Charlotte

St Louis FC

MLS give update on expansion situation

5 Comments

Major League Soccer has issued an update on expansion, and it appears that the Charlotte bid is making a strong case for itself.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber revealed that the league is in “advanced talks” with both St. Louis and Sacramento who many see as the favorites to be awarded teams 28 and 29. Garber also revealed those two teams hope to begin play in MLS in 2022.

At the last MLS board of governors meeting in Los Angeles in April the league was given permission to talk with the groups from Sacramento and St. Louis about a deal, while the board will meet again in December. In the next 30 days they plan to visit both Charlotte and Sacramento after visiting St. Louis two weeks ago.

“We are in very advanced discussions in St. Louis, and we really appreciated the details that they provided,” Garber said in Orlando, speaking from the MLS All-Star Game. “We look forward to continuing those discussions in the weeks and months ahead.”

With no timeframe given for when teams 28-30 will be announced, there is no rush here. But it appears the STL bid led by an ownership group fronted by Enterprise Holdings Foundation president Carolyn Kindle Betz which includes St. Louis FC owners, is way ahead in this race.

It also seems like Charlotte and Sacramento are now level-pegging, which is a little surprising given the fact that billionaire Ron Burkle is now the majority owner fuelling Sacramento Republic’s expansion bid. Garber did say talks with Burkle were “positive” and there is an expectation that both MLS and Sacramento are working through things at a sensible pace.

When asked specifically about STL and Sacramento, Garber revealed that talks are down the line with both but he also revealed that Charlotte’s bid, led by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper, is making headway.

“We are in advanced talks with both of them. They are not exclusive talks. Exclusive means we’re not talking to anybody else,” Garber said. “It doesn’t mean anybody’s leapfrogging anybody else. We are in discussions with Charlotte, but we are also in discussions with Sacramento and St. Louis.”

Where has this Charlotte bid come from?

Tepper has spoken before about his aim to have an MLS team play at the Bank of America Stadium downtown, and Carolina Panthers president Tom Glick was former president of New York City FC. It is clear Charlotte is in talks, but not having a soccer-specific stadium may be hurting its plan a little.

“We are primarily in the business of having teams that play in soccer specific stadiums,” Garber said. “His plan does not include one. So it’s not something that we’re running with very quickly until we’re very, very, very comfortable that that could be a different path for us. And we’re intrigued by that path because of the success we’ve been having in Atlanta and in Seattle and [the Chicago Fire’s impending] move down to Soldier Field. … It’s an aspect of his bid that puts it sort of in a different path.”

Whatever happens, MLS will not be short of options when it comes to this round of expansion, or even beyond that as 32 still seems like the “magic number” for the league.

Reports suggest that the bid teams from Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix Rising FC, San Diego and Raleigh were all in Orlando for meetings with MLS around the ASG, which suggests that potential expansion cities San Antonio, Detroit and Tampa Bay are now out of the picture.

Garber isn’t trying to rush into awarding the next expansion franchises and that is a very good idea for everyone involved.

“These are lifetime decisions for a board to make and for an investor to make,” Garber said. “There’s a process that we go through that is really really time consuming. These are massive commitments at this point. When you get involved in an MLS team now with the [$200 million] expansion fee and the stadium, it’s a minimum of $500 million dollars. And finalizing those deals take time. Both of those teams [St. Louis and Sacramento] are looking at coming in 2022, so we’ve got plenty of time for them to get their projects finalized.”

MLS franchise ‘belongs in Charlotte’

Getty Images
3 Comments

Charlotte, North Carolina is not one of the cities which has been high up the list for potential expansion franchises in Major League Soccer, but it should be.

That’s according to the owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, David Tepper, who has revealed he is in “ongoing discussions” with MLS about bringing a team to Charlotte, NC.

The largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte already has a soccer team, the Independence which has been in the USL since 2014. And a previous bid for an MLS franchise, which was submitted to the league almost two years ago, was led by Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Tepper, a hedge-fund manager worth $11 billion, revealed to journalists that the president of the NFL’s Panthers, Tom Glick, (who was formerly involved at Derby County, Manchester City and with New York City FC) is pushing the cause for a team.

“We are having ongoing discussions with Major League Soccer,” Tepper said. “We’re talking about when they’ll take extra teams and when the time comes, we’ll be [ready]. We’re very much studying, very much focused on it. I personally believe that’s something that belongs in Charlotte.”

Charlotte has seen some big crowds for friendly games between big European clubs at the Bank of America Stadium in recent years, but can any North American city truly say MLS belongs there?

We’ve seen some big cities have teams and be far from successful in the past (Miami, Tampa and LA’s Chivas USA to name a few), but there’s no doubting the potential in Charlotte, especially with a billionaire NFL owner ready to back the team.

That scenario has worked out pretty well for Atlanta United under Arthur Blank…

But this all gets quite tricky when you start to break down the race for MLS expansion franchises. With Commissioner Don Garber previously stating that 28 teams is the magic number, that means there is only one spot remaining. And there are plenty of cities in the U.S. scrambling for that franchise.

FC Cincinnati are joining MLS for the 2019 season, while David Beckham’s Club Internacional de Futbol Miami and Nashville SC are slated to arrived for the 2020 season and Austin FC have been awarded a franchise for 2021.

That takes the total number of MLS teams to 27.

Given the fact that both Sacramento and St. Louis have put strong ownership groups together after some struggles and Detroit was previously named as aa finalist in the expansion race, all three are believed to be pushing hard for an expansion franchise.

MLS could have a real problem on its hands, although a $150 million expansion franchise fee would help with any teething issues it has.

Remember, MLS said Cincinnati, Nashville, Detroit and Sacramento were its four finalists for two expansion franchises back in November 2017. Cincinnati and Nashville have now been awarded teams, so Detroit and Sacramento are seemingly next up. Since then the league have mentioned strong talks in San Diego and St. Louis, and Las Vegas and Phoenix have also been mentioned in the conversation.

This is getting a little out of hand.

Expanding too quickly could be dangerous for the overall quality in MLS, but at this point why not expand to 32 teams?

When a list of 12 potential expansion cities was submitted in February 2017 it consisted of: Cincinnati, Sacramento, Nashville, Detroit, St. Louis, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio, Tampa Bay/St Petersburg, San Diego, Phoenix and Indianapolis.

A lot has changed over the past two years with different ownership groups dipping in and out of the conversation, and plans for soccer-specific stadiums getting knocked back with certain bids.

Right now, if I had to select five cities that would get the next expansion franchises to make it to 32 teams, it would be Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit, Charlotte and Phoenix. Geographically they all link up with other MLS markets well and in terms of Sacramento and STL, they have done plenty of work to get stadium deals and ownership groups in place.

There are no doubt intriguing times ahead in the MLS expansion race, as the success of recent expansion clubs Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC have set the benchmark for how the league should grow.

MLS should not rush this process, and it’s main focus should be on improving some of its current franchises before expanding beyond 27. When it does decide to expand again, the frontrunners are clear for all to see.

Hopeful third-tier league NISA announces first 8 markets

@NISAOfficial
1 Comment

The National Independent Soccer Association has announced the first eight markets involved in its chase for Division III soccer sanctioning from U.S. Soccer.

Charlotte, Chattanooga, Connecticut, Miami, Milwaukee, Omaha, Phoenix, and St. Louis will be the markets applying to open play in Spring 2018. The league says it has 15 letters of intent, with the other seven markets opting to wait until the 2019 season to begin play.

[ MORE: Liverpool, Arsenal agree Ox deal ]

The league’s use of the word “applicants” is very loose, as its experienced organizers would not let the possibility of “no” get mixed into an initial release.

NISA will be owned by the teams and run by organizers Peter Wilt and Jack Cummings, and the teams will need to pay six-figure expansion fees to fund the league.

Wilt and Cummins are behind an NASL bid for Chicago, and Wilt helped build MLS side Chicago Fire and is on the club’s Ring of Fire. Cummins is an executive who ran the Chicago Red Stars women’s team, and both men work for a sports advisory firm called Club 9 Sports.

At least one of the aforementioned markets is a known entity from other leagues, NPSL side Miami United, and Chattanooga FC may have a team in the league though there are conflicting reports (A supporters account says yes, the club’s co-founder says there will be an NPSL side no matter what).

Wilt pitched Division II NASL and perceived Division IV NPSL on helping to organize NISA, in the hopes that NISA would eventually become a middle cog in three-tier promotion/relegation.

St. Louis, Phoenix, and Charlotte have USL sides, and Miami has a team in the NASL.

Sean Flynn, the CEO of Miami FC in the NASL, has been an outspoken proponent of pro/rel and is supportive of the idea even with a team in his market.

Another delay for MLS stadium deal in Charlotte

Getty Images
1 Comment

A decision on public funding for a potential Major League Soccer stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina was delayed once again Monday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Charlotte’s city government committee stated no decision would be made on helping to fund a new MLS stadium before Aug. 2 when a country vote is scheduled.

It is the latest delay for the proposed $175 million stadium.

Potential owner Marcus Smith — CEO of Speedway Motorsports — has offered to pay the full $150 million MLS expansion fee, plus $87.5 million towards the stadium. With $43.75 million committed to help pay for the stadium, a decision on another $43.75 million has yet to arrive, leaving the stadium bid, and Charlotte’s entire MLS bid, in limbo.

Charlotte is one of 12 U.S. cities who have submitted a bid back in February for two MLS expansion franchises which will be awarded later this year. It is also not the first of those 12 cities to suffer a blow when it comes to requests for public funding of stadiums, as St. Louis found out recently with their MLS bid in ruins.

Via the Charlotte Business Journal, here’s some more information on what lies ahead for the Charlotte bid.

County commissioners voted in January to commit $43.75 million of property tax money to help pay for the proposed stadium. They also endorsed a county-owned site on the edge of uptown now occupied by Memorial Stadium and Grady Cole Center. Smith would build a stadium there after demolishing the existing stadium and arena.

At the time of the county vote, City Council was expected to decide on a related $43.75 million request also to be used for stadium construction. Instead, council members opted against a vote, citing higher priorities such as the next annual budget and an emphasis on public safety, affordable housing and jobs. This month, city council and the county commission each passed annual budgets without any property tax increases.

Smith has consistently said he remains hopeful local government and others will rally around the chance to bring an MLS team to town.

In a prepared statement issued Monday evening, Smith and his MLS4CLT bid group said of the council referral, “We hope the city and county can continue to work toward realizing the dream of a stadium in Charlotte on a timeline that works for all parties. Our commitment to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte has not wavered, nor has the support of thousands of people in this community who are looking to their elected officials to endorse this plan that will positively impact our region for generations to come.”

For now, those hopes look like a long shot.