MLS last night officially named Orlando City SC as the league's 21st franchise, expected to begin play in March '15 at the Florida Citrus Bowl before moving into an $84M downtown, soccer-specific stadium "sometime during the season," according to Brian Schmitz of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. Sources said that the club's "entry fee" into the league is $70M. MLS previously had two franchises in Florida -- the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion -- but both folded in '01 "after brief tenures." MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that the league today is "stronger 'by a long shot'" than where it was when the two Florida franchises folded. Orlando City's attendance "peaked at an average of around 8,100 this season and roughly 12,700 during a playoff run that culminated in a USL-Pro championship." The question "will be how large an attendance bump the Lions can expect in the new 18,000-seat stadium." The arrival of MLS "gives Orlando its second big-league franchise" after the Magic. Hundreds of fans wearing the team's purple colors last night "poured into the saloon" where the announcement was being made, and the "carnival-like atmosphere spread outside the building." Fans "sang and waved flags on the dance floor" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/20). The AP's Kyle Hightower noted Orlando City as an expansion team will be guaranteed to host the league's all-star game "within five years" (AP, 11/19).
A WIN FOR THE CITY? In Orlando, Mike Bianchi in a front-page piece writes Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs "came together and worked in unison and reached the realization that sports teams truly are important not only to the identity of a city but to the economy of a city." If MLS can "thrive in cities such as Seattle and Kansas City, it's unfathomable what it might do in Orlando." MLS is a sport "undoubtedly trending upward, attracting a younger demographic of fans that sports such as baseball and hockey are losing" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/20). Also in Orlando, Scott Maxwell writes an MLS expansion franchise is the "best sports deal Orlando has seen in a long time." For about $44M "taxpayers are not only getting a new stadium, but a completely new major-league sport in Orlando -- a dynamic and growing one at that." For about one-tenth of what Orlando taxpayers spent on Amway Center, the city is "getting an entirely new sport that other Americans are clamoring for" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/20).
MANIFEST DESTINY? In K.C., Charles Gooch writes while there may be "doubts about the available talent pool needed to keep expanding and concerns about the state of the league's TV ratings," it is "hard to argue with the league's growth pattern." With the exceptions of Chivas USA and Toronto FC, all the recent expansion teams "have been successes on and off the field." MLS attendance in '13 was "led by some of these franchises," and many of them are "driving the league to new heights" (K.C. STAR, 11/20). Meanwhile, ESPN's Taylor Twellman said bringing Orlando into MLS is a "good thing," but noted there are still "concerns" about continuing to expand. Twellman: "The southeast of the United States is football country -- American football country -- and I don’t care what anyone tries to tell me on Twitter or elsewhere. We need to improve TV ratings and we're going to an area of the country where Miami with David Beckham, Atlanta is rumored to come in." ESPN's Steve Nicol said the expansion is "great because they're bringing in loads of money." However, he added, "Every single time another team comes the product is watered-down once again." Twellman asked, "What do you want them to do? Wait 30 years until they expand?" Nicol: "Stop adding. Have two leagues, do something, don’t just keep adding and adding and adding and watering the whole thing down" ("ESPN FC," ESPN2, 11/19).
MLS Commissioner Don Garber last night in announcing Orlando City SC will join the league in '15 "added validity to the hope that South Florida" will also gain an expansion franchise soon, according to Craig Davis of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. Garber confirmed that the effort "spearheaded by superstar David Beckham ... is a serious bid to locate another expansion team in the region, and the league is behind it." Garber following the formal Orlando City announcement "told a raucous downtown crowd ... that they can expect to have some rivals soon several hundred miles to the south." That "elicited boos, but is another indication that South Florida soccer fans may soon have an announcement of their own to celebrate" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/20).
GETTING INVOLVED AT THE RIGHT TIME: Heat F LeBron James earlier this week indicated that he was interested in partnering with Beckham to bring an MLS club to Miami, and CBSSN's Allie LaForce called it a smart move because soccer is "becoming more and more popular in this country and David Beckham is a huge name, probably the only recognizable soccer name in our country." LaForce: "On top of that, you think about all the negativity going on with the NFL right now and the post effects of it, all the parents are putting their kids in soccer right now. ... Soccer is going to be growing in this country and he’s recognizing it and putting his money to good worth." She acknowledged soccer is not "going to be the most popular thing right now" but speculated it is "going to be popular 10-15 years down the line, so it’s the perfect time to get one going right now.” However, CBSSN's Tony Luftman questioned the Miami fan base, asking, “Are they going to buy in? Are they going to go to the games? I think this is going to happen but is it a viable business there?” LaForce: “Miami fans aren’t actually sports fans. Miami fans want to be entertained. They want an excuse to drink and wear all white” (“Lead Off,” CBSSN, 11/19).
SIGN LEBRON IS STAYING PUT? James can become a free agent after the NBA season, and ESPN's Michael Wilbon, speaking as James, asked, "If I have a big business interest in Miami, does it mean I'm staying in Miami?" Wilbon: "You don’t think I have business interests in northeast Ohio, like Akron, where I live? Did I stay there? … I got business interests in a lot of places. It doesn’t mean I actually go to work there" ("PTI," ESPN, 11/19).
DC-based lawyer Richard Smith has been retained by the NFLPA and will launch a "separate investigation for the union to look into issues of workplace safety" with the Dolphins, according to a source cited by Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY. The source said that Smith -- the NFLPA's lead outside counsel during the Saints bounty investigation -- "intends to interview witnesses and examine Dolphins management's role in alleged abuse" that led to OT Jonathan Martin's departure from the team. Unlike NFL attorney Ted Wells, who is at the Dolphins facility this week, Smith will "have no authority to interview team executives or coaches, limiting the scope of his inquiry." But the union "hopes Smith's involvement will add a layer of accountability for management's role, given that Wells' investigation ... came at the behest of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross" (USA TODAY, 11/20).
GOING TO THE WELLS: In Miami, Adam Beasley notes Dolphins team members "spent the past two days" talking to Wells, who has "peppered players with an exhaustive line of questioning." Wells’ interviews have been "so detailed that one player who has been through the process likened the experience to being on the true-crime reality TV show The First 48." Instead of "cycling through the entire roster, Wells has focused mostly on the Dolphins’ offensive line, which is where the alleged abuse occurred." Players questioned "have no advance warning" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Chris Perkins notes it is "not known how long Wells will be in town." Dolphins players are allowed to have NFLPA counsel "present during their interview, and according to deep snapper John Denney, the team's union representative, every player will elect to have the NFLPA's legal representative by their side" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/20).
THE WHOLE TRUTH: In Miami, Michelle Kaufman in an open letter to Wells writes, "I hope you find the truth. I really do. Because the national media, for the most part, is doing a shameful job of it, pouncing on rumors, half-truths and tiny lawyer-leaked tidbits vilifying [Richie] Incognito and the Dolphins with little perspective and without speaking to anybody in that locker room." Kaufman: "Please put on some Bose headsets, block out the noise, and listen to the men in that locker room, the men who worked and battled alongside Martin and Incognito for the past year and a half. Give them the same chance to tell their side as you gave Martin during his seven-hour interview. If the NFL’s aim is truly to change the culture of its workplace, to bring more class and dignity to the rowdy, sexist frat-house atmosphere of its locker rooms, then I say, 'Great! It’s about time.'” But if the NFL’s "aim in this investigation is to single out Dolphin players, coaches and executives and punish them for creating a hostile work environment, then the league is being unfair and wearing blinders because this behavior is not exclusive to the Dolphins, and it didn’t begin this year" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/20).
The MLS Dynamo are "in talks about securing an expansion franchise" in the NWSL, according to Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Dynamo President Chris Canetti said, "We're involved in the initial stages of this process and hope to learn more about the league and the opportunity over the next few weeks." He added, "I think that in the Greater Houston area and even beyond, there's a very strong participation level for girls soccer. It's a completely different relationship when young girls watch women." Ortiz noted if the Dynamo "finalize their quest to land an NWSL expansion club, that team would play at BBVA Compass Stadium and train at Houston Amateur Sports Park, just as the men's club does" (CHRON.com, 11/19).
In Phoenix, Nick Piecoro writes the D-Backs believe they are "taking steps toward raising their global profile in ways that will pay off down the road." It is why the team is "willing to give up two home dates in exchange for opening the 2014 season in Australia." It is why GM Kevin Towers, President & CEO Derrick Hall and special assistant Luis Gonzalez "made a trip to Japan during the 2012 season and why the front office is regularly visiting Mexico." The D-Backs have "a solid history of finding and developing players out of Latin America," but they have had "less success in Asia." Still, the club believes its brand "has grown in Asia over the past decade, thanks in part" to the work of D-Backs Dir of Pacific Rim Operations Mack Hayashi (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 11/20).
LOOSENING THE BELT: In Newark, Jorge Castillo notes Mets GM Sandy Alderson yesterday "wouldn’t offer a specific number," but emphasized team’s payroll will be higher than $87M, "which is the figure the club identifies as the 2013 payroll." Alderson said, "I don’t think our payroll is going to be below what we saw last year." BaseballReference.com data shows that the Mets have approximately $58.5M committed for '14, "including estimates for arbitration-eligible players." Though the Mets have not made "any significant moves yet, Alderson reiterated the club is more aggressive now than in the recent past" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 11/20).
MOVIN' ON UP: Giants President & CEO Larry Baer said of an expected payroll increase from about $136M, "It's a jump. Our history tends to be we don't take very wild swings up or down. So it's up, it's a jump. ... The plan is for it to go up; it's gone up really every year in recent memory. Can't remember when it went down" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 11/19).