MLS Names 10 Finalists for Expansion

Proposed Sacramento stadium

It is officially down to 10 cities for four spots, as the MLS has unveiled finalists for the league’s forthcoming rounds of expansion.  

The list of markets includes, in alphabetical order, CharlotteCincinnatiDetroit, NashvilleRaleigh-Durham, SacramentoSt. Louis, San AntonioSan Diego, and Tampa-St. Petersburg. Throughout the year, there has been a lot of buzz about these markets.

Cincinnati is attempting to build on FC Cincinnati‘s stellar debut in the USL, though constructing a venue more suitable to the MLS than Nippert Stadium remains a must. Plans for a new stadium in Sacramento cleared some hurdles this fall, while St. Louis is in full swing with its stadium pitch. Detroit is awaiting a study that could determine the road map to a new stadium, and Nashville is working to build a consensus for a facility somewhere in the city as it awaits the arrival of its new USL franchise in 2018.

San Diego is eyeing a stadium as part of a San Diego State University development in Mission Valley. Plans for that project could pick up steam in the coming months, particularly if the NFL’s San Diego Chargers exercise their option to move to Los Angeles, thereby opening up the Qualcomm Stadium site.

Beyond that, there is Charlotte, San Antonio, Raleigh-Durham, and Tampa Bay. San Antonio FC‘s Toyota Field is being eyed for an expansion and, if some Bexar County officials have their way, there could be a voter referendum on the upgrades next fall. More from the San Antonio Business Journal:

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff met with MLS President Mark Abbott in New York recently about league expansion and is working on a plan to fund the expansion of Toyota Field, Wolff said during an exclusive interview on Thursday.

“The county is moving toward a possible vote in November that would give us the authority to expand Toyota Field, provided we get an MLS team,” said Wolff, who expects to have an estimated cost by February. “We are going through some of the cost factors right now.”

Wolff said the county must also determine how much the city of San Antonio, which jointly owns Toyota Field with the county, is willing to invest.

“Hopefully, they would be our partner with expansion,” he said.

Tampa Bay and Raleigh-Durham have both upped their cases within the last few weeks. Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is floating a proposed renovation to Al Lang Field that would convert the team’s current home into an MLS-caliber facility. Meanwhile, North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik recently announced his intentions to pursue an MLS entry. North Carolina FC is currently based in Cary, but Malik says he will reveal stadium plans for a location within North Carolina’s Triangle region at some point in 2017.

Of course, that means that two markets in North Carolina are in the mix. The MLS says it is in talks with billionaire Bruton Smith and his son Marcus about a potential team in Charlotte. While commissioner Don Garber noted how much the sport has progressed in North Carolina, he indicated that he is taking a wait and see approach about whether the state is ready to support two teams. More from the Charlotte Observer:

The owner of the Charlotte Independence soccer team has said that Memorial Stadium could be expanded if the city ever landed a Major League Soccer franchise. Raleigh’s North Carolina F.C., which operated as the Carolina RailHawks for 10 years, recently launched its own campaign to land an MLS team.

“We all know what the interest in soccer is in Carolina generally. It has enormous soccer participation and support,” Garber said.

But it is too early, he added, to say whether North Carolina can accommodate two teams.

“A lot of the things happening in the state are very intriguing to us,” Garber said.

Overtown MLS stadium

While the announcement of the league’s 10 finalists for future expansion clears some uncertainty, one pressing issue that remains in question for the MLS is Miami. Commissioner Don Garber recently expressed his desire to see Miami and David Beckham, who is leading an investment group that is backing the proposal, come to a decision sooner rather than later.

Miami has long been expected to the MLS’ 24th team, joining the circuit along with Los Angeles FC in 2018. However, plans for a new stadium in Overtown have not come together as quickly as hoped, and Beckham’s group was recently reported to be working Miami-Dade officials to attract additional investment.

Garber cited some of Miami’s strengths on Thursday, but still emphasized that all parties involved need to reach a conclusion sooner rather than later. More from the Miami Herald:

“We have a lot invested in it because of the amount of time we’ve spent on it,” Garber said of the 20-team league. “Everybody needs to understand, including David and his partners, that we’ve worked hard, and it’s time for us to reach a conclusion.”

It was Garber’s latest the-clock-is-ticking moment in relation to Beckham’s stadium quest, which went public nearly three years ago and has since fizzled at three would-be sites and is stalled on a fourth. In the time since Beckham first announced at a February 2014 press conference he wanted to build an MLS stadium in Miami, the Miami Dolphins won some county financial backing for their stadium renovation, built the $400 million project, and played six games under a new roof in Miami Gardens

Garber’s comments came during an announcement of the soccer league’s new regime for expansion teams, including a $150 million fee for teams who join MLS after Miami. When Beckham signed on as an MLS player in Los Angeles in 2007, his contract included an option to buy a franchise for $25 million. The discount would essentially mean unearned revenue for existing MLS owners, and Beckham’s option has grown in value as MLS ups its price for would-be teams to join.

The MLS revealed on Thursday that expansion will take place in phases. The 25th and 26th teams are expected to join the league by the 2020 season, with the league’s 27th and 28th teams beginning operations at a later date. According to the league’s announcement, expansion applications must be submitted by January 31, 2017.

Plans for 25th and 26th teams, which will enter at an expansion fee of $150 million, are expected to be revealed in the second or third quarter of 2017. More details on the remaining expansion teams, and their entry fee, will be announced at a later date.

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