Handicapping MLS Expansion: December Edition

MLS St. Louis Stadium rendering

After several months of maneuvering by potential ownership groups for an MLS expansion team, we’re now seeing a host of proposals — some more solid than others — on the table. Here’s our return to our monthly handicapping of potential MLS expansion candidates.

We already know that Minnesota and Atlanta are joining MLS next season. The issue is where MLS expansion happens down the road, as the league looks to add up to four new markets. We know Miami is in the driver’s seat when it comes to league preferences and the core of an ownership group. But the lack of progress on a new stadium and a search for additional investors is certainly alarming. MLS wants Miami something fierce: it’s a trendy market and the demographics are perfect. So until we hear otherwise, we’ll continue with the assumption that Miami via the Beckham ownership group is the leading contender to land an expansion team. Here are our odds on the rest of the pack.

St. Louis: 2-1 The future of MLS in St. Louis may be in the hands of others, including the state of Missouri and the court system. MLS officials have already backed a group with plenty of sports-business experience, signalling their desire to land the market.

Nashville: 4-1 Another solid ownership group in what many consider to be a good market. There is still the need to prove whether the city can consistently support pro soccer, but so far there’s been civic enthusiasm for the launch of a USL team in 2018.

Detroit: 5-1 A solid ownership group with a solid stadium plan — but the plan may not enthusiastically supported by the city or Wayne County. We should know more this month.

Cincinnati: 6-1 A visit by MLS Commissioner Don Garber didn’t yield commitments, and he seemed unconvinced that Nippert Stadium was a long-term home for MLS. A solid ownership group, it seems, needs to make the leap to a new stadium — upgrades to Nippert Stadium may not be enough.

Sacramento: 8:1 At one time Sacramento was a lock to move from USL to MLS. And while there’s a good ownership in place, Sacramento may have been leapfrogged by equally good ownership groups in larger markets.

San Antonio: 10-1 It’s not as though Spurs Sports & Entertainment cannot put together a credible bid for an MLS team, but the slippage in our listing from the last time we ranked markets is the emergence of so many other good ownership groups emerging.

Tampa Bay: 11-1 Rowdies owner Bill Edwards unveiled an Al Lang Stadium renovation plan and an intention to leap to MLS using the same blueprint used by FC Cincinnati to garner attention from league leaders. Even if the Rowdies don’t make the leap to MLS, Edwards told the Tampa Bay market he was serious about growing the sport there.

Research Triangle (North Carolina): 11-1 Another ownership group using the FC Cincinnati blueprint. Steve Malik says research indicates the region can support MLS, but plenty of work needs to be put into proving it can support a second division team, and talk of a new stadium is extremely preliminary.

San Diego: 20-1 An MLS bid in San Diego may have lost some momentum, as the continued drama surrounding the San Diego Chargers has sucked all their air out of the room. If the Chargers do end up leaving for Los Angeles, we could see some new life behind San Diego’s MLS chances, as the potential of a new San Diego State/MLS stadium would improve.

Charlotte: 25-1 It’s never a good thing when a group announces its desire to enter MLS and then go shopping for investors. While there is certainly the feeling that Charlotte can support MLS, there’s some question as to whether there is an ownership group capable of making that happen.

Louisville: 50-1 There’s a roadmap for Louisville to play in the USL in a new stadium that can be expanded for MLS. But the market may be too big for USL and too small for MLS.

Oklahoma City: 100-1 With so many ownership groups expressing interest in MLS, talk of the sport’s future in Oklahoma City has been curiously muted.

Las Vegas: 200-1 With a new stadium still far from a done deal and no ownership group stepping up with public interest, the future of pro soccer in Sin City may be in hosting big friendlies, not in hosting MLS.

Phoenix: 200-1 If, in two years, we have a new Tempe stadium and a truly resurgent Phoenix Rising in the USL, we can think about MLS down the line. But some serious groundwork needs to be laid in the meantime.

Indianapolis: 300-1 We don’t know in what league Indy Eleven will be playing in come the 2017 season — a situation out of ownership control. Making that leap to MLS is a bridge too far — for now.

Austin: 500-1 No ownership group, no stadium and no team for 2017.

RELATED STORIES: Handicapping MLS Expansion: July Edition; Handicapping MLS Expansion: June Edition; Handicapping MLS Expansion: May Edition

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