Best of 2017, #4: MLS Expansion

Nashville MLS stadium rendering

We end 2017 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, #4: MLS expansion.

What started with a field of 12 contenders has so far resulted in one emerging as a winner, and several others left in the balance as the new year approaches. That has been the case with the ongoing MLS expansion process, which has seen several twists and turns throughout the year.

In late January, 12 bids were submitted for an MLS expansion franchise. The League was expected to select a total of four winning bids, including two that were to be announced this year and an additional pair to be chosen in 2018.

All of the bids carried their own elements of intrigue, but it seemed that a distinct group stood out early on as strong contenders. However, some bids that initially carried promise would encounter various challenges along the way. St. Louis voters rejected a public financing plan for a new soccer-specific stadium in an April referendum, while the SoccerCity proposal appeared to make San Diego a lock before it was placed on hold after encountering some obstacles.

Ford Field MLS

By November, MLS confirmed that its first two expansion spots were down to a field of four bids that had held steady throughout the process: Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento. After initially encountering some reluctance to use public funds for a new stadium, FC Cincinnati found political support for a plan that called for Cincinnati and Hamilton County to pay for infrastructure upgrades as part of a stadium project.

In Detroit, the strong backing of Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert helped it to remain an intriguing bid even after a change in stadium plans. Rather than the construction of a new downtown stadium, Detroit’s bid now calls for the use of the existing Ford Field, with the Ford family—owners of the NFL’s Lions—joining the Detroit MLS group.

Sacramento Republic FC has long had success in the USL, and had in its bid city approval for a new downtown stadium. Nashville, meanwhile, had seen a rapid surge in its MLS expansion prospects—thanks to an ownership group led by John Ingram with investments from Minnesota Vikings (NFL) owners MarkZygi and Leonard Wilf; and the Turner Family of Nashville-based MarketStreet Enterprises, as well as political support for a new stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville.

MLS is ending 2017 by selecting Nashville as a winning bid, but leaving all other decisions regarding expansion on the table until 2018. Sacramento leaders are calling on additional investment and community support to boost its bid, while the status of the Miami bid that includes the backing of David Beckham was surely a factor in the league’s decision to hold off on further expansion announcements until next year.

In the case of Nashville, MLS was clearly persuaded by strong ownership, support for a new stadium, and an apparent readiness for the community to support the club. While that allows Nashville to move forward as the league’s 24th team—with a launch date to be determined—MLS is heading into 2018 with some major decisions to make regarding its future.

Previously in our Top Ten Stories of 2017 List:

#5: Columbus Crew SC Explores Austin Move
#6: USL Expansion
#7: SoccerCity on Hold
#8: Louisville City FC Pitches a New Stadium
#9: Banc of California Stadium
#10: Phoenix Rising FC Explodes on Pro Soccer Scene

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August Publications