It's that time again. It's time for our monthly-ish update regarding all things MLS Expansion. For those of you new to these updates, I have a bit of a fascination with MLS expansion (and expansion and contraction of pro sports leagues in general). If you need to get caught up, here are the last few updates.
- February (Big updates from San Diego, Phoenix and St. Louis plus a lot more)
- January (MLS 2 possibilities, expansion timeline, North Carolina, Miami, Tampa Bay and more)
- December (FC Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Diego and more)
- November (St. Louis, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Charlotte and more)
General Expansion News
Mark Abbott, MLS President, gives an expansion update on Extra Time Radio. There are a lot of topics discussed but the biggest for me is that not only will teams 25 and 26 come out of the group of 12 that we are dealing with but so will teams 27 and 28. Meaning that teams like the OKC Energy and Louisville City will be left out in the cold when it comes to the next two rounds of expansion.
And according to Don Garber, these will be the final two rounds of expansion as he claims MLS will stop at 28 teams. I'll believe it when I see it. Money talks. Speaking of Garber, during halftime of the Portland/Minnesota season opener he said teams can't pay extra to jump up the line. The fee for teams 25 & 26 are $150 million and they could grow to $200 million after that. Apparently rich teams won't get priority, but being a billionaire is never a bad thing in the eyes of the MLS.
There is lots of news out of Detroit in the past month. The biggest probably being the news that Dan Gilbert, one of the two proposed owners of a Detroit MLS franchise, made an offer to build a separate criminal justice complex and courthouse so that they can obtain the other site for their proposed MLS stadium. The complex would cost $420 million while the old site would cost about $300 million to finish. Reportedly the city will pay the $300 million with Gilbert's Rock Ventures picking up the difference.
If the plan falls through, Gilbert and his partner Gores apparently have no alternative. It's unclear why the site is so important as the newly proposed jail site is just two miles north of the current site.
Despite all that, the MLS expansion committee is set to meet with the Detroit group in May or June. Gilbert had wanted an answer from Wayne County before the end of February (the 20th to be exact) but that hasn't happened. They better hope they have an answer before they meet with the league.
San Diego, California
Initially it looked like Landon Donovan wouldn't be a part of a San Diego MLS expansion bid but that changed over the last few days. It's unclear if adding Donovan will help or hurt the cause. Obviously the league's MVP award is named after him but after the debacle with David Beckham, you never know.
Also a part of the Donovan announcement was that fans would get to vote on the potential team name. For some unknown reason some of the choices are Footy McFooty Face, the San Diego Stoners and San Diego Taco Trucks. This group doesn't understand you can't get people these kind of choices. Expect a re-vote in the future. Feel free to stay updated on their new site.
Before Donovan was added to the bid San Diego unveiled their plans for a new stadium as well. It would seat 30,000 fans and be situated on the old Qualcomm Stadium site, formerly home to the San Diego Chargers who moved to LA. The stadium would cost $200 million and be shared with San Diego State Universities football team. The University (or it's donors) and the MLS group would each pay half. Eventually the stadium will be gifted to the University. The entire area will also be redeveloped to the tune of $2.5 billion, which will all be privately financed.
Despite not asking for public money, it will still go to a vote of the people to determine if the site can be sold to private investors. There are some questions about how this will all work that is broke down by the San Diego Union Tribune. You really should read it, it's very comprehensive.
One last thing on San Diego. Don Garber was being interviewed by CNBC and he said San Diego's prospects are "looking good." That seems positive.
St. Louis, Missouri
The people will get their chance to speak. On April 4th two ballot measures will go to a public vote. One for the proposed stadium plan and another for a half-cent tax increase to fund the MetroLink expansion. Both measures need to pass. That is the $60 million for the stadium (down from $80 million) plus the MetroLink. STL SC won't let go of those public funding hopes which haven't worked out well in other parts of the country.
A poll of Democratic voters taken back in January showed that 61 percent disagreed with the use of public funds for a stadium (just 22 percent were for it). If you are saying "what about Republican voters," well don't worry, they don't live in St. Louis. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by a margin of 5 to 1 in St. Louis. I'd officially put this plan on life support. I think STL SC knows that as they've sent Jim Kavanaugh, the groups founder and vice-chairman, out to try to get people to vote for the measure. For what it's worth, Sporting Kansas City President, Jake Reid, is all for MLS in St. Louis. I doubt he's chipping in the $60 million though.
Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg
The St. Petersburg City Council approved ordinance language to upgrade Al Lang Stadium, where the Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL) currently play. This will lead to a May 2nd referendum that would give residents a chance to vote on the long term use of the stadium. If approved and if Tampa Bay is awarded an MLS club, they would begin work changing the capacity of the stadium from 7,500 to 18,000. A very big if.
If you are dying to know more about the ordinance, Midfield Press does a fantastic job in their coverage. They even have a follow-up from after the second meeting of the City Council.
Phoenix Rising FC
On the heels of last months announcement of a climate controlled stadium if/when Phoenix Rising obtain a MLS expansion team, the club started construction and released renderings of their smaller 6,000 seat stadium that they will play in for the time being. I actually drive right by this new stadium which is located in a very desirable part of town and is much more centralized than where the previously named Arizona United played last season. SI.com has a good write-up on chances that soccer comes to the Valley of the Sun. They do have the largest population and second largest television market of any city making a bid for expansion.
The last thing really holding Cincinnati back from being the number one contender for MLS expansion is a feasible stadium plan. The Cincinnati Enquirer spoke with mayor John Cranley who told the paper, "No one has talked to us about taxpayer money for a stadium in any manner whatsoever. I don't envision that." That shouldn't be a problem for Cincy who is owned by a billionaire but who has been reluctant in the past to commit to building a soccer specific stadium.
If they were to build a stadium, selling tickets sounds like it would be the least of their problems. FC Cincinnati already has over 10,000 season ticket holders for the upcoming 2017 season. That's pretty impressive for a minor league soccer team. The typical MLS stadium only has about 20,000 seats, so filling them seems like it wouldn't be an issue.
As a team that came a bit late to the bidding game (they and Phoenix were surprise additions to the expansion race) not as much is known about Indy Eleven's bid for expansion. SI.com cleared that up with a comprehensive piece. One black mark of note for Indianapolis as an expansion possibility is the clubs unwillingness to fund their own stadium. They will reportedly only chip in $10 million of the $110 million cost. Back in 2015 they failed to make this a reality. Why the club thinks things will change in an economy that is very against tax breaks for billionaires and millionaires is beyond me. All that said, they did raise $20 million to upgrade the current stadium for Indy Eleven's current iteration in the NASL.
What a strange and twisted road. Word came out on Friday that David Beckham's group was going to make an announcement on Monday, March 6th. That time has come and gone with no announcement. In that same piece, the Miami Herald didn't paint a rosy picture but Beckham's people insist an announcement is coming. There are apparently three acres of publicly owned land that Beckham's group needs to build their stadium in the Overton area of Miami. Three acres! I'm sure it's not cheap, but that just sounds silly.
Maybe in a counter point to that article in the Herald, Tim Leiweke, one of the investors, wrote a separate op-ed in the Herald. He doesn't say a deal is coming, but he does lay out the reasons it will be so good for Miami and for the public schools who will apparently take ownership of the stadium at not cost to the public.
Although their future as an MLS team is secure, this tidbit seemed worth mentioning. After a albeit brief but failed run as the head man at Swansea City in the Premier League, LAFC are apparently interested in Bod Bradley being the head man for their debut season next year. This, like many of their Designated Player stories (ie. Chicharito), seems worth watching.
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):
- Just when it seemed the NASL was doomed to fail, they are talking expansion in Chicago and San Diego. Oh, and Orange County as well.
- Orange County SC will have a new home this season. Could this potentially be LAFC's USL team too?
- D.C. United appear to have a USL team in the works for 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. Until Miami actually is the 24th team, I have this sneaky feeling they may get jumped.
1. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 1)
They have done nothing to lose this spot. They added a big name (Donovan) and released more details about their stadium proposal. They are lacking an NFL team (which MLS has shown it likes -- I'm looking at you St. Louis) and are funding their stadium privately. The only way to go.
2. Sacramento Republic (Previous Rank: 2)
No news is good news? I'm not sure that's true, but Sacramento just keeps plugging along.
3. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 4)
10,000 season tickets for a USL team? That's pretty good. Most teams won't even come close to having that many fans per game in the USL and I'm sure Cincy will have far more than that in attendance.
4. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 3)
It strikes me as odd that it's been nine plus months since they've been in contact with the public entity that owns a mere three acres of land. If they can't raise that much money then how can they sign Zlatan?
5. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: 5)
I'm probably just biased. I have season tickets. I'd love to turn those into MLS season tickets. And I drive by the stadium everyday. It's hard not to get excited. All that said, they have the largest population overall and largest Hispanic population of all the 12 applicants.
6. Tampa Bay/St. Pete (Previous Rank: 8)
The largest media market that is applying for expansion. That surprised me. That definitely matters.
7. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 6)
NCFC have had lots of good news recently with the rebrand, stadium news, the acquisition of the NWSL defending champions. They were bound to have a quiet month.
8. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 10)
What is better than one billionaire? Two billionaires! Things seem to be progressing nicely in Detroit. My only concern, much like Phoenix, is over saturation. There are lots of pro teams in those cities.
9. Nashville, Tennessee (Previous Rank: 9)
They are quietly doing all the right things. I think their USL team not playing yet really hurts them in this first round of expansion but they could be a real contender for the "last" two spots.
10. St. Louis, Missouri (Previous Rank: 7)
They seriously need to drop the effort for public money. It's a drop in the hat when we are talking figures this large. If they announce tomorrow they no longer need the public money, they are probably at least 2nd on this list. I could easily see them and San Diego coming in together. Until that time, they'll just keep falling.
11. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: NR)
They have a strong ownership group and an under-served Austin, Texas market just down the road. They are definitely a dark horse to sneak in for a team. Don't forget they already have a soccer specific stadium that is ready to be expanded to MLS size.
12. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: NR)
The unwillingness to put in hardly any private money is very sketchy. Indiana has a history of funding their stadiums with public money but I feel like that was the past. The Colts got theirs in 2008 and the Pacers in 1999. The world has changed since then.
13. Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: NR)
Let me just quote what I wrote last month, because it remains true. They only want to pay a third of their stadium cost and they are owned by a billionaire. They'll remain in last.