Cities make their case to be the next MLS expansion market
MLS Commissioner Don Garber has stated many times that the league will announce the next MLS expansion market during the first six months of this year. Now, as Garber has ruled out Las Vegas until at least 2018 due to stadium funding issues, the stage is set for a competition for the two league spots seemingly up for grabs.
“We’re still very focused on our plan on having 24 teams by the end of the decade, and we continue to engage with a lot of interested communities,” Garber said. “Our team, led by [MLS President and Deputy Commissioner] Mark [Abbott], is very active in ensuring that we hit 24 by 2020.”
MLS, now with 20 clubs, has already announced new teams for Atlanta and Los Angeles in 2017.
Of the interested new MLS communities, the Minneapolis market might be in the driver’s seat, with two equally intriguing potential ownership groups.
The more established of the two on the soccer side is NASL club Minnesota United, owned by former UnitedHealth Group Chairman and CEO Bill McGuire. The team plays at the National Sports Center but has begun scouting locations for a possible soccer-specific stadium, a must if it would move up to MLS. The team also reportedly has partnered on a potential MLS bid with Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. United President Nick Rogers declined to comment about the MLS expansion bid.
The other bid is by the Minnesota Vikings and the Wilf family, who have a new football stadium opening in July 2016 that could seat approximately 25,000 for soccer matches. That bid, however, doesn’t have any link to the local soccer market. The Vikings could not be reached for comment.
Perhaps the fastest-rising expansion prospect is based in Sacramento. USL Pro team Sacramento Republic debuted just this past year but did so with a bang, finishing in first place and averaging more than 11,000 fans per match, a USL Pro record. Now, with further investments by the ownership groups of the San Francisco 49ers and Sacramento Kings, club President Warren Smith has stated his hopes of building a soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento in order to obtain an MLS expansion spot. Representatives for the team did not respond to requests for comment.
Meanwhile, David Beckham continues efforts to bring a team to Miami. He has exercised an option to own a team in the league but has had issues in finding a suitable location for a stadium, something that Garber has said must be in place before the league officially awards the city a franchise. Garber declined to comment on the matter.
While a bit smaller on the radar, other cities that might not make the cut this time certainly could be in contention down the road. Representatives from St. Louis, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, have all held court with the league.
“We don’t expand for expansion’s sake. We expand because we think we can add great markets with great ownership groups and great facilities, and that’s no different in this round as it has been in rounds in the past,” Abbott said. “We’re really excited about the options that are out there, and we’re on track to make an announcement in the first half of the year.”