MLS has not officially announced a timetable for when its next three expansion teams will be introduced, but "at least three markets seem to be in the front of the pack: St. Louis, Sacramento and Charlotte in that order," with St. Louis the "clear frontrunner," according to Paul Kennedy of SOCCER AMERICA. MLS Commissioner Don Garber ahead of last night's All-Star Game in Orlando said that the league was "in 'advanced talks' with St. Louis and Sacramento and he planned to visit Sacramento and Charlotte in the next month." St. Louis and Sacramento have "been the favorites since the last board of governors meeting in April when it gave Garber and his staff the go-ahead to negotiate agreements with the two groups." Since David Tepper became the NFL Panthers Owner in May '18, Charlotte has "emerged as one of the most aggressive bidders." The current bid would have the MLS team playing in a renovated Bank of America Stadium, but Garber yesterday cautioned that a soccer-specific stadium was "important to the league without saying how it might impact the league's interest in Charlotte" (SOCCERAMERICA.com 7/31). Garber said that both St. Louis and Sacramento "are aiming" for a '22 entry to the league. He said, "We have plenty of time for them to get their projects finalized and put their plans in place to be able to launch their teams" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 8/1).
WORKING IT OUT: Garber said that he "isn’t concerned" MLS' ongoing talks with Sacramento will fall through, and emphasized that the two sides "continue talks on an almost daily basis." Garber said that Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is "involved as well." Garber said that Sacramento’s talks "will continue with no timeline for conclusion." The league’s BOG meets again in December, but Garber noted that a decision on allowing entry into the league "could happen before that." Garber said that he "plans to visit Sacramento in the near future, but did not provide a date or an agenda." USL club Republic FC President & COO Ben Gumpert said that there are "no hang-ups" in talks with MLS. Meanwhile, Steinberg "acknowledged the difficulty of the ongoing talks," but said he is "not concerned at all" by the lack of a resolution (SACRAMENTO BEE, 8/1).
GATEWAY TO SOCCER: SI.com's Brian Straus noted Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Carolyn Kindle Betz "painted a cautiously optimistic picture" about her group's chances of winning an expansion bid in St. Louis. Betz said that her family is "committed to raising their city’s international profile." The ownership group, which also includes USL club St. Louis FC CEO Jim Kavanaugh, "plans to build a privately-financed stadium on a downtown site west of Union Station." A stadium opening and MLS launch in '22 "remains the goal" (SI.com, 7/31). Garber noted the ownership group has "teamed up with a number of other people that are from the game," and the bid "should get over the finish line." Garber: "It will be a fully female ownership group; it'll be the first in Major League Soccer. Just got a little bit of work to do" ("MLS All-Star Game," FS1, 7/31). THE ATHLETIC's Tenorio & Stejskal noted U.S. Soccer CEO Dan Flynn "took part in the expansion group’s presentation and is working in an unpaid consulting/advisory role." U.S. Soccer is in the process of "hiring a replacement for Flynn, who announced he would be stepping down as CEO this year." Flynn said that he was "'helping' the group with its bid" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/31).
FIT FOR A QUEEN? In Charlotte, Katie Peralta noted Garber "wouldn’t say whether Tepper’s lack of an MLS-specific stadium" puts the city's bid at a "competitive disadvantage." For now, Tepper and other Panthers execs say Bank of America Stadium "still is a viable option for an MLS team, and that it could be renovated if Charlotte lands a team" (CHARLOTTEAGENDA.com, 7/31).
MLS players are "prepared to strike" should negotiations for a new CBA "not reach a satisfactory conclusion" before the current agreement expires in January, according to Doug Roberson of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. MLSPA Exec Dir Bob Foose said, "A strike is never the goal. It’s not our goal. If we each come to the table and work hard to find common ground, I’m very confident that we can reach an agreement that will benefit both the player pool and the league." The players have been "discussing their wants for the past 18 months through thousands of phone calls, face-to-face meetings and other correspondences." Foose, speaking ahead of last night's MLS All-Star Game in Orlando, said that the league and club owners "seem willing to listen to expanding the possibility of increasing the number of charter flights." The current CBA "allows for four charter segments per team per season." He said that charter flights are the "equivalent in importance as training facilities and described them as a 'fundamental building block' to improving the league’s quality." MLS Commissioner Don Garber "didn’t sound as positive" about the possibility of chartering flights for road games. He said that the two groups "will need to discuss how to allocate a finite pool of money" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 8/1).
WHAT THEY WANT: ESPN.com's Jeff Carlisle noted the MLSPA's goals for a new agreement include players having "more say on where they live and work, as well as a fairer system in which players can compete for dollars instead of being pigeon-holed into roster spots that have a limited range of salaries." The MLSPA will also "push for more transparency and accountability by giving the league's teams more freedom to construct rosters as they see fit, rather than requiring approval from MLS." Garber yesterday was "positive that an accord would be reached by the January deadline" (ESPN.com, 7/31).
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: PRO SOCCER USA's Julia Poe noted as MLS continues to expand and the U.S. prepares to co-host the '26 FIFA World Cup, the players feel that this year’s CBA will be its "most important negotiation to date." If it "comes down to it," the players have "created concrete plans for a strike." International players have "learned the limitations of their visas and how to get a job if necessary." Established players have "offered their homes out to rookies who might need a place to stay." Players are "actively saving funds and taking steps to ensure that, if a strike comes, everyone will be ready to wait it out" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 7/31).
ON THE CALENDAR: In DC, Steven Goff notes next MLS season's late February start date is "about two weeks earlier" than normal. MLS "shortened the regular season by three weeks this year, a move criticized for creating an offseason too long by international standards" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/1).
Senior FIFA execs are giving "serious consideration" to leaving Zurich, Switzerland, the organization’s home for "nearly 90 years," according to Tariq Panja of the N.Y. TIMES. After FIFA President Gianni Infantino was re-elected to a second term in June, he "tasked his top lieutenants with studying the viability of FIFA’s leaving its glass-and-steel headquarters in Zurich." The discussion, which is "still in its early stages, is driven by many factors, but two primary reasons are difficulties in hiring staff members from outside Europe and an acceptance that continuing to base its operations in a country with a reputation for corporate secrecy might not align with the goals of an organization trying to win back the public trust." FIFA's plans "could include leaving Zurich entirely or a partial relocation of operations, which could see FIFA open subsidiary offices in different parts of the world to give it better access to, and oversight of, its 211 member associations." Officials also "have not ruled out maintaining the status quo." FIFA was established in Paris in 1904 but moved to Zurich in 1932 "because of Switzerland’s location in the center of Europe." A source said that among the possibilities under consideration is a "return to Paris." But other locations are also "under consideration with a number of factors expected to factor in any outcome" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/1).
Next weekend! Watch the BIG3 Saturday, August 3rd at 1PM ET on @CBS – LIVE from Chicago. Then, follow the action Sunday, August 4th at 4PM ET on @CBSSportsNet – LIVE from Milwaukee. With playoffs just around the corner, every game is make or break 📺🏀🔥 pic.twitter.com/O2IPkSjo62
The Big3 has yet to make money during its three-year existence, but the principles behind the 3-on-3 league "expect to turn a profit in year four," according to HBO's Andrea Kremer. Big3 Founder & CEO Jeff Kwatinetz and actor/rapper Ice Cube have "invested millions of dollars of their own money in the Big3." Kwatinetz said, "We're not making money yet, but we're not supposed to make money yet. I mean, the UFC lost money for nine, 10 years." Kremer noted the league at one point might have been "dismissed as a gimmick, but for one small detail: there's growing evidence that it's working." The Big3 has "expanded from eight teams to 12 and its tour has grown from 10 cities to 18." Additionally, the league's new rights deal puts games on CBS, while ticket sales "are on the rise." Kwatinetz said, "The attendance is about 10,000 a game, which is pretty extraordinary" ("Real Sports," HBO, 7/30).
Some members of the Major League Rugby BOG are trying to oust founding Commissioner Dean Howes, believing they need a higher caliber media and entertainment exec to push growth, sources said. The board has created a search committee and solicited help from exec search firms. They recognize that it may be difficult to find a suitable replacement and have not ruled out keeping Howes on, sources said. League officials all declined comment. The board, comprised of 14 club operators who collectively own the single-entity league, is said to be split on the subject. Even his critics credit Howes for developing the concept, rapidly expanding into major markets and leading MLR to become the first U.S. pro rugby league to complete a second season. However, after two years, some clubs want to double down, sources said. The new capital infusion would fund a larger, more aggressive commercial effort at the league HQ and enable more team-level spending on talent. If a new commissioner is found to lead that growth push, it is possible Howes would stay in on a different role, sources said. The league currently has one league-level non-endemic sponsor, U.K.-based luxury apparel brand Barbour, and had a $450,000 annual salary cap this season. The '19 MLR championship game in June drew 510,000 viewers on CBS, its first rated TV game. It was part of a national distribution package that puts select MLR games on cable weekly but pays no rights fee. Howes, a former Real Salt Lake CEO and partner at Sports Capital Partners, has preached local market development and cost sustainability as he has built the league business to 14 clubs, nine of which competed in '19.