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.
- July (Phoenix, San Diego, Cincinnati, Nashville)
- 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)
- For all of our expansion coverage, bookmark this page.
Don Garber Speaks
When the MLS Commissioner speaks about anything MLS related, people tend to listen. At the MLS All-Star Game Garber dropped four city names that were “energized during the expansion process.” Those four cities? Nashville, Sacramento, Cincinnati and Detroit.
"Cincinnati and Nashville, and Sacramento and Detroit — just to name four where we've been to recently. Man, the energy there is off the charts," Garber said. "Governors and mayors and CEOs all trying to tell their story about why they'd be great MLS expansion cities. It is a lot more ambitious and a lot more opportunistic than it was many years ago for sure."
Now he in no way said two of those four will be next, but it has to boost the ego’s in those cities to have them singled out, even if he was just naming sites they’ve “been to recently.” Garber talked about the 25th and 26th teams being decided at the league meeting after MLS Cup in December, so that brings us to the implied 24th team.
In separate conversations Garber also had a few things to say about Miami which has to really raise the spirits of south Floridians. First, he said “it was at the finish line” when referring to David Beckham’s Miami bid. He would go on to say in another interview that after meeting with Beckham and Todd Boehly (a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers):
"We are not announcing MLS Miami today. But I am confident we'll be able to do that by the end of the summer.”
By my calculations summer doesn’t technically end until September 22nd, since that’s the date of the autumnal equinox, so we have some time.
As always with Miami, there are some lingering problems. Back in June we had told you about the deal to sell the final three acres of land to Beckham to complete the parcels needed to build his MLS Stadium. Well, now there is a lawsuit to stop that from happening. Basically the suit is stating that if the city wanted to sell the land it should have gone to the highest bidder instead of letting Beckham buy it without others getting to bid. To go much deeper on understanding the suit, you should real this article. Oh Miami!
Sacramento Republic FC
The beat writer for the Sac Republic, Evan Ream, is reporting that Sacramento to MLS is a “done deal,” though no official announcement has come (or likely would until December).
Update: since I sent out this, I've heard from two sources who think that the Republic to MLS is a done deal https://t.co/xeI2yWdyTy— Evan Ream (@EvanReam) August 29, 2017
To further support that point the Sacramento Bee is reporting that the group behind the MLS bid has started “pre-construction” at the site of the potential future 19,621 seat stadium. Apparently they are leveling the ground to have it ready for spring construction to go vertical. That would allow the club to finish the stadium by 2020, the target for the next two MLS expansion clubs to join.
The clubs Chairman and CEO, Kevin Nagle, confirmed this portion alone is a “multimillion-dollar” investment and he has “never been so optimistic.” The Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg said, “I hope this serves as a statement of high confidence of where we stand with Major League Soccer.”
Those sound like two men who believe they are getting a team.
Always being a downer, ESPN wonders if Sacramento will get passed over again.
Not to be left behind in all the exciting news is Nashville SC. They’ve had a busy few weeks that culminated with the release of new stadium renderings (one of which headlines this article). The renderings are preliminary, which is a typical tactic to keep a team in the news. Phoenix did this a long while back and still haven’t released their official renderings. The stadium is said to hold approximately 30,000 fans and Nashville SC would be looking for a potential second tenant in Vanderbilt University.
The University is expected to decide if they want to share the stadium with the potential MLS club relatively soon. The goal of the Mayor and City Council is to push aggressive legislation by October, so Vanderbilt and Nashville SC would have to get everything together pretty quick. That would allow them to be in consideration for one of the two slots MLS will pick in December.
The stadium would be built on the Nashville Fairgrounds which would require “major renovations” to accommodate the stadium. Because it’s on the Fairgrounds the fair would have to agree to lease the land and the sports authority would have to approve bonds for financing. That’s a lot to accomplish in 30-45 days.
For their part, Vanderbilt Football fans are against moving the stadium off campus. Their current stadium is situated on the University’s campus and is more than 10,000 seats larger than the proposed MLS stadium, which would seem to be a large factor in the University getting involved. Most fans were for a shared stadium and potential MLS team, they just want it on campus. The city and team have made no mention of doing an on campus shared stadium.
In the interim, Nashville have announced plans to play soccer with their 2018 USL team in First Tennessee Park, the home of the Nashville Sounds, a Triple-A baseball team. The layout looks cramped, but even New York City FC play in a baseball stadium (albeit a much larger one).
In one final bit of Nashville news, the ownership group behind the bid has added the Wilf family to their bid. The Wilfs own the Minnesota Vikings (NFL) and it’s unclear why they are joining. The current bid has a billionaire behind it and the Wilfs have a lot of legal troubles that I’d personally not want associated with the bid if I was in charge.
Wayne County has an unfinished jail site that the entire Detroit MLS bid hinges on. Dan Gilbert, one of the two billionaires behind the MLS bid, is trying to build a $520.3 million criminal justice complex elsewhere so he can put his MLS stadium on the unfinished site. The County is moving forward, but it “isn’t a done deal.”
Walsh Construction still have 120-days from June 28th to submit a proposal to finish the currently stalled jail site. That would put us at the end of the year, likely after MLS will have picked it’s next two teams. The Detroit Free Press has all the details.
In other Detroit news, Detroit City FC may turn pro this year. They are currently the countries top attended fourth division team and may look to move in the NISA, a new league associated with the NASL. NISA would be the Division III league between NASL (D2) and NPSL (D4). NISA announced eight teams already. Four of them, Milwaukee, Omaha, Conneticut and Chattanooga, don’t have professional teams. The other four, Charlotte, Miami, Phoenix and St. Louis have other pro teams competing against them in the same cities.
We’ve talked in the past about DCFC having a coming together with the MLS bid, but this would seem to be counter intuitive to that.
Phoenix Rising FC
Not to be left out of the mix of the “top” teams looking for expansion, Phoenix Rising soccer expert Kyle Kepner got some more information out of the club about their new stadium.
The team has reportedly narrowed it down to three possible architecture firms and I personally believe they’ll finalize that shortly as to not get left out of the teams picked this year. They’ve also worked with an independent construction company to confirm cost estimates of the stadium. As previously reported, they have a deal in place with Goldman Sachs to privately finance the stadium as soon as MLS gives them the go ahead.
Last Friday, the club met with the Solanna Group to firm up the plans around the land the stadium would be built on to ensure they “meet every request MLS has made in recent weeks.”
In other news around the stadium, Firebird Rising sent one of their reporters to one of several focus groups around potential choices for the stadium. The group agreed the current stadium site was best (PRFC currently have a 6,200 seat “pop-up” stadium at the same location), season ticket prices should be around $20-30 per match and the supporters section should have a safe standing area, like in the new Orlando City SC stadium.
St. Louis, Missouri
The hopes of MLS in St. Louis may not be dead just yet. Southside alderman Joe Vaccaro told the local CBS affiliate that “he’s hearing rumblings” about a new group coming forward to build a stadium. He did go on to say:
“What I believe is that there is a plan B out there and we will end up with soccer in the city. Now, do I have concrete evidence? No.”
I’ve long said in this very space that a $60 million short fall shouldn’t be an amount that can’t be overcome. MLS was really high on St. Louis getting soccer when the Rams left. If more emerges, then you can start to get excited again. Until then, I’d temper those expectations.
In other less promising news, St. Louis FC (USL) has some abysmal TV ratings. In their defense, the YouTube streams of USL games, which are free, have really low viewership too, so I’m not sure it’s an indication of anything important.
San Diego, CA
In other “cities that are struggling” news, San Diego had been asking MLS to postpone their announcement of teams 25 and 26. Major League Soccer issued a statement reaffirming their plan to still select those two clubs by the end of the year. San Diego has a good chance for teams 27 and 28, but they aren’t getting picked this year.
North Carolina FC
No real news out of NCFC but The News & Observer has a story on Steve Malik, the man behind the potential MLS bid.
Tampa Bay Rowdies
Our friends at Midfield Press have a story assessing where Tampa stands right now in their quest for expansion. It’s a good read but leading the story off is the news that Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is now a defendant in a trial where his company, Mortgage Investors Corp, and others may owe $108 million to the federal government. If that’s true, that financial instability could sink Tampa’s hopes going forward.
Two big things happened for LAFC since last time we were here. They signed their first Designated Player. Mexican International Carlos Vela will join the club as one of it’s premier attacking options.
Also, former United States Men’s National Team coach Bob Bradley will be the clubs first head coach. It’s kind of fitting since he previously coached Chivas USA, the other Los Angeles based MLS team that folded several years ago.
Soccer America put together a nice story on the attendance of the 12 cities vying for an expansion club. Of course Cincinnati FC are still killing it with a series of highly attended Lamar Hunt US Open Cup games plus they are always first in NASL/USL attendance. It’s worth reading but even Nashville, who have no team, came in third based on their highly attended Gold Cup game and International Champions Cup game.
They did bump Phoenix down based on only 37,404 fans attending the Mexico/Honduras game but that game was held in Glendale, which is a long drive from the home of Phoenix Rising. At the bottom of the list were both North Carolina based bids.
Corner Kicks (all that other expansion/contraction news):
- We talk expansion a lot but Four Four Two question whether Minnesota’s lack of spending is the way of the future with rising expansion fees.
- For the best coverage on minor league expansion (NASL/USL/etc.) check out Midfield Press’ great updates.
- Las Vegas is getting a USL team and they’ll be called the Las Vegas Lights FC.
- Fresno FC will join the USL in 2018 as well.
- Birmingham, Alabama is getting a USL team too, but not until 2019.
- Austin (presumably the AzTex) will come back to the USL in 2019 too.
- Austin also has two names registered by MLS for potential names, interesting since they aren’t among the 12 applicants.
- Louisville FC, another USL team not in the running for MLS expansion, is crushing it in attendance. They are third behind only Cincinnati and Sacramento.
- The NWSL are also potentially expanding with a team in San Fransisco.
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 (at least until Miami is officially the 24th team).
1. Sacramento Republic FC (Previous Rank: 2)
Spending millions of dollars on construction surely means they have private assurances they won’t be skipped again. Right?
2. Miami, Florida (Previous Rank: 4)
Don Garber surely wouldn’t embarrass himself saying an announcement is coming at the end of summer if things weren’t a lock. Right? Right?!! Nothing surprises me with Miami anymore but this saga has been going since February 2014. It should end by the end of this month.
3. Phoenix Rising FC (Previous Rank: 1)
Behind Sacramento, they are the second closest to starting stadium construction. They have the land, the financing, they just need to release their official stadium plan. Expect that in the coming months.
4. FC Cincinnati (Previous Rank: 3)
They just made a fantastic run in the US Open Cup coming up just minutes short of making the finals. For my money, it’s them or Phoenix joining Sacramento in MLS in 2020.
5. Nashville SC (Previous Rank: 7)
Don Garber mentioned them by name. They had fantastic attendance at the two games they hosted recently. They even have a government willing to spend public money despite having plenty of private money behind them. They are the dark horse for 2020.
6. Detroit, Michigan (Previous Rank: 8)
Two billionaire owners. A name drop from Garber. A deal in place with Wayne County. The only thing holding them back this round seems to be that their deal can’t be finalized until late December. They are real contenders for slots 27 and 28.
7. Tampa Bay Rowdies (Previous Rank: 5)
The more I think about it, their dwindling attendance (probably too harsh of a word) bothers me. They aren’t selling out now. All the teams above them that have minor league teams sell out nearly every week (except Cincy, but that stadium is huge). Plus this lawsuit concerns me.
8. San Diego, California (Previous Rank: 6)
I still really like their chances for slots 27 and 28. The desperate attempt to get everyone to wait for them is silly though. They are out for this years picks as we’ve stated over and over.
9. San Antonio FC (Previous Rank: 9)
There is just never any news out of SAFC to get me excited. Whoever said no news is good news didn’t write monthly-ish articles about a subject.
10. North Carolina FC (Previous Rank: 10)
Nothing new here either. I expect some sort of announcement from them soon that could give them a jolt. Their NASL attendance is hurting them though. They are 15th among second division teams. Of the teams on this list, they are last (for the bids that have teams). They are also behind several cities without bids in terms of attendance.
11. St. Louis FC (Previous Rank: 12)
Call it my home state bias, but the fact that people are “hearing things” has me excited someone could swoop in with that missing $60 million.
12. Indy Eleven (Previous Rank: 11)
With Andrew Luck not playing for the Indianapolis Colts you’d think Indy Eleven would get more attention. It’s just not the case. No one is talking about this bid.
13. Charlotte, North Carolina (Previous Rank: 13)
The Governor said why not give both cities in NC a MLS team. There. Is. No. Way. They probably won’t get one, let alone two.
Let us know what you think of our rankings in the comments. My boss here at SB Nation also put together a ranking of her own. Although she’s wrong (*wink*) it’s still worth a read.