Commissioner Don Garber made clear what other league officials have been hinting at for months: growth via MLS expansion will almost certainly go past existing plans for 24 teams by 2018.
In a meeting with Associated Press Sports Editors, Garber confirmed planning will begin shortly for further MLS expansion, as several cities are seeking MLS franchises for 2019 and beyond. This year saw Minnesota United FC owners awarded the 23rd team for 2018, and with Sacramento putting forth a strong bid and David Beckham holding an option on a discounted Miami franchise per his last playing contract, at this time there’s demand for a sustained growth of the league:
“In the next six months, we’ve got to come together and develop a plan with our ownership to determine when we go further, because we will,” Garber said. “We will expand this league beyond 24 teams. It’s not an if, it’s a when.”
Besides Sacramento and Miami, other cities that have put together some level of plan for MLS soccer include St. Louis, San Antonio, El Paso, Indianapolis, Las Vegas and Austin. Now, not all of these cities are at a point where ownership groups are willing to put up $100 million in expansion fees and new soccer-specific stadiums are on the way, but the long-term planning approach used by MLS allows for controlled growth on MLS terms.
Why the expansion, besides demand? Television. MLS demographics are already pretty strong, with millennials (18-35) saying pro soccer trails only football as their favorite sport. A new TV contract deal boosts league coffers, but Garber sees a future where media rights are the top source of revenue for the league.
That’s the long term for MLS expansion; meanwhile, in the short term, there are a few teams that need to address stadium issues. Los Angeles FC — the successor to Chivas USA — should be rolling out a new-stadium plan in the next few months. It may take longer than that to unveil a stadium plan for NYCFC, who currently play at Yankee Stadium:
“There hasn’t been too much buzz about playing in Yankee Stadium or a baseball stadium yet,” Garber said. “That will happen soon, after somebody trips on a divot perhaps and perhaps misses a ground ball, but we hope that doesn’t happen.”
Image courtesy MLS.