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.
- June (FC Cincinnati, Miami, San Diego and more)
- 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)
Let’s dispel this myth that there aren’t enough viable bids
There has been a lot of talk that, of the twelve bids for the four expansion spots, there may not be four viable bids. A lot of that comes from this Sports Illustrated article, which despite it’s pessimism is still informative. To all the naysayers, I say calm the heck down. Only two bids are getting accepted by the end of 2017 with those two clubs not set to start play until 2020.
MLS hasn’t even announced when the next two teams would be getting in. There could be a long time for the other cities to get their acts together. Not to mention MLS could change the rules and allow new bids since some of them (Charlotte, Indianapolis) appeared dead on arrival. That could leave teams like Louisville City, Oklahoma City Energy and a forthcoming Las Vegas USL club with chances to get into the race.
So stop worrying that there aren’t viable cities. If the league had to pick today there are two shovel ready projects in Sacramento and Phoenix that could step right in. On to the news.
Phoenix Rising FC
Intrepid reporter and the only owner of a Phoenix Rising blog that I’m aware of, Kyle J Kepner got an exclusive on the stadium situation in Phoenix. He had the chance to sit with Phoenix Rising’s ownership and discuss the coming stadium announcement (expect something official August 3rd). Apparently PRFC went to Kansas City (see TBT fans, it’s not all about other cities) to meet with seven architectural firms and got unique bids from all involved.
The biggest revelation was that they won’t be building a dome. Initially Major League Soccer had thought the only way to do a stadium in the desert would be with a roof. According to all these fancy architects though, there are ways to control climate much more efficiently than putting on a roof. Kyle got to learn way more about sweat and human physiology than he probably imagined, but the gist I got from talking with him is that it’ll be a much better climate than Houston and Orlando, who already have teams, despite being in the desert.
I can personally attest to going to games at the current stadium and it honestly not feeling bad at all despite temperatures approaching 122 degrees during the day. I can also tell you I’m a baby, so if I was hot, I’d complain.
All this is to say, Phoenix have a shovel ready project too. My only concern for them is fixing any potential traffic issues when you go from a 6,200 seat stadium to a 20,000 - 25,000 seat stadium. That is the only area where the city/state may need to get involved since the rest of the land is through the Native American reservation.
San Diego, California
Soccer City was dealt quite a blow since our last update. The San Diego City Council voted to not allow a special election for their MLS stadium plan but to put it on the November 2018 ballot. This is despite a desperate plea from Landon Donovan who risked missing the birth of his child to go to the City Council meeting.
Everyone is losing their mind that San Diego can’t get a team now, but that is definitely not the case. It just means they won’t get one of the next two teams. The plan still reportedly has 68% support, which is significant.
In other San Diego soccer news, the City Attorney revealed that a confidential memo was leaked to the developers behind the deal which could ultimately hurt the city by giving the developers a better deal and lowering tax income. This likely won’t hurt the bid, but is definitely a bizarre twist.
Last month, I reported on the potential new FCC stadium that could be built on one of three sites. I was specifically concerned with the $100 million shortage that it appeared FC Cincinnati wanted the public to pay.
Deadspin (and others) are reporting that it may not be that big of a deal. If FCC decide to build their stadium in Newport, Kentucky (literally right across the river from downtown Cincinnati) there is a TIF (tax increment financing) plan in place to cover the $100 million.
So if the money is available, what is the problem? Well, FCC fans openly booed the idea of putting a team called FC Cincinnati into Kentucky. Rightfully, they want the Lindner family to cover the other $100 million, since they are worth about $2 billion. Seems only fair. All signs point to Cincy playing in Kentucky.
In other FCC news, 32,287 fans came out to watch the club shock the Chicago Fire in the US Open Cup tournament. Cincinnati will now face Miami FC, the only other non-MLS club left in the tourney for a spot in the semi-finals.
MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, dropped by Tennessee for a visit during the United States Men’s National teams trip to town to play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He spoke pretty highly of Nashville who he originally was very down on when they bid in December. Saying that Nashville was “never on anybody’s list” but that now they are “very high on the list” of MLS expansion hopefuls.
For Garber though, it all comes down to the stadium, which Nashville has yet to get worked out.
"If a very promising market can't have a stadium, they're not going to be an MLS expansion team. If Nashville's able to achieve that, it's going to be a very positive aspect for their bid. When we founded the league, soccer stadiums were not part of the original plan. The plan was to play in NFL stadiums. Now, we realize there's no reason to go into a market until you get that locked up."
Nashville remain a long shot for a 2017 announcement, but there will still be two slots available after that time.
For a more detailed interview with Garber, the Tennessean has you covered.
The owners behind a potential MLS team for Detroit have registered the name Detroit City Soccer Club, which is very close to Detroit City Football Club, a semi-pro team in the NPSL. It doesn’t mean that’ll be the name (if there even is a team) but it prevents others from using it.
Speaking of DCFC, they brought out 6,310 fans for a fourth division soccer game recently. That’s pretty crazy when you note that most USL and NASL teams (the second divisions) don’t come close to that.
San Antonio FC
Oddly SAFC appear to be content waiting until round 2 of expansion and believe they have a better shot at spots three and four. A leader of the expansion bid is Nelson Wolff, who is a judge in Bexar County, had the following to say.
"We kind of think we have a better shot at the third and fourth pick and when we don't know when that would be — possibly sometime next year. We just don't know for sure."
In more positive news, the local politicians at least appear to be supporting an MLS stadium expansion of Toyota Field over building a new ballpark for their incoming AAA baseball team.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Bay News 9 came out with a story that said the Rowdies are among the “top 4” teams believed to be getting an expansion team. There is really nothing else in the story, but it stood out to me that their attendance (which is 7th in USL) is only at 5,600 of a possible 7,200 seats. Seems like you should sell out your small stadium before building a bigger one.
I want to give updates on Indy but there rarely is news. The Indianapolis Business Journal put out a piece about Indy Eleven being the NASL attendance leaders (and they are third overall in division two clubs (behind Cincy and Sacramento). But the comment thread on the above piece says people are going to these games with free tickets, so maybe the numbers are inflated. Also, the article says St. Louis is one of the leaders to get an MLS team and it was written on July 5th. Check your facts IBJ.
North Carolina FC
This is coming out a bit early as NCFC have a visit set for tonight with MLS officials. Google it, the news will be everywhere.
Charlotte, North Carolina
This bid is dead and now bizarre. The Charlotte Observer is reporting some sort of shenanigans between the ownership group, the county and MLS. Basically, the Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio is insisting the meeting with MLS officials was to be private at MLS’ request but MLS president, Mark Abbott came out and said that they didn’t request that at all and when asked who made it private he directed the paper to contact the Smith’s (no relation) who are making the MLS bid. DOA.
Since LAFC are definitely coming in 2018, let’s just hit some bullet points, most of which are [insert big name player you’ve heard of] is linked to LAFC.
- Keisuke Honda is linked to LAFC. Just kidding, he went to Mexico.
- Wesley Sneijder supposedly close to a deal
- LAFC President Tom Penn: Top talent will want to play in LA
- We’ll leave you with Will Ferrell begging Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez to come play for LAFC
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):
- The OKC Energy want back into the MLS Expansion race (they didn’t apply). They are still pushing for a stadium though.
- Midfield Press does a great job of keeping you up to date on minor league soccer expansion.
- The Las Vegas City Council vote today on USL expansion.
- Bill Edwards, owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, still owns the Fort Lauderdale Strikers because their auction ended at a mere $5,100.
- Statesboro, Georgia’s Tormento FC are looking to go to USL D3 with a new stadium.
- San Fransisco FC could be a USL team by 2019.
- Wichita FC want to join the USL (one would assume D3).
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: 1)
Nothing but good news out of Phoenix. They are about to announce their stadium plan. Apparently they have MLS on board that it doesn’t need to be a dome. They have sold out virtually every match since their re-brand. They are even talking of bumping their stadium capacity to around 10,000 this summer to accommodate demand. It’ll take a set back for them not to be one of the first MLS expansion teams announced.
2. Sacramento Republic FC (Previous Rank: 2)
So quiet in Northern California. Probably because they are also shovel ready. With other bids incomplete, Sacramento has to get a team, right? As for those concerned two teams can’t come from the west, Sporting Kansas City or Minnesota United can just slide over to the East (or both with LAFC coming).
3. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 3)
At this moment, it really only feels like Cincy and Tampa could get in ahead of the above teams. Cincy just needs to finalize that stadium plan (probably in Kentucky).
4. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 4)
No news out of Miami this month, but that’s not surprising. They still really feel like a team that could get jumped. Phoenix, Sacramento and Cincy in with Miami joining team 28 later? Maybe.
5. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 6)
Their current attendance is a concern, but everything else seems lined up. Having their stadium situation resolved puts them ahead of most of the bids.
6. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 5)
Everyone is listing San Diego as dead but I don’t buy it. Everyone below them don’t have stadiums figured out. There is no announcement about teams 27 and 28 at this time (and let’s be honest it’ll go beyond 28 teams). If and when their vote goes through in November 2018, they are probably the most desirable city to put a team in. I’d be open to living there.
7. Nashville SC (Previous Rank: 7)
They did nothing to hurt their cause with the Gold Cup. They just need to announce their stadium situation and they seem like they could move up the list. What they really need to do is fast forward to 2018 when their USL team will start playing and we can see if they can draw a crowd.
8. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 9)
Their bid still relies on the government to figure something out with that prison site. If they overcome that, their super rich owners and the success of Detroit City FC seems like they’d make them real contenders.
9. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 8)
Being content to wait until Round 2? Bizarre.
10. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 10)
We’ll know more after today’s visit with Garber. If the visit includes announcing a stadium that doesn’t include public money and that has a stadium site, then they’ll shoot up the rankings.
11. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: 12)
At least they are playing soccer and talking expansion. Plus, their attendance is pretty good, even if people may be getting free tickets.
12. St. Louis (Previous Rank: 11)
Still no news. $60 million between them being here and up in the Top 4.
13. Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: 13)
Started in last, never got going. This bid is doomed.