Garber: Next Round of MLS Expansion Could Be Final Round

Proposed Sacramento stadium

We could see the next round of MLS expansion to 28 teams be the last time the league expands, according to MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

Right now we’re at 23 MLS teams with the addition of Minnesota and Atlanta for 2017 and Los Angeles in 2018, with the expectation that Miami will be the 24th team at some point. But MLS officials have repeatedly said the addition of four more teams in future rounds of expansion is likely, and now Garber hints in a Forbes interview that this could be the last round of expansion:

“If MLS was a publicly traded company, now would be a really good time to buy.”

The cost to join will be high, and league president Mark Abbott raised plenty of eyebrows when he recently spoke of expansion fees going as high as $200 million for the next round. That represents a major increase to the price of entry, which was $40 million just four years ago. ”There were a lot of questions and concerns among potential investors as to the price,” says Garber of past expansion rounds, noting that each subsequent round had a then-record fee. “But today I think [team owners] are feeling pretty good about the investment they made in the league, regardless of the price they paid.”

Indeed, that $40 million expansion fee represents a pretty good deal: Forbes estimates the average team is worth $185 million, with the Seattle Sounders carrying a valuation of $285 million. (Take these numbers with a huge grain of salt: MLS isn’t a traditional franchise-based league a la MLB or the NFL, but rather a membership system.) So while the specific numbers may not be totally on point, the larger point is very true: MLS keeps appreciating in value. And Garber’s statement is certainly a call to action for owners in cities like Sacramento, Detroit, Cincinnati and San Diego to prepare to ante up in coming years.

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