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MLS Expansion Update: 30 Teams, St. Louis, Sacramento, Austin

Don Garber goes deep on MLS Expansion, St. Louis releases new renderings and Austin has stadium troubles.

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If you’ve never been here before, be sure to check out our extensive MLS expansion coverage. Let’s get right to it.

MLS Announces They’ll Expand to 30 Teams

The odds of your city landing an Major League Soccer club just got a little bit better. After just last month announcing that it’s down to Sacramento and St. Louis for the 28th and final spot, MLS has bumped the number of teams getting in to 30. Teams 28 and 29 will have to pay a whopping $200 million expansion fee.

The league didn’t lay out what cities beyond St. Louis and Sacramento were in consideration (though they gave clues found below), but they did reiterate the areas that are considered top priorities:

  1. A committed local ownership group that has a passion for soccer, a deep belief in Major League Soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.
  2. A market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.
  3. A comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.

Miami and Nashville are set to join in 2020 with Austin FC coming in 2021. The league announced team 28 could join Austin in 2021 as well.

St. Louis Versus Sacramento

It seems increasingly likely that both of these teams will get in. Teams 28 and 29 are expected to be announced as early as the 2019 MLS All Star Game on July 31st, which further reinforces that both teams will get in, it’s just a matter of who gets spot 28. If I’m Sacramento, I keep building the stadium that they famously broke ground on more than a year ago. They could also both kick off as early as 2021 or 2022.

According to MLS, both teams will make presentations to the league during the second quarter of 2019 (April to June) that will include:

  • Final stadium plan
  • Commitments of corporate support
  • Composition of ownership group
  • Detailed economics on funding
  • Strategic plans for fan development
  • Commitments on player development
  • Details on community programs

Garber spoke on both teams. First, Sacramento:

“Sacramento has persistently told us for nearly five years that they are built for MLS, and we look forward to continuing discussions with Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez about adding an expansion team to the market,” Garber said. “We know Sacramento has a transformational stadium plan and strong engagement from government leaders. Since Ron and Matt recently became controlling partners in the ownership group, our expansion committee wanted to meet with them and learn more about their plans for the club.”

Then, St. Louis:

“St. Louis has a terrific ownership group and a long history of supporting the beautiful game,” Garber said. “During our visit to St. Louis last month, we came away very impressed with the corporate community’s support for a potential expansion team, and we believe the downtown site is the ideal location for a soccer stadium. We know there is still important work that needs to be completed to secure the stadium site before an expansion team could be awarded to St. Louis, and our expansion committee looks forward to meeting with the ownership group.”

The league put out a story on the needs for both Sacramento and St. Louis as well. Sacramento’s issues were around corporate sponsors, stadium plan and the training player development plan. St. Louis seems tighter on corporate sponsorship, but further away on their stadium plan according to Garber.

Expansion (Probably) Won’t Stop at 30

Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes said he thinks it’ll be 40 teams that MLS lands on. Garber was more vague.

“I don’t know that we have a firm handle yet on what the final number of teams in the league will be in the future,” said Don Garber.

With St. Louis and Sacramento set to almost assuredly be teams 28 and 29, that only leaves one spot left. After announcing the league is going to 30, further into that press conference and subsequent Q&A, Garber reeled off four more cities.

“Of late, we have been in very positive discussions in Las Vegas and in Charlotte,” Garber started. “We still believe Phoenix is a good market. We’ve been in discussions in Detroit. I’m regularly speaking to Mayor [Mike] Duggan in Detroit. I think that’s a great soccer market.”

No mention of San Diego, Indianapolis or others that were part of the 12 teams announced for the last round. Garber preached patience on team 30, but I suspect they’ll come in right alongside whatever team falls to spot 29.

“We’re going to take our time with team 30,” Garber said. “We have many cities that are interested in that 30th team. We don’t want to be unbalanced [odd number of teams in the league], but at the same time I think we do need to take a bit of a deep breath and onboard the teams that are going to be coming in over the next number of years.”

Full Don Garber Q&A

At the press conference, after Garber’s prepared remarks, he opened it up to questions and had an extensive Q&A. If you haven’t read his full comments or the question and answer segment, I highly recommend it. If nothing, it further supports that St. Louis and Sacramento are incredibly likely to get in. A few other interesting topics from the Q&A:

  • MLS 1 and MLS 2
  • Promotion and Relegation
  • New TV Deal
  • CBA Negotiations

St. Louis Releases Stadium Renderings

In addition to the positive news that St. Louis is almost assuredly getting a team, the club released new renderings of their potential stadium (one of which is at the top of this story). Red is a typical St. Louis color both in the flag and in terms of the St. Louis Cardinals, but there are an awful lot of red teams in MLS already.

Looks like a lovely place for Sporting Kansas City fans to venture across the state for rivalry games.

Austin FC Stadium Issues

The ongoing saga in Austin has hit another snag, as we reported yesterday in our Blue Links story (a great source of MLS Expansion coverage). The issues affecting the stadium are somewhat complicated but the Mayor of Austin alleges this bill is directed only at Austin and not at other stadiums around the state. The deal between the City of Austin and Precourt Sport Ventures would allow PSV not to pay property taxes but instead to pay $550,000 a year in rent of the land.

This isn’t the only issue potentially preventing the stadium from being built. 29,000 residents signed a petition that would make stadium deals on public land subject to an election. The Austin City Council refused to adopt that but there is a special election in November that they could look to use to push that change through.

As a reminder, Austin is set to join the league in 2021 and their stadium definitely won’t be ready.

[Update: 4/23/19 — This story originally said in error that team 28 would get in for $150 million.]