We end 2016 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #1: MLS expansion.
In many respects, MLS expansion talks dominated 2016. It was at the center of numerous discussions about the league’s future, not only because two franchises are joining the league in 2017, but two more are in the works for 2018. Furthermore, it was becoming apparent that the MLS was looking beyond 2018 with future rounds of expansion, setting off much activity among several major cities that desired a team.
This year saw major developments for the clubs that will join the MLS in 2017—Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC. While Minnesota made significant progress on its plan for a new stadium in St. Paul, Atlanta received some clarification about its facility situation for the coming year. Mercedes-Benz Stadium—which will host the United and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons—will not be ready until at least next summer, so the United will begin the season at Georgia Tech football’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Elsewhere progress was made on expansion for 2018, but questions about the stadium situation in Miami remain. David Beckham and his investor group has been slated to field a team in Miami starting in 2018, but that plan contains plenty of uncertainty, as plans for a new stadium in Overtown remain unfinalized.
Los Angeles FC, however, is moving forward with plans to join the league in 2018. Ground was broken this year on Banc of California Stadium, a state-of-the-art facility that will be constructed on the site of the former Sports Arena.
While the teams slated for the league attracted plenty of attention, it was the perhaps MLS’ plans for future expansion that drew the most interest. Before the league revealed its 10 finalists in December, many markets came and went as the talk circulated that the MLS would expand to 28 teams.
As announced by the MLS, the league will add four teams over the next several years. Two will join the league by 2020, and could be announced at some point in 2017, while an additional pair of clubs will gain entry at a later date. The current finalists are: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego, and Tampa-St. Petersburg.
To this point in the countdown of the year’s biggest stories, the efforts of St. Louis, Charlotte, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and Cincinnati have all been featured. While those cases were analyzed in their own stories, the remaining six carry plenty of intrigue.
Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert are backing a new stadium in downtown Detroit, but their ability to obtain their preferred site remains uncertain at this point. Nashville now has the backing of businessman John Ingram, while Steve Malik is looking to move North Carolina FC into an MLS-caliber stadium in the Raleigh-Durham region.
The steady push for the MLS continues in Sacramento, where the planning commission has approved a plan for a new stadium and mixed-use development. Discussions in San Antonio have revolved around upgrades to Toyota Field, and officials have said that a referendum on the proposal could take place in 2017. In San Diego, the MLS could be a part of plans for San Diego State University’s redevelopment of the Qualcomm Stadium site, a project that could gather momentum if the NFL’s Chargers move to Los Angeles.
Whether it was expansion in 2017, expansion in 2018, or expansion in a later year, the addition of teams to the MLS was a popular topic in 2016. As the league plans a future that includes 28 teams, discussions will continue to take place for some time.
Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2016 List:
#3: FC Cincinnati
#5: Orlando City SC Preps for New Era
#6: D.C. United Plan New Stadium
#9: Charlotte Pushes for the MLS
#10: St. Louis Makes its Expansion Case