Oops, he did it again.
Once again Don Garber has upped the ante on MLS expansion. The league has announced that it has set a new goal of reaching 30 teams, up from the 28 the Commissioner had previously fixed as its ceiling.
Thursday evening’s announcement noted that the decision was reached by the owners at the Board of Governors meetings in Los Angeles. The league has not made any final decisions on the expansion markets, although Sacramento and St. Louis are the clear front-runners (the league’s statement said that the expansion committee “was authorized to advance discussions with Sacramento and St. Louis ownership groups regarding their bids”).
Sacramento has been in the MLS expansion mix for several years now, and after having been bypassed by cities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Minnesota, it looked as if the California capital was set to miss out.
As a city that has played a huge part in the history of soccer in the United States, St. Louis has long been on the league’s radar, although a compelling bid has never quite emerged.
Current state of expansion
A total of 24 teams are competing in MLS this season, with Inter Miami CF (Inter Milan lawsuit pending) and Nashville FC set to up that number to 26 next season. All going to plan, Austin FC will be club number 27 in 2021, with Garber and company obviously hoping that Sacramento and St Louis can make the case to be the league’s 28th and 29th members.
The two front-runners do not have all that much time to get their ducks in a row with the league’s announcement targeting the MLS All-Star Game, to be played on July 31st, as the target date to make a decision.
MLS has set expansion fees for franchises 28 and 29 at $200 million apiece while declining to set an expansion fee or a schedule for announcing team number 30.
Speaking of that 30th franchise, Garber said in a league statement:
“We’re going to take our time with team 30. We have many cities that are interested in that 30th team.”
In that same statement, Garber mentioned several candidates for team 30 and possibly beyond, saying, “Of late, we have been in very positive discussions in Las Vegas and in Charlotte. We still believe Phoenix is a good market. We’ve been in discussions in Detroit. I’m regularly speaking to Mayor Duggan in Detroit. I think that’s a great soccer market. So what we really need to determine is what it all means for our league 10 years from now or 20 years from now.”
Next up for Sacramento and St Louis will be to prepare formal presentations to the league’s Expansion Committee.
According to MLSsoccer.com, the cities will be asked to address their “final stadium plan, corporate commitments, the composition of the respective ownership groups, detailed economics on funding, strategic plans for fan development, commitments on player development and details on community programs.”
With uncertainty still surrounding Miami’s stadiums, the one in Miami and the one in Fort Lauderdale that is supposed to house the team for its first two seasons, and the recent news of a legislative threat to Austin’s deal as well as ongoing stadium problems with New York City FC, the New England Revolution, and the Chicago Fire potential move, item one on the league’s wishlist is bound to raise a few eyebrows.
Still, it is reasonable to assume that Sacramento and St Louis would have to present a horrendous bid to be turned away by Major League Soccer at this juncture.
Garber not worried about too much growth
MLS is already the largest first division professional soccer league in the world, having added a somewhat astounding 18 teams in just over 10 years. Garber is not worried about saturating the market saying in the league’s statement:
“Professional soccer at all levels is thriving in the United States and Canada and we believe there are many markets that could support a successful MLS club.”
The commissioner continued, “expansion during the last 15 years has been enormously successful and a key driver behind the league’s continued rise, and we are pleased that some of the top business and community leaders representing great markets in North America are aggressively pursuing MLS expansion clubs.”