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Garber: Charlotte tops list of expansion hopefuls

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After recently announcing that the future 29th team in Major League Soccer would be Sacramento Republic, the expansion train could head back to the east coast for the landmark 30th franchise.

At his annual MLS State of the League speech, Don Garber revealed that Charlotte, North Carolina has jumped to the top of the MLS expansion race. David Tepper, owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, has been leading the bid to bring MLS to Charlotte. The city currently hosts a USL franchise, Charlotte Independence, though they play their games at the Sportsplex in Matthews, North Carolina, 15 miles from the city center.

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Phoenix and Las Vegas were also mentioned on the shortlist as MLS expansion shows no signs of slowing down. MLS has already announced teams 24-29, despite none of them having kicked a ball yet.

Tepper’s bid is attractive to MLS for many reasons. First, he’s a multi-billionaire, the founder and president of a hedge fund, and bringing Tepper in adds to the list of deep-pocketed MLS owners. Secondly, it fills another open space geographically for the league, which has no teams between Atlanta and Washington D.C. in the Southeast U.S. And third, Tepper appears interested in renovating his downtown NFL arena, Bank of America Stadium, to regularly host soccer games as well. Each year, at least one match from the International Champions Cup is held in Charlotte, with mixed crowds over the years.

 

According to reports from the Charlotte Observer, Tepper initially asked the city of Charlotte to fund, or help pay for a brand-new stadium, despite the Bank of America Stadium opening as recently as 1996. However, per a report in September, Tepper is now asking for the city to pay for stadium renovations and upgrades, as well as helping create a practice facility and headquarters for the new MLS club. The report states Tepper is requesting the city pay for stadium upgrades, while he covers the cost of operating the team and paying the estimated $200-million plus expansion fee, which is standard for all MLS investor-operators.

It’s unclear whether the city will agree to Tepper’s demands or wave them off, but from where Tepper is starting, it appears there’s still a long way to go until Charlotte will have MLS-dedicated facilities.

That being said, if New York City FC has shown us anything, it’s that an MLS team can still survive as a tenant in someone else’s stadium and on someone else’s fields. Only recently, more than a half dozen years after NYCFC was founded, did it move into its own practice facility.

Report: MLS, Sacramento on the verge of finalizing expansion deal

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Patience is a virtue, just ask Sacramento Republic.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento representatives and Major League Soccer officials have agreed “to the framework of a deal” that would grant the Californian capital an MLS expansion franchise in 2022, ending years of laborious work to bring top-flight soccer to Sacramento.

The team, which is expected to maintain their name and brand, issued a statement regarding the status of the negotiations shortly after the report surfaced:

“We appreciate the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer,” the statement read. “As we have stated all along, we are working tirelessly to finalize an agreement to bring MLS to a city and a fanbase that deserves it. We respect the league’s expansion process and will not be providing any additional comment at this time.”

Since their introduction to the North American soccer landscape in 2014, with record crowds, a clear identity on and off the field and a championship behind them, it was crystal-clear Republic were MLS ready then.

League commissioner, Don Garber, who echoed the thoughts of many, and his pupils, however, never acted on their words, striking deals with Cincinnati, Miami, Nashville, Austin, and St. Louis amidst the clamor of Sacramento joining the league.

With billionaire Ron Burkle, partner Matt Alvarez, and local businessman Kevin Neagle all in the ownership fold since the beginning of the year, Sacramento’s legitimacy has taken a much-needed boost – with talks between the team and the league advancing uninterruptedly since April. Over the past two weeks, the deal has never been closer to the finish line.

The ownership group is required to commit to lavish financial undertakings, with the expansion fee bumped to $200 million recently – all in addition to land purchases, the construction of a 20,000-plus seat stadium in the city’s Railyards, and team-wide operational expenses. There is a “contingency deal in place” for the group to buy 31 acres of land for the $250 million stadium as soon as the expansion is made official.

A green light from the league would make Sacramento the league’s 29th team, and the state’s fourth, joining the likes of LA Galaxy, LAFC and San Jose Earthquakes, who they’ve established a budding rivalry with dating back to the club’s first-ever game in 2014.

“While the deal is not finalized, we are working hard and I’ve never been more confident that we will bring (MLS to Sacramento),” Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has been an influential contributor to the project, tweeted Friday.

The wait is almost over.

MLS states intention to expand to 30 teams

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In a move that was more a matter of when, then if, MLS announced on Thursday it plans to continue expansion to 30 teams.

The league released a statement stating that the decision to expand to 30 teams was approved by the league’s board of governors at a recent meeting in Los Angeles. In addition, the board of governors approved the MLS commissioners office to move forward into “advanced discussions” with Sacramento and St. Louis over expansion bids, enabling those market’s to make formal presentations to the league. The governors also approved a $200 million expansion fee for the No. 28 and No. 29 expansion teams, with the fee yet to be determined for No. 30.

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While it doesn’t confirm that Sacramento and St. Louis will be the next MLS expansion markets, it certainly puts them in the front seat for spots No. 28 and No. 29, with a plethora of other cities in the mix for the latter two slots and the – for now – final No. 30 spot.

As of the 2019 MLS season, the league has 24 teams. Inter Miami and Nashville SC will make it 26 in 2020, and Austin FC will make it 27 teams in 2021.

Other previous MLS expansion possible markets have included Detroit, San Diego, Phoenix, Tampa, Louisville, and more.

While MLS continues to focus on expanding across the country, it may be losing sight of some of its established teams in major markets. The Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls and New York City FC have all experienced poor attendance so far this season, and little has been said about how best to correct this problem.

There’s no doubt that soccer is big in both cities, but fans aren’t making the trek out to see their local teams play, which is a big problem in MLS, especially with the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga all expanding marketing operations into the U.S.

Garber names 4 finalists for 2 MLS expansion teams

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Don Garber announced on Wednesday the four finalist cities — Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento — for two Major League Soccer expansion teams to be awarded in the next round of franchise expansion.

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Owners and officials representing each of the four respective cities will make their formal pitches to the MLS expansion committee on Dec. 6, followed by a board of governors meeting on Dec. 14 and an official announcement “before the end of the year.”

“The leaders of the Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento MLS expansion ownership groups have bold visions and innovative plans for their clubs, stadiums and their involvement in their respective communities. We are pleased these highly-respected business and sports leaders have been so determined to bring Major League Soccer to their cities. We have been greatly encouraged by the progress that all four of these groups have made and we are looking forward to their presentations.”

Sacramento’s bid, which has been an odds-on favorite for more than a year, would see Sacramento Republic make the leap from USL to MLS, doing so in a privately-financed stadium which has already seen pre-construction work begin at the downtown railyard site. Cincinnati, another popular pick among soccer fans and the media alike, has seen similar — and in some cases, even greater — success in USL. Their stadium deal, however, remains far less of a certainty as the ownership group and city council have yet to agree terms of a financial package for the $70-75 million requested.

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The group in Nashville recently received approval from its city council for $225 million in revenue bonds to build a $275-million stadium on the city fairgrounds. Nashville SC, which was founded in 2016 and fielded an under-23 PDL in 2017, will begin playing in USL in 2018. Detroit’s bid centers around Ford Field, the 65,000-seat dome which is home to the NFL’s Detroit Lions, despite statements from the league which in the past have made clear a desire for soccer-specific stadiums.

The tough question at the end of the road — one that Garber and Co. presumably (hopefully?) have considered and for which they have a plan — is: what happens when the league finally reaches 28 teams and the $100-150 million expansion fees, which have become the most reliable injection of consistent revenue for the league, come to an end?

There’s also the matter of David Beckham’s Miami project, which is now in its 47th month (not an exaggeration) of attempts to bring a team back to south Florida. How much longer will/can MLS hold a spot open for Beckham when there are other (albeit, far less desirable) options which are further along and much more of a safe bet?

Report: Three cities finalists for two MLS expansion franchises

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The race for the next two Major League Soccer franchises is reaching a conclusion.

[ MORE: Latest MLS Expansion rankings ]

With 12 cities waiting for a decision from MLS in mid-December about which two bids were successful in their quest for teams 24 and 25, Grant Wahl from Sports Illustrated is reporting that the two new teams will come from two of Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati.

As you’ve already worked out by now (and probably by the end of first grade), two into three doesn’t go.

In our MLS expansion rankings last week we ranked Nashville as numero uno, Sacramento in second spot and FC Cincinnati in third.

Since then Cincinnati’s push for a new soccer-specific stadium is gathering steam and a jersey sponsorship deal for a potential MLS team has already been lined up for both FCC and Sacramento.

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Per SI.com, the MLS owners meeting will take place on Dec. 14 in New York City and that’s when the decision about the next two teams to join MLS will be made.

“From talking to several insiders, I’m being told the two expansion teams will likely come from a group of three cities that includes Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati,” Wahl said.

Previous reports had stated that Nashville has been awarded a team due to their stadium deal being rubber-stamped and a strong financial commitment from the City Council, while Sacramento has long been the favorite for an MLS expansion franchise with work already beginning on a soccer-specific stadium for Sacramento Republic FC of the USL given their strong fanbase over multiple years in the lower leagues and also a strong ownership group.

Cincinnati is the real wrinkle in all of this and given their record-breaking crowds in their first two seasons in USL at Nipper Stadium (home to the University of Cincinnati Football team) it is so hard to ignore the huge potential in Cincy, even if MLS is insisting that a new expansion team has to have a soccer-specific stadium deal lined up. Is that really necessary anymore?

Look at Atlanta United this season. Detroit’s MLS expansion bid certainly did and has changed their stadium deal to Ford Field which can be reconfigured for MLS games and then extra cash saved from not spending a new stadium, a la Atlanta, could be spent on the team instead.

In truth, awarding all three cities of Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville an MLS expansion franchise would be the fairest way to do this as all three are way ahead of their expansion rivals. Will it happen? Probably not, but it’s something MLS’ owners can seriously consider in their meeting next month. If you’re going to add four new teams (plus LAFC joining in 2018 and David Beckham’s team in Miami finally seeming likely to happen, so six new franchises total to take the number to 28) in the next few years anyway, why wait if three are ready right now?

Detroit and Phoenix are the only other cities from the current group of 12 which are anywhere close to securing franchises but they’ll likely have to wait for the next round of expansion with another two teams to be named at a yet to be determined date, but likely sometime next year. There’s a real argument to be made that adding three new teams next month makes sense for MLS. Which punish one of Cincinnati, Sacramento or Nashville?

Add into the mix Beckham’s franchise in Miami finally getting the green light with an official announcement to arrive in the “coming months” and the Columbus Crew’s situation regarding a potential move to Austin, Texas and the crazy world of MLS expansion has reached fever-pitch.

Expect plenty more reports between now and mid-December about which cities have sealed the two MLS “golden tickets” as they pay $150 million for a new franchise.