MLS expansion

MLS states intention to expand to 30 teams

1 Comment

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.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

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

Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

[ MORE: Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders for MLS Cup again? ]

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.

[ MORE: All the big news from Contract Deadline Day ]

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

Sacramento Republic FC
2 Comments

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.

[ MORE: Beckham’s Miami franchise almost official ]

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.

Nashville city council approves financing for MLS stadium

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Nashville’s bid to land an expansion franchise from Major League Soccer now has $275 million in financing approved to build a new stadium, giving Music City a major boost weeks before a final decision from the league.

The Metro Nashville City Council voted 31-6 Tuesday night for $225 million in revenue bonds for the stadium itself and another $50 million in bonds for renovations and improvements around the stadium at the current fairgrounds.

[ JPW: PL Playback – Week 11 ]

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry introduced the financing plan Oct. 2, and the council’s vote was the final approval needed for the project.

MLS requires a solid stadium plan for an expansion franchise, and John Ingram, the billionaire businessman who’s the local bid’s lead owner, called the vote a great night for Nashville.

“The vision to bring Major League Soccer to our city moves one step closer,” Ingram said in a statement. “Of course the final decision on the team won’t be ours, but tonight Nashville checked off the final item that MLS needed to see. I’m always proud of this city, and tonight we’ve shown – once again – how we all come together around something important to make Nashville the best it can be.”

Ingram’s group added brothers Mark and Zygi Wilf , owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, and cousin Leonard Wilf in August as minority partners.

Nashville appeared to make a strong case recently when league Commissioner Don Garber visited the city this summer in conjunction with the U.S. national team’s Gold Cup opener against Panama.

[ VOTE: PST’s Big American soccer survey]

The turnout caught Garber’s eye. The July 8 game drew 42,622 fans to Nissan Stadium, which was followed by a record crowd of 56,232 on July 29 to watch Manchester City beat Tottenham 3-0 in the International Champions Cup. A U.S. women’s national team SheBelieves Cup match against France last year drew more than 25,000 fans.

“If you don’t have success with friendlies or international competition, you’re not going to have success in MLS,” Garber told reporters during the visit. “So that’s a checked box that we’ve actually checked a while ago.”

Twelve locations expressed interest in expansion franchises. MLS is expected to announce two winning bids later this year, bringing the league to 26 teams, with two more teams to be added in the future.

MLS expanded to 22 teams this season with the addition of Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC. LAFC, which replaces the now-defunct Chivas USA, joins next year. Miami’s expansion effort, led by David Beckham, would bring the league to 24.

The other cities that submitted bids for an expansion team are: Cincinnati; Detroit; San Antonio; Sacramento, California; San Diego; St. Louis; Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida; Indianapolis; Phoenix; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

STL voters to decide on stadium funding, future of MLS expansion

Photo credit: saintlouisfc.com
Leave a comment

ST. LOUIS (AP) A year after the NFL’s Rams abandoned St. Louis for Los Angeles, the city has a chance to again become a three-sport town if voters agree to help pay for a stadium for a new Major League Soccer franchise.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Voters will decide Tuesday whether to designate $60 million from an existing business use tax for the construction of a 22,000-seat soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis. The ownership group SC STL would invest $95 million in the project and cover the league’s $150 million expansion fee, and they have asked the state to donate 24 acres of unused land.

The league is expected to announce two new expansion teams in the fall that would begin play in 2020. St. Louis would be a favorite among the 12 applicants if the stadium funding is approved.

At a rally in St. Louis on Monday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber talked about the city’s historical ties to the world’s most popular sport. The region has long been a hotbed for youth and collegiate soccer, and many members of the 1950 U.S. World Cup team that beat England 1-0 in one of the sports’ biggest upsets were from The Hill area of St. Louis. St. Louis University won 10 NCAA men’s soccer championships from the 1950s through the 1970s.

[ MORE: Bastian Schweinsteiger scored 17 minutes into his MLS debut ]

Garber said the departure of the NFL’s Rams to Los Angeles was a blow to St. Louis, but it helped open the door to an MLS team.

“Where there was a void left by the Rams leaving, it clearly put more energy behind this,” he said.

But Garber made it clear that the project rests with voters.

“Without that vote being positive, this project’s not going forward,” he said.

SC STL chairman Paul Edgerley said soccer is a good fit for the growing number of young people working in the St. Louis area’s burgeoning tech industry. An MLS team would add to “this positive momentum in the community that St. Louis has already started,” he said.

There is plenty of opposition to the proposal, too. St. Louis’ schools and police force are underfunded and its streets and infrastructure are in disrepair, and many city leaders believe it would be wrong to spend money on a stadium when basic needs aren’t being met.

[ MORE: Sporting KC rookie got GOT by Vermes, teammates’ April Fools’ prank ]

“These types of deals are never good economic development strategies for cities,” said Alderwoman Megan Green, one of many members of the board of aldermen who oppose the ballot measure.

St. Louis, she said, has “much greater needs than a soccer stadium.”

The city’s biggest newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, also opposes the use of public funds to pay for a stadium. In a recent editorial, it wrote that a city of 311,000 with a 90,000 people living at or below the federal poverty line “can’t carry the burden of a sports facility that would benefit surrounding county residents who aren’t being asked to pay their fair share.”

It took months of negotiations before aldermen agreed to put the measure up for a vote. Funding would come from a half-cent increase in a use tax on out-of-town purchases by St. Louis businesses. Residential taxes would be unaffected.

Public funding for stadiums has increasingly become a difficult sell in many places. Still, St. Louis aldermen agreed in late 2015 to provide up to $400 million toward a $1 billion stadium for the Rams. The NFL said the project and the funding were inadequate. League owners in January 2016 approved Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s request to move.