SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/This Weeks Issue

MLS examining Sooner State sites

Less than a year after eliminating two teams in Florida, Major League Soccer is looking at expanding into Oklahoma.

The league has talked with representatives from Tulsa and from the Oklahoma City area about bringing a team to one of those cities, starting in either the 2004 or 2005 season.

Earlier this month, the Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce approved spending $100,000 on an expansion-franchise feasibility study conducted by Convention, Sports & Leisure International of Dallas. Bill Rhoda, a partner at the firm, said he expects the analysis to take three months.

"We'll do an evaluation of the community's ability to support MLS in ticket sales, suite sales [and other areas]," he said.

Representatives from Edmond, Okla., have talked with J.E. Dunn Construction Co., a Kansas City firm, about building a soccer stadium in Oklahoma City.

According to Mark Abbott, chief operating officer of MLS, the league hopes to expand to 16 teams from its current 10 before the decade ends.

"It'll be a mix of market sizes," he said. "The key driver is appropriate facilities."

MLS is looking for a guarantee from expansion candidates to construct soccer-specific stadiums that can hold up to 25,000 fans. Only one of its franchises, Columbus, played in a soccer-only facility this year.

Abbott said the league is speaking with other cities beyond the two in Oklahoma but wouldn't reveal their names. One is believed to be Winston-Salem, N.C. Convention, Sports & Leisure International has already completed a feasibility study for the Carolina Soccer Foundation about bringing an expansion franchise to that area.

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