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MLS Expansion Update: Charlotte, Phoenix, Las Vegas, $600 Million Fees and Six Cities Drop Their Bids

Charlotte is basically in and MLS looks to go to 32 teams.

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NFL: NFC Divisional-Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Testament is back with another periodic installment of our Major League Soccer Expansion Update. In October, Sacramento, California was granted the league’s 29th team. Before that it was St. Louis, Missouri being announced as the 28th team. I recommend going back to those stories and all our other expansion updates.

Charlotte, North Carolina

A bid that was dead under the Smith family got new life when Carolina Panthers’ (NFL) owner David Tepper took over. Charlotte went from the longest of shots to the likely 30th team. Many outlets are reporting that Charlotte are in, however, nothing is yet official.

According to The Athletic, “the league did approve for its expansion committee to enter into what Garber expects ‘to be final negotiations with (Tepper) to have Charlotte be our 30th team, but no formal approval was granted.’”

Tepper has requested $100 million in taxpayer money to improve Bank of America stadium. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has indicated several needs for the stadium: “that the supporters’ section is proper, that they have the proper tunnels, that they have the right environments for locker room and other competitive environments.” Also, the stadium holds 75,000, so there needs to be a plan for reduced capacity for soccer matches. Tepper on the other hand sees Charlotte competing with Atlanta United. If that’s true, maybe they’ll need all those seats.

Garber wants to announce something by the end of the year. The real shocker of all the news in The Athletic’s story was that they plan on Charlotte entering the league in 2021. That means they would be the 30th team, but really they’d come in 28th with Austin FC being 27th. That would make St. Louis 29th and Sacramento 30th in 2022.

Also, despite St. Louis and Sacramento paying a reported $200 million in expansion fees each, Charlotte could pay $300 or $325 million. Tepper is worth a reported $12 billion. Apparently you can just buy your way in, if that wasn’t already clear.

Six Teams Do Not Have “Active Bids”

Back in 2017, twelve cities applied for MLS expansion. Of those, Cincinnati, Nashville, St. Louis and Sacramento are in. Austin snuck in by threatening to move the Columbus Crew to Texas. And Charlotte is also one of those 12 bids, but they originally had a different ownership group (much like St. Louis).

According to Garber, six teams currently do not have “active bids.” Those cities are Detroit, Indianapolis, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa/St. Petersburg. Raleigh/Durham are too close to Charlotte and likely will never get in. The same is true of San Antonio with Austin. Detroit are still backed by two or three billionaires so they could always re-emerge. And San Diego seems primed for soccer and will have a USL team coached by Landon Donovan in 2020.

Phoenix and Las Vegas Could be Next

Don Garber confirmed that “the league is still in discussions with Phoenix, the other city that submitted a bid back in 2017, and Las Vegas, which emerged as an expansion contender earlier in 2019.” If those cities are let in, that would bring the league to 32 teams. Previously MLS has said they’ll stop at various lower numbers, mostly recently it was 28 before it was 30. It likely won’t stop as long as owners are willing to pay huge sums of money.

“It might go to (32), we’re not ruling that out, but we have never said that we are going to 32 teams,” said Garber. “I don’t even think it’s a likelihood. Why would we have any make any comments about what the future might look like? I did say that I can’t see in the short-term that we were going to go beyond 30 teams, but life’s a long time. I never thought we’d be at 20 or 24 or 28 and never thought would be 30. I don’t know what the world is going to look like many, many years from now. Right now we’re very focused on finalizing our 30th team, with no commitment to go further than that.”

$600 Million Expansion Fees

If and when the amount of teams go up, expect the expansion fees to climb with it. Glenn Crooks of the On Frame Podcast had on a guest who claimed teams 31 and 32 would have to pay $600 million to get into MLS.

That is triple what St. Louis and Sacramento will pay and about double what Charlotte may pay. Not to mention 60 times what Real Salt Lake paid in 2005 ($10 million).

Corner Kicks (All that other expansion news)