolina. That’s not why they moved up though. The Crew going to Austin bumped them up by default.
11. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: 12)
Best attendance in NASL. It won’t be enough to make it to MLS as long as they don’t have a stadium deal.
12. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 10)
Last month I said I was probably being unfair to them moving them down month after month. Well Anthony Precourt just banged a few nails into the coffin of this bid. When the Crew move, and I sadly think that’s inevitable, this bid dies.
13. Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: 13)
I should shorten the list by one. This bid was DOA and it officially died over the last months. Maybe it gets new life with a resurgent Charlotte Independence combining with the Smith’s and all their money. Probably not though.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Maybe we’ll squeeze out one more update before this becomes official in December and the last 10 teams can clutch onto the final two spots after that.