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MLS Expansion Update: Miami, San Diego, Cincinnati, Phoenix, St. Louis, Nashville

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The latest news on cities and teams trying gain MLS Expansion in 2017 and beyond including updates on Miami, San Diego, Cincinnati, Phoenix, St. Louis, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Tampa Bay and Sacramento.

Rendering of the potential stadium for FC Cincinnati if they gain MLS expansion.
Courtesy of FC Cincinnati.
FC Cincinnati

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.

  • May (Phoenix Rising, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Miami and more)
  • April (Bad St. Louis news, LAFC alone in 2018 and more)
  • March (Detroit, San Diego, Miami, Phoenix and a ton more)
  • February (Big San Diego news, Phoenix, Sacramento, Indy Eleven and more)

Miami, Florida

There was so much news this month it is hard to know where to start so we’ll head back to the city that was granted a team over three years ago. In the last two weeks the county commissioners over the final three acres of land David Beckham needs to build his 25,000 seat soccer stadium voted 9-4 in favor of selling him the land. Beckham already owns the other six acres and would be paying $9 million for the final third in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami.

Now that they “own” the land (they haven’t paid for it yet) they’ll need it to be rezoned but that appears to be a formality (but everything around this team has ended up being more complicated than anyone imagined). As for a time frame on everything, the Beckham ownership group won’t go before the Miami commissioners before 2018. Then they have said they need two years to construct a stadium. Previously the club had said they would be able to play by 2019, which is why LAFC are joining alone in 2018. If they don’t have a stadium until 2020, it will be interesting to see how MLS handles it. Also, just two weeks before that this stadium wasn’t going to be done until 2021. Hmmm. Minnesota United and Atlanta United are still playing in their temporary homes as their inaugural season continues.

Two other notes that came out of the Miami Herald’s piece is that, “the Beckham group now must win MLS approval for its Miami franchise, a vote that a source said the Beckham group hopes to secure by the end of June.” That strikes me as odd considering it seemed like Miami had been given a team. Maybe the terms have changed since they’ve missed so many deadlines.

The other thing to note is that there will be no parking on site with the group relying on public transit, shuttles, walking and possible a ferry up the Miami River to bring fans to games. That doesn’t seem well thought out.

San Diego, California

A major blow has been dealt to the hopes of Soccer City becoming the group behind one of the next two MLS expansion bids. The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 against doing a special election in November 2017. That would seem to mean that San Diego will not be able to secure the Qualcomm Stadium site in time to be considered for this round of expansion. The vote would be pushed (or so it appears) to the general election of November 2018. With MLS set to pick two of the next four teams before the end of this year, San Diego appears like they will have to wait.

The league issued a vague statement that doesn’t really say anything but it is the opinion of this writer that San Diego is out of the running for this years two spots.

In lighter news, the team has created the “Original Supporters Group,” which is the actual name of the supporter’s group. That might sound odd, but the team will turn over control of the group to the fans as things progress and the group can then be renamed. The group will likely have influence over lots of decisions if the city were to be granted a team. The ownership group looks at this as a way for people who would support a San Diego MLS team to show there are a lot of them out there since they can’t show support by just getting tickets to games since there is no team currently to support.

FC Cincinnati

Not only did Cincy get goods news from San Diego floundering but they have some positive things coming out directly for them as well. In the last week the club released several renderings of what their new stadium will look like. This is good news as previously the ownership group appeared to be saying they wouldn’t build a stadium but would just continue to play in Nippert.

The stadium is said to cost around $200 million dollars and could begin construction in 2018 if Cincinnati are one of the two clubs chosen for expansion this year. The stadium would be completed by 2020, in time for their debut season.

FC Cincinnati have confirmed interest in three neighborhoods as possible stadium locations: West End, Oakley and Newport. Oddly, Newport is located in Kentucky but it’s right across the river from downtown Cincinnati. One potentially deal breaking piece of news from the Cincinnati Enquirer piece is that the ownership group is only willing to invest $250 million. That’s $150 million for the MLS Expansion fee and $100 million towards the stadium. That leaves $100 million for the taxpayers to pay. Nor the people or the government seem willing to spend taxpayer money on stadiums, so that could be a fatal flaw.

Phoenix Rising FC

This Sports Illustrated piece came out right as last month’s expansion piece was published, but it’s so full of good info about Drogba and MLS coming to town it can’t be missed. My favorite quote is below:

“When Didier Drogba left Chelsea after eight legendary seasons and signed with a club in Shanghai, his wife and children remained in London. When Drogba then moved to Galatasary in 2013, he did so alone. And when he joined the Montreal Impact two years ago, his family still stayed behind. But they’re moving to Phoenix [emphasis mine].”

Also from the piece, Phoenix Rising owner Berke Bakay had been working on getting Didier Drogba for eight months. Well before the announcement was made. The fact that Drogba thought so long and hard about this and that he’s uprooting his family, shows how serious he is about Phoenix joining MLS. For more on the visit by MLS, check out this video from the club.

In other Drogba news, he made his debut in the USL with a dominating performance despite the fact that he looked truly exhausted on the field. I was in the crowd sitting with the supporters section (instead of doing media) and it was a different atmosphere. The stadium filled up and stayed full (I guess people are usually off buying beer or something because nearly all the games have sold out). Also, no one left early, which is saying something in Phoenix. Something worth noting too is after the sun went down (right at kickoff) it wasn’t hot. There was a nice breeze. Possibly because the plot of land the stadium is on has nothing around it to obstruct the air movement. All good signs for soccer in Phoenix.

St. Louis, Missouri

You know the expression, “no news is good news?” I’m not sure that’s true if you are hoping a MLS team is coming to the other side of Missouri. The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that there is still no ‘Plan B’ for SC STL. They reached out for comments from the group and heard from investor Dave Peacock who said reports on ESPN radio that something was coming together is “all silly.” The spokesman of the group, Jim Woodcock echoed those thoughts saying essentially to ignore it unless it comes directly from him or the group.

Nashville SC

A report out of the Tennessean indicates that Nashville SC and the city of Nashville still haven’t figured out where to put their potential MLS stadium. They are still eyeing the fairgrounds but the plot of land is 117-acres and there are multiple possible locations.

Also, there initially was supposed to be a stadium financing plan by June but the major’s office is now expecting that in the fall. One weird thing coming out of Tennessee is that the mayor’s budget has $150 million in it for a soccer stadium, which runs contrary to most of the country that doesn’t want to use taxpayer dollars to build sports complexes.

Sacramento Republic

Kevin Nagle, the chairman and CEO of Sac Soccer and Entertainment Holdings (and owner of the Sacramento Republic) make his case in an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee.

The team made their own case this week by taking down Real Salt Lake 4-1 in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Their next test will be against the LA Galaxy and they could even play Sporting Kansas City if both clubs win their next two match-ups.

The San Diego Union Tribune even did an expansion update and said, “MLS would have to completely ignore a bunch of positives in California’s capitol city to not put a franchise there.” That’s a pretty good endorsement from a competing city.

North Carolina FC

The News and Observer have an update on the bid out of the Triangle region of North Carolina. They have reported that the stadium plan from NCFC is overdue but ownership doesn’t want to rush into choosing a bad spot without all the proper support. They are trying to learn from the mistakes of St. Louis, Charlotte (see below) and possibly San Diego.

NCFC also played a US Open Cup game this week, but they weren’t as fortunate as Sac Republic to draw a struggling MLS side, but instead got the Houston Dynamo, who look pretty darn good this season.

Charlotte, North Carolina

The other bid from North Carolina was always dead on arrival. To further cement that the Charlotte Observer is reporting that the Mecklenberg County Commissioners pushed back a decision on spending $120 million on a new soccer stadium until August and that some members don’t want to contribute unless the city does as well (which seems unlikely since they voted against doing so once already).

Democrat Dumont Clarke, who originally was for the proposal, seems to be changing his tune.

“Why are we budgeting for this when our key partner isn’t willing to endorse it? This gives the city a deadline to see what they will do.”

Marcus Smith, the main part of the ownership group, has said they are pushing forward for an MLS team but both his group and the city admitted they haven’t spoken since the city voted against funding the project in January. DOA.

Tampa Bay Rowdies

Rick Baker is running for mayor of St. Petersburg. He’s also been the public face of the Tampa Bay Rowdies bid to gain an MLS team. That’s why it’s good news that Baker announced he “would not negotiate the lease” deal. That could be seen as a conflict of interest if Baker were to be elected, so it’s good to get that out of the way. In our last update Tampa Bay overwhelming (87 percent) won a referendum allowing the city to negotiate a lease on Al Lang Stadium.

In other Rowdies news, owner Bill Edwards had a medical scare when he went in to get a pacemaker and had to have double bypass surgery. Edwards is said to be OK and recovering well. It will be interesting to see if this is a factor in MLS’ decision to give St. Pete a team.

LAFC

They already have a team granted to them, so we’ll keep this brief.

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. Until Miami actually is the 24th team, I have this sneaky feeling they may get jumped (again).

1. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: 2)

Blame my personal bias if you want (I live in the Phoenix metro area) but PRFC have it figured out. They are running a thriving USL team after two previous ownership groups failed in this market. They built a stadium (in 53 days) and sell it out consistently despite the heat. They have world renowned players. They have a stadium site approved and financing worked out. Also, among the expansion candidates they are the biggest city, have the most Millennials, largest Hispanic population and are a huge media market. Things look really good.

2. Sacramento Republic FC (Previous Rank: 4)

It feels inevitable right? With San Diego’s bad news this month, Sacramento bumps back up. They quietly do everything right and just keep moving towards their goal. They were stunned when Minnesota United leaped over them (frankly I was too), and it could happen again, but they feel like they are ready to be picked in 2017.

3. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 3)

They suddenly have a stadium plan (though no stadium site). This was their biggest flaw before since they were previously unwilling to move out of Nippert Stadium. But then they are apparently asking for $100 million in public money. YOU HAVE BILLIONAIRE OWNERS! They move to first if they get a site and privately fund everything.

4. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 5)

They are definitely going to get a team. Right? I’ll believe it when I see it. This month’s news is a positive step, but they cannot be trusted. Three years and counting...

5. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 1)

How the mighty have fallen. If they can get their special election approved they are still contenders to get a team this year. If not, they definitely will not get an expansion team in 2017’s round of announcements and they’ll suddenly be in a precarious position of being one of 10 teams vying for two spots.

6. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 6)

Everything looks pretty good in St. Pete. I like the teams above them to actually get granted the remaining spots, but Tampa Bay are here if these teams falter like St. Louis did in the past.

7. Nashville SC (Previous Rank: 8)

It really feels like spots 7-10 are contenders but there are too many unknowns. Nashville made positive movement with a government willing to spend on a stadium. So they move up a spot.

8. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 10)

They move up based on two factors. They already have a stadium that they simply need to expand (for which they already have a plan). Second, they are playing really good in USL. Success on the field can matter. Just ask Orlando City who dominated (albeit a much smaller) USL before coming to MLS.

9. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 7)

They are still waiting on their stadium site with their entire plan hanging in the balance. While they are financing their own stadium, they want public money to move and finish a jail that’s been delayed for a long time. Waiting on the government seems risky. Ask San Diego and St. Louis.

10. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 9)

I appreciate that they are trying to get their stadium site and plan correct. Until it exists, it’s just hard to move them up.

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

Once the MLS darling that seemed guaranteed a team. Now it appears everything has fallen apart over $60 million. It still doesn’t seem like that much money in the grand scheme of things. I guess it shows SC STL may not be that committed.

12. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: 12)

I scour for news every month and every month there is nothing. Are they even trying to get into MLS?

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

They are last and will always be last. They’ve been voted down by the city and the county that was supporting them are now slowly backing away. Another bid that never felt serious. Raleigh is the only serious bid in North Carolina.

And on an unrelated note (or is it related) I’ll leave you with this: