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.
- January (Expansion Timeline, MLS 2, St. Louis, Miami, North Carolina, Tampa Bay)
- December (St. Louis, FC Cincinnati, North Carolina FC, San Diego and more)
- November (Big St. Louis News, FC Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Charlotte and more)
- October (San Diego, St. Louis, Nashville, OKC and more)
MLS Expansion Tracker
January 31, 2017 was the deadline to apply for the next round of MLS Expansion. 12 cities have applied for spots 25 and 26 (no mention of Miami and their supposed 24th spot). To keep up with everything, MLS has released an expansion tracker, but you know we'll dive much deeper than that. The only new cities outside the 10 mentioned last month are Phoenix and Indianapolis.
San Diego, California
On the heels of the San Diego Chargers becoming the Los Angeles Chargers, MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, had San Diego on his tongue.
"We have spent a lot of time down there," Garber told reporters following the first round of the MLS SuperDraft on Friday. "There is a very good group that’s come together. We know the investor prospects well. I’ve been there quietly probably two or three times. I’ll be down there for the [US national team] game. I think it would be a great MLS city."
While that US National Team game was fairly poorly attended, it's not American fans that MLS would be relying on. Club Tijuana play just across the border and are currently first in Liga MX. It'll be interesting to see if some of that fan base spills over to MLS.
Just days after that, investors in San Diego announced plans to put a 20,000 to 30,000 seat stadium on the site of the Chargers old home, Qualcomm Stadium. It would be shared with San Diego State University (as we've reported on before). Investors have advised the stadium could be built and open by 2020 (which is when MLS plans to have teams 25 and 26 playing by). One perk this deal has on the NFL stadium they couldn't get built was this won't rely on any public money. San Diego makes a lot of sense for soccer.
In other, non-MLS soccer news for San Diego, they are in the process of potentially putting a NASL team in the city.
Phoenix Rising FC
A few days before the deadline to apply for a MLS Expansion club, the newly rebranded Phoenix Rising FC (USL) announced they were in the running for a MLS franchise. Then on the 31st, they laid out their plans after it was announced they had applied. They make a pretty strong case for why Phoenix is a good place for a team. They have the largest population of the 12 cities by far (4.5 million plus) and have a projected population of 5.6 million by 2030 (oh the traffic). Also, they have the largest population under 45 (2.69 million) and largest Hispanic population (1.2 million).
The club is also currently constructing a 6,000 seat stadium in a very centralized location. The stadium will potentially be expanded as early as this season. Also, if the team gets an MLS team, they say the stadium will be "climate-controlled," which remains to be seen. I actually already have season tickets (I live in Arizona now) so I'll let you all know how things go in the smaller stadium. It's going to be hard to keep me out of the press box if it gets too hot.
[Note: This article originally indicated the 6,000 seat stadium is climate-controlled but I've confirmed with a team official that is not the case. Only the larger, completely rebuilt MLS-size stadium, would address the heat. That may be rough for the fans in the current stadium that is under construction.]
St. Louis, Missouri
A huge hurdle has been cleared by the SC STL group to bring MLS to the other side of Missouri. Two measures were passed by the city's Board of Aldermen. There is one measure to finance the stadium and another for a half-cent sales tax to fund an expansion of the public transit system that will help get people to the stadium.
Mike Faulk, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that these measures will go to court Thursday where a Circuit Court judge may decide if this ends up on the ballot for a vote in April. The reason it may not end up on the ballot is because they missed the 10-week out timeframe to get on. That's not the only controversy as it was initially reported that the board voted against the stadium funding.
In the end, SC STL are still putting $90 million towards the stadium, covering any cost overruns or shortfalls and stadium maintenance (in addition to paying the reported $150 million expansion fee to join MLS) but are still relying on $60 million in public funds. It seems this could be the thing that ultimately holds St. Louis back. $60 million doesn't seem like much when we are talking about figures this big.
Sacramento Republic FC
As a part of the series of announcements on January 31st, the group behind the Sacramento, California bid dropped a bit of a bomb. Kevin Nagle, the man behind the bid, apparently omitted any mention of Sacramento Republic FC in their bid to get a MLS team.
Five days later, that mistake was rectified. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced that an agreement in principle was reached for the Republic to be sold to Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, the company behind the submitted bid. Until that bid is accepted, the current ownership group, led by Warren Smith, will continue to run the USL club. Put down your pitchforks Sac Town.
Indy Eleven (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Indianapolis was the other city late to the game for MLS expansion. The NASL club, Indy Eleven, have had talks as far back as 2013 but things got quiet. What is confusing is that the Indy Eleven owners are saying they will build a privately funded downtown stadium (next to the Indianapolis Colts relatively new stadium) but the team is also trying to get usage taxes. It seems unclear why taxes would matter if they are funding the stadium privately.
Indy have strong attendance, the best in the NASL outside of Minnesota United, who are heading to MLS this season. It remains to be seen if their last second bid will amount to anything. They will likely need somewhere to go in case the NASL collapses into itself in the coming months/years.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Another one of the 12 teams/cities vying for MLS expansion, Tampa Bay are currently battling their MLB neighbors. Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is currently fighting the Tampa Bay Rays (MLB) for fans and ticket sales. According to TampaBay.com, Edwards was at a St. Pete council meeting really pushing the club. He has a strong point that Tampa Bay is the 11th largest media market in the country (which is the highest of all the cities applying for MLS clubs).
On top of that, as we've discussed previously, Edwards wants to spend $80 million of his own money to completely redesign Al Lang Stadium (the clubs current home) to allow for 18,000 seats and will keep it's awesome waterfront view. Another audacious move was to buy billboard space in Times Square just blocks from MLS headquarters.
If that wasn't enough, Edwards also reached out to David Beckham about bringing his potential Miami franchise to St. Petersburg. Beckham hasn't responded. Tampa/St. Pete just aren't Miami.
Charlotte, North Carolina
One of two bids out of NC, this one is headed by Bruton Smith, the billionaire behind Speedway Motorsports and the owner of Charlotte Motor Speedway. He and his son Marcus have a new plan that calls for the demolition of Memorial Stadium and the adjacent Grady Cole Center which would be replaced by a 20,000 seat MLS stadium. It would cost $150 million, of which Bruton would only fun $50 million asking the city and county to each chip in $50 million. Seems like a non-starter. So much so the city cancelled the vote for now.
Another of the teams on the list for expansion, Nashville's bid got a bump from the Mayor, Megan Barry, who proposed building a soccer stadium on the fairgrounds. The details are a little sketchy. There is no price, capacity or even word if Nashville SC (a 2018 USL club) could play there.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Las Vegas City Council apparently really wants an MLS team. They approved a contract with a sports investment bank, Inner Circle Sports. That deal is to make a comprehensive plan to bring a club to the city. That plan apparently didn't include bidding to get a team by the Jan 31st deadline. Las Vegas is currently on the outside looking in.
Louisville City FC
Speaking out outside looking in, Louisville City FC (USL) didn't submit a bid to get in on this round of expansion. That hasn't stopped them from hiring an architecture firm to design a new 10,000 seat stadium (that'll be expandable to 20,000 seats). That same firm appears to be involved in the San Diego MLS bid as well. Inside the news story was a subtle dig at their rival, Cincinnati FC.
"For us it's a case of trying to put our ducks in a row," Louisville City coach James O'Connor said. "I think the first thing we need to try and do is get our own stadium, with the ability then to expand it if we were to go and get attention from MLS. Whereas I think Cincinnati are almost trying to go straight to MLS, like, 'Well, once we get MLS then we'll figure out a stadium.'"
We know they are getting a team, but here is some new stuff out of LA.
- An update on player recruitment as well as on coach and GM searches.
- Lots of supporter groups are out there for a team that won't start play for another year.
- LAFC gets a Vice President and Assistant GM.
- Fans and supports got to put their names into the foundation of their new stadium.
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):
- The Western New York Flash (NWSL) relocated and became the North Carolina Courage (same owners as North Carolina FC).
- Here are the Courage's debut kits.
- NWSL may expand to Vancouver, just not this season. The commish chimes in as well.
- At the combine, players preferred expansion in Miami above all other places. Tampa was 2nd followed by a five-way tie for 3rd (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Las Vegas and Sacramento)
EXPANSION POWER RANKINGS
1. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 4)
San Diego are on a meteoric rise. They are the new St. Louis in that they lost their NFL team to LA and MLS seems set to pounce on this new market. They have the ups on St. Louis in that they aren't asking for public money. They also have the best climate in the United States. It's hard to imagine them coming in with LAFC next season (get it together Miami) but MLS could always shift Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United to the Eastern Conference.
2. Sacramento Republic (Previous Rank: 2)
They had a minor hiccup with them potentially alienating all the Sacramento Republic fans, but they fixed that. They remain the team that seems ready to go tomorrow.
3. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank 3)
The silence makes me nervous but MLS never talks about another team being the 24th team. It has to be Miami, right?
4. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 1)
The Louisville City FC coach makes a good point, they need a stadium. Once the season starts and they start selling 30,000 tickets again, they should bounce back up the list.
5. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: NR)
With their stadium already under construction, their huge market and population, they are a natural fit for MLS. If that stadium really is climate-controlled and they actually draw a crowd, things are looking bright in the valley of the sun.
6. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 5)
Previously I had combined both North Carolina bids but that doesn't seem fair. This spot is for the Raleigh/Durham bid. They are financing their own stadium, unlike their much richer neighbors across the state.
7. St. Louis, Missouri (Previous Rank: 7)
Things are progressing along in Eastern Missouri but putting the faith in the voters seems like a bad idea. If the ownership group would just agree to pay for the whole stadium they move up to first (or maybe second).
8. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 10)
Bill Edwards seems like quite the pitch man. He's convincing me this could work. Especially if the Rays move away from St. Pete.
9. Nashville, Tennessee (Previous Rank: 6)
It's good news that the Mayor is pushing for a stadium. With their USL team not even playing for another year they just seem like a less attractive market than the other teams. The only other city without a team is San Diego, but they have a plan in motion.
10. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 8)
Detroit remains a sleeper to gain an MLS team. I actually heard from a member of the Northern Guard Supporter group for Detroit City FC who are pro-MLS coming to town, despite their leadership hating the idea. She even indicated many in the group would support the move. They have two billionaires too. MLS loves billionaires. No one saw Minnesota coming, could be the same with Detroit.
No Longer Ranked:
San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 9)
They have a team and an expandable stadium. They are one of the twelve teams in the running. Maybe it's just my distaste for the Spurs (NBA) knocking them down.
Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: kinda, sorta 5)
They only want to pay a third of their stadium cost and they are owned by a billionaire. They'll remain the last of the 12 teams that technically have a shot.