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Sacramento, St. Louis emerge as MLS expansion favorites

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Soccer fans in Sacramento and St. Louis will be getting pretty excited right about now.

Both cities are in the frame to get an expansion side in Major League Soccer, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

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Garber has said both Sacramento and STL have “the strongest bids by far” and ahead of the Board of Governor’s meeting in LA next month the expansion picture will be discussed heavily.

The commish also committed himself to making an announcement before the end of 2019 on the next expansion franchise, and “very likely much sooner than that.”

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Garber said that Sacramento and St. Louis are way ahead of the other expansion hopefuls but wouldn’t confirm which city is in the lead to get the 28th MLS franchise.

“Both are strong bids, both are great markets, both of them have worked very hard at the political leadership level and very much so at the ownership level, and certainly in each market fans have shown an enormous level of support,” Garber said.

Garber went on to speak of the admiration he has for the new wealthy investors that Sacramento Republic FC have lined up, Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez, with the former the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL. Brought in by club chairman Kevin Nagle, Burkle and Alvarez have agreed to purchase Sacramento Republic FC if the MLS bid is successful.

For many years, Sacramento were the frontrunners in the MLS expansion race given their impressive crowds in the USL and having a $300 million soccer-specific stadium lined up to be built on the Railyards site in downtown. But from an ownership point of view they were just missing some big investors, as Cincinnati, Nashville and Austin jumped ahead of them. Now, they have the owners they need.

As for St. Louis, their chances of getting a franchise have increased substantially after their MLS bid also received new backing from the prominent Taylor family, who own the Enterprise rental car company. They have revived a bid for a downtown stadium which would be primarily funded privately, and STL’s soccer heritage is clear for everyone to see. St. Louis FC are also having decent success in the USL and their part-owner, Jim Kavanaugh, is involved in their bid as the USL team would become the reserve side if an MLS side arrives in STL.

Adding teams in both Sacramento and St. Louis would also link up plenty of MLS cities nearby, something MLS is keen to do as creating local rivalries has been crucial to the recent success of the league.

With MLS previously planning to only expand to 28 teams, it is also quite clear that it will readjust that number and somewhere close to 30-32 would now be a good number of teams for the expanding league.

Teams 28 and 29 look like being Sacramento and St. Louis, with the likes of Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas scrapping it out for the next few spots.

Renewed effort begins for St. Louis MLS franchise, stadium

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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ST. LOUIS (AP) St. Louis is back in the hunt for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise after the family behind rental car company Enterprise Holdings announced a bid that calls for a new stadium built mostly with private funding.

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Members of the Taylor family said Tuesday that the franchise would be majority-owned by women, a first in MLS and a rarity in professional sports. The group also includes Jim Kavanaugh of St. Louis-based World Wide Technology.

St. Louis hopes to become a three-sport town for the first time since the NFL’s Rams left for Los Angeles in 2016.

The Taylors are seeking tax breaks but no other public funding for a downtown stadium.

Enterprise, founded by Jack Taylor with a fleet of seven cars in 1957, is now listed by Forbes as one of America’s largest private companies.

Report: MLS hold talks with St. Louis over expansion franchise

SaintLouisFC.com
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“Wait, St. Louis is back in the running?”

That was likely your first reaction when reading this news. Yep, ours too. That is the nature of the every shifting expansion race in MLS, folks.

But according to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MLS officials held talks with city officials in STL earlier this week about their bid to become an MLS expansion franchise.

Here’s a little more detail from the report:

“An official in Gov. Mike Parson’s office told the Post-Dispatch that officials with the state Department of Economic Development met with Major League Soccer representatives as recently as Tuesday, and that the Parson administration was interested in working on a stadium proposal. The Parson official did not immediately know which St. Louis sites were under consideration and how many other times state officials had met with MLS representatives. The official did not have any information on construction plans, timelines or who beside the state might be involved with discussions.” 

Very interesting.

With Nashville and Cincinnati awarded franchises 25 and 26 in the latest round of expansion, two more cities from an initial shortlist of 12 are in the running. Sacramento, San Diego and Detroit were previously believed to be the frontrunners for franchises 27 and 28 but maybe that is wide of the mark.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said time and time again that constant changes in ownership groups and stadium situations mean that the ranking of viability among potential expansion franchises fluctuates considerably.

Yet St. Louis chatting with MLS is a bit of a surprise.

A bid to publicly finance an MLS stadium opposite Union Station in St. Louis collapsed after a public vote in 2017, as $60 million worth of public funding towards the venue was proposed.

There’s no doubt that STL has a rich soccer history and with the NFL’s Rams leaving the city in recent years there is a void to be filled in the sport market in that town.

And as we’ve seen from recent expansion bids in Cincinnati, Nashville and Miami, having wealthy investors on board is key and the report suggests that the Taylor family, who own the Enterprise rental car company, could become involved in a reshuffled ownership group in STL.

Maybe MLS heading to Missouri is back on the table. It would certainly link up the Midwest teams nicely with Sporting Kansas City and Chicago already in MLS and Nashville and Cincinnati soon to arrive.

Watch this space.

Hopeful third-tier league NISA announces first 8 markets

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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.

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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.

Stadium measure’s defeat likely ends St. Louis’ MLS chances

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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ST. LOUIS (AP) For the second time in 16 months, plans for a splashy new downtown St. Louis stadium have fallen by the wayside.

City voters on Tuesday defeated a ballot measure that would have allocated $60 million from a tax increase on businesses toward the construction of a 22,000-seat soccer stadium in the hopes of luring a Major League Soccer expansion team. In January 2016, the NFL rejected plans for a $1 billion football stadium along the Mississippi River, and league owners approved the move of the Rams to Los Angeles.

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Failure of the soccer stadium measure, which was defeated by 53 percent to 47 percent margin, will apparently doom St. Louis’ chances of becoming a three-sport town again anytime soon.

The new stadium would have near Busch Stadium, home of baseball’s Cardinals, and the Scottrade Center, home of the NHL’s Blues. SC STL, the group hoping to bring an MLS team to the city, agreed to invest $95 million in the project and cover the league’s $150 million expansion fee.

St. Louis appeared to be a heavy favorite among the 12 cities seeking two MLS expansion teams for the 2020 season. But the effort was contingent on approval of public financing, Commissioner Don Garber said at a rally in St. Louis last week.

MLS released a statement late Tuesday calling the vote “a significant setback for the city’s expansion opportunity and a loss for the community.”

Jim Kavanaugh, vice chairman of SC STL, said the vote “is likely the final stage of our journey.” But he said the ownership group owes it to supporters to “step back for a day or two before making an official announcement.”

It certainly sounded like the end.

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“We wish the outcome would have been different,” Kavanaugh said. “This would have been an outstanding project for the future of St. Louis.”

Kavanaugh went a step further in an interview with the St. Louis Business Journal, saying the ownership group is likely to disband and end its effort. He didn’t immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

SC STL also can’t expect any last-minute help from the state of Missouri. Though the state was negotiating for the potential sale or lease of 24 acres of land for the stadium site, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens is a staunch opponent of public funding for stadiums.

“The voters have spoken, and they agree,” Parker Briden, the governor’s spokesman, wrote Wednesday in an email.