St. Louis, Sacramento, Charlotte Seen As MLS Expansion Leaders
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).