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.
- April (St. Louis tastes defeat, LAFC comes in alone)
- March (Detroit, San Diego, Miami, Phoenix and more)
- February (Big San Diego news, Phoenix, St. Louis and lots more)
- January (MLS 2 possibilities, expansion timeline, North Carolina, Miami, Tampa Bay and more)
Phoenix Rising FC
Lots of news out of Arizona in the last month with the first information dropping right after my last big update. Didier Drogba has joined Rising as a player and owner in a quest to help the club gain expansion into MLS. This definitely has to show how serious the new ownership group is about getting to MLS. Drogba is by far the biggest player to ever play in USL and Phoenix knows a thing or two about big players already featuring Mexican legend Omar Bravo and Premier League veteran Shawn Wright-Phillips. One of the owners of Rising, Berke Bakay feels pretty good about the move:
"When I was in our conference room, and he had the offer that we gave him after we did this whole tour, he looked at it, he shook his head. He said, 'You know what? This is something very special. This is something very unique. This is different.' It was meant to be. It literally took seven months. It wasn't an overnight thing. I'm incredibly happy right now. It's unbelievable, partnering with somebody of his caliber, and moving to Phoenix, a city he had never been to in his life before, and to move his family there. That shows in his mind -- a person that has many other alternatives -- what he thinks the odds are of making it to MLS."
It's not all good news in Phoenix though as head coach Frank Yallop abruptly resigned just a couple weeks later on the heels of back-to-back wins. Assistant Rick Schantz is stepping in as interim coach but the club, including Drogba, were surprised by the move. While it isn't good news, I already wrote an editorial for Firebird Rising explaining why it's not that big of a deal in the end.
Despite the news of Yallop leaving, the shadow didn't hang over Phoenix long (it's the Valley of the Sun after all). MLS President Mark Abbott stopped by for a visit and had good things to say.
"We were particularly impressed with the progress Phoenix Rising has made in a short period of time, and the fan base they have developed. We look forward to continuing our discussions with Phoenix Rising as our expansion selection process continues."
Another bit of information that came out of the Abbott visit was that Phoenix Rising "could begin construction within days of Phoenix receiving MLS approval." Days! That's pretty impressive. They also indicated Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium could be a temporary home for the club as needed.
PRFC also announced that they have worked out a deal with Goldman Sachs in regards to stadium financing. In the press release the club points out they lead all 12 cities in total population, number of Millennials and Hispanics and are double the size of all the other cities in TV households. Not bad.
Phoenix Rising did fail to sell out their third game of the season just missing the 6,200 seat capacity. They sold standing room only tickets the first several games so it'll be interesting to see if the rising heat will impact attendance.
I'll leave you with a general roundup from the Arizona Republic about the team and it's emergence in the market.
The bid for MLS expansion in Tennessee got a boost with the recent news that the group behind the MLS bid has purchased a controlling interest in Nashville SC, who are set to debut in USL next year. John Ingram, the chairman of Ingram Industries (who's family is worth $4 billion) will take a majority stake in the USL club. A tidbit that also came out of that is the club has a USL PDL club set to start play next week which should help the organization start to figure things out building up to the USL debut.
Other news out of Nashville is that former MLS coach Gary Smith will be their first USL head coach. Smith led the Colorado Rapids from 2008 to 2011, which included an MLS Cup in 2010. Smith also has coached Stevenage FC (England) and the Atlanta Silverbacks, who were previously in the NASL.
Lastly, Nashville SC have their first kits and jersey sponsor announced. Nissan will adorn their kits and the color scheme looks pretty good. I like the blue kit a lot more than the yellow one though. Maybe a bit too yellow.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
In other pretty large MLS expansion news, the city of St. Petersburg overwhelming voted to allow Bill Edwards to expand the stadium to 18,000 seats. No public money was needed and the club was able to garner 87 percent of the vote. Via press release, Edwards had the following to say:
"I am grateful to the citizens of St. Petersburg for passing this important referendum. St. Petersburg is very protective of our incredibly valuable waterfront -- as is appropriate. We have put together a stadium plan that enhances our downtown, is of a scale that is respectful to our waterfront and does not burden the taxpayers."
My only concern would the be the size of the expansion. 18,000 seats aren't a ton, but is somewhat inline with recent stadiums, though the trend does seem to be going to 20,000 or more lately.
Word on the street is that Miami Beckham United, the supposed eventual Miami MLS team owned by David Beckham, will add Tood Boehly to it's list of investors. Boehly is the chairman and CEO of Eldrige Industries. ESPN are reporting that this should aid in the purchase of the last three acres of land in the Overton portion of Miami where Beckham's group have already spent $19 million on the first six acres.
Another interesting bit of news in the ESPN piece is that other MLS owners aren't pleased that Beckham is buying in at $25 million when the next four teams will pay at least $150 million. It's my understanding Beckham had a minimum amount of time to get this team together and it's unclear if that's passed. If it has, one has to wonder if the pre-agreed upon fee that Beckham negotiated as a player would go up.
Time may be running out on Miami getting a team according to Don Garber, MLS Commissioner. He had the following to say:
"And we all agree it’s time to either move forward or not. And that time is upon us. It’s not a specific day, but that time is upon us."
St. Louis, Missouri
While this is weak, SI.com are reporting the deal to St. Louis isn't dead yet. It simply appears to be the case of no news is good news. There has been nothing announced, including nothing about the ownership group bowing out. It seems logical to not declare the bid dead just yet as there is a second ownership group lurking out there that could potentially fill the $60 million dollar gap that the voters of St. Louis decided not to cover, just as I indicated last month. There was rumors of a plan B for half a second that someone was funding the $60 million gap but it was quickly shot down.
Sacramento Republic FC
SI.com has a good update on the status of things in Northern California calling their bid the only one that is "shovel ready," though Phoenix may have something to say about that. The story doesn't really provide any new information except this one item:
"Republic has sold out both home games at 11,569-seat Bonney Field so far this season, and although FC Cincinnati draws larger crowds, SRFC leads the 30-team USL in ticket, sponsorship and overall revenue."
San Diego, California
The ownership group behind San Diego's MLS bid submitted more than 100,000 signatures gathered over just two weeks to put the groups proposal in front of the city council. The groups proposal should now go up for vote in November if the privately financed proposal can move forward.
No news is good news? Maybe. Although this is self serving the Cincinnati Business Courier quoted both myself and Adnan Ilyas (another SB Nation writer) in the quest for Cincy to get an expansion franchise.
Much like Cincy there isn't much news out of Detroit but there is a really good article on catching up with Detroit up until now.
While LA are definitely going to be the one and only team to join the league in 2018, there is still lots of news trickling out. The newest bit of news has former MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelloto as a potential coach. Bob Bradley is still on the list but Schelloto is another possibility.
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):
- Boise, Idaho are looking to add a USL team.
- Fresno, California are on the potential USL list too.
- Las Vegas, who missed out on a MLS expansion application, might be into the USL too.
- Baltimore, Maryland want in on that USL expansion as well.
- Even Birmingham, Alabama are in this roundup from USL President Jake Edwards.
- It's not all rosy in USL as the Rochester Rhinos have a future that's in doubt.
- The USL also announced a new third division (which could include some of those above cities). We took a look at what it meant for Sporting Kansas City.
- The Canadian Premier League has been approved (don't worry, the Canadian MLS teams are staying).
- For a great roundup of all things in the lower division of North American soccer you should really be reading Midfield Press. It's so massive I haven't even had a chance to read this month's edition so it probably has stuff I don't even know about.
- The Barca Women are apparently in talks to become the 11th NWSL team.
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)
The only thing working against this bid is having to wait until November for the vote. It seems really unlikely it fails to pass, but you never know with the public how they will vote. I'll leave it at that.
2. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: 3)
Mostly good news out of Arizona yet again. This is still likely my personal bias at play but to have a stadium that could be started immediately after expansion is granted, it's financed, it's privately funded and it's in the most populous of the possible expansion destinations.
3. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 2)
They just need a stadium plan, that is privately financed and they'll seem like a lock. They did set a USL home opener attendance record with 23,144 fans.
4. Sacramento Republic FC (Previous Rank: 5)
They apparently are the only shovel ready stadium plan. That means a lot. I feel for Sacramento because it feels like they could get skipped and they were previously seen as a lock. Right now it seems like they'll still get in, but it's close.
5. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 4)
Everyone is still assuming Miami gets in. Technically as 5th in this ranking they would get in since LAFC are the 23rd team and MLS is only going to 28 at this time. That leaves room for five more teams. It'll be interesting to see if Miami finally gets their act together.
6. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 6)
Things are really looking up in this part of Florida. If Miami doesn't figure it out it sounds like the Rowdies will.
7. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 8)
Two billionaires. A stadium plan. They just need the land. I'd really like to see Detroit City FC move up to a higher division and bigger stadium to see if the support is really there. That said, they sell nearly as many tickets as Phoenix Rising which I have in second, so maybe it's that west coast bias at play.
8. Nashville SC (Previous Rank: 9)
I've never been to Nashville but it feels like a city on the rise. It's very hip and trendy and while I don't feel good about their chances to get the next two slots, they could be a dark horse for the following two teams. I'm interested to see how their USL debut will go, but that's still nearly a year away.
9. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 7)
Not a lot of news out of the triangle region of NC. Their NWSL team looks good, but NWSL attendance has been pretty bad so far in 2017 for all but the top couple of teams.
10. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 10)
Their USL team is playing really well. They are drawing good support to the stadium. They are right next to another hip city in Austin, TX. It feels like a hot bed for soccer. It feels like spots 7-10 could be jumbled into any order and all these cities would be on the cusp of making it in.
11. St. Louis, Missouri (Previous Rank: 11)
If someone can just jump into the ownership group with $60 million then they are right back in the mix. It feels weird that they might give up when they were so close.
12. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: 12)
They were a late entrant into the race, but unlike Phoenix they haven't generated any positive buzz. If they get that public money for their stadium, then they are in the mix. It is a pretty big if.
13. Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: 13)
It never really felt like they had a chance.