Stadiums Get More Time Following MLS Expansion Delay
MLS is postponing the inaugural seasons of three expansion clubs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on stadium construction and business operations. Charlotte's debut will move from '21 to '22, while St. Louis and Sacramento Republic FC, which currently plays in the USL Championship, will begin play in '23 instead of '22. A source said that there have been delays in Charlotte's renovation of Bank of America Stadium, in addition to construction delays for Sacramento's new 21,000-seat stadium. The source said at this time, it is hard to determine if St. Louis' new stadium is still on its original projected timeline of spring of '22. The decision to delay was made by MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league's expansion committee. Austin FC is still scheduled to debut in '21 at their new stadium (Mark J. Burns, SBJ Unpacks).
MORE ON STADIUM DELAYS: In Sacramento, Cameron Salerno reported another reason for Sac Republic FC's stadium delay "stemmed from uncertainty about how to design a stadium for the post-COVID-19 era." Construction on the club's $300M downtown stadium is "expected to start in the fall" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 7/19). A St. Louis team spokesperson on Friday confirmed that site preparation and construction at its 30-acre, 22,500-seat open-air stadium "will continue to move forward." In St. Louis, Ben Frederickson reported construction partners have been "practicing health guidelines put in place since the beginning of the pandemic." The pandemic complicated the team's spring '22 timeline, "along with ongoing conversations with potential sponsors" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/19).
SILVER LINING: In Charlotte, Alex Andrejev reported the additional time "should allow Charlotte MLS to host more fans at its Bank of America Stadium home site in 2022 rather than potentially having to reduce capacity next year." A source said that the team is "still moving forward with club operations, including its official team name and brand reveal Wednesday, its initial Youth Academy training sessions later this month and building its roster throughout the secondary transfer window this summer and fall." Charlotte MLS President Tom Glick said that the team "agreed with the league that more time would be beneficial to building a soccer club after the disruption caused by the pandemic" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/19).
STEADY APPROACH: Sac Republic FC investor Matt Alvarez said that his group and MLS officials "agreed that the smartest step is to take the time 'to launch it the right way'" given the current virus issues and uncertainties. Alvarez: "This is a long play for us. We are in it for the long haul." He added, "We want to give the market an extra year to improve." Alvarez said that new stadium designs "may have fewer seats, and wider aisles, but that fans are expected to still have that sense of being part of a large, intimate vocal group" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 7/18).