Garber: No Decisions on Next MLS Expansion Clubs

Sacramento Republic FC stadium rendering April 2019

Although today’s All-Star Game was expected to yield a major announcement, MLS commissioner Don Garber says the league has not made any decisions regarding its next expansion slots.

MLS is currently playing with 24 teams, and is set to grow to 27 over the comings years with the additions of Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF in 2020, followed by Austin FC in 2021. The league has been plotting future expansion, and Garber had previously indicated that he hoped have another expansion team announced by today’s All-Star Game at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium.

That will not be the case, however, as Garber has confirmed. MLS has been viewed as having strong contenders for expansion slots 28 and 29 in Sacramento (proposed stadium rendering shown above) and St. Louis, with the field also including the likes of Charlotte, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Phoenix, San Diego, and Raleigh. While MLS continues to plan expansion, the bids in Sacramento and St. Louis are apparently not far enough along to move forward, as Garber pointed to the challenges of obtaining the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to launch the clubs.

Although an announcement will not come this week, and no timeline has been given for when a decision will be made, Garber is not concerned about how the process is unfolding. More from ESPN FC:

But citing the capital outlay needed to fund an MLS expansion team — which Garber said was between $550 million and $650 million — the commissioner confirmed that the deals have not yet been completed.

“We had come out of a board meeting with the authority to try to finalize deals in both of those markets,” Garber told ESPN FC in an exclusive interview. “We have not yet done that. That’s not concerning to me. It just means that the investment stake required to come into MLS, that process of finalizing deals is getting more and more complicated.

“In both of those cases, you’re looking at between $550 million and $650 million in investment. When you’re making an investment like that, they take a while to close. That’s the process that we’re going through now, and it’s not remotely alarming to me or anybody else.”

Garber said that the expansion fee for teams 28 and 29 remains at $200 million. He added that representatives from both the St. Louis and Sacramento ownership groups would attend Wednesday’s All-Star Game. A league spokesperson confirmed representatives from Charlotte, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Raleigh and San Diego would also be in attendance.

Launching an MLS club is becoming a more costly endeavor, with the $200 million expansion fee (compared to $150 million from the last expansion round) on top of the costs for a new stadium, operations staff, and other elements needed for an organization. Both Sacramento and St. Louis are backed by big time investors–Ron Burkle and a group led by Enterprise Holding’s Taylor Family and Jim Kavanaugh, respectively–and that has been seen as advantages for their bids.

For now, it appears that there is still some work to be done before the next MLS expansion clubs are finalized. Sacramento and St. Louis will look to bolster their financial plans, while other bids will look to build their cases. MLS has already indicated it will expand to 30 teams, and there could be enough strong bids in the mix to make the case for a 32-team league.

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