We end 2019 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 2019 and beyond.
Expansion always makes the hearts of sports fans beat a little faster: There’s nothing more alluring than the promise of the new. MLS has turned expansion into an art form, as seen by the MLS expansion process in 2019 and beyond, with four new teams announced this year.
The year began on a high note in January, when it was announced that Austin FC will begin play in 2021 as the league’s 27th club. Backed by Anthony Precourt, Austin FC will play home matches at a new privately financed stadium at the city-owned McKalla Place in North Austin that is scheduled to open in 2021.
In August, a St. Louis MLS expansion team was officially announced. Led by members of Enterprise Holding’s Taylor family, including Enterprise Holdings Foundation president Carolyn Kindle Betz, and Worldwide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh, St. Louis’s bid had been emerging as a top contender. Solid local ownership played a part in the bid’s rise, along with plans for a new soccer-specific stadium at a site west of Union Station (rendering above) in downtown St. Louis.
In October, Sacramento Republic FC was officially approved as an MLS expansion team, with plans announced for a 2022 launch.
The latest MLS expansion news: A yet-to-be-branded Charlotte MLS team owned by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper will begin play in 2021, joining the NFL team at an upgraded Bank of America Stadium. Renovations to the stadium are expected to focus on soccer-specific amenities, such as locker rooms and player facilities, as well as what MLS billed in a press release as “an innovative supporters’ section in the East End” of the venue. The announcement did not include a price tag for the renovations, or how they would be financed.
And despite MLS commissioner Don Garber’s statements, no one in the sport really thinks that MLS expansion ends with Charlotte at #30. Las Vegas could potentially tempt MLS to keep the expansion train rolling. Las Vegas launched negotiations earlier this year with The Renaissance Companies on a master development plan for the 62-acre Cashman Field site on the edge of downtown Las Vegas, anchored by a 25,000-capacity retractable-roof MLS stadium. The stadium development would be led by billionaire hedge-fund manager Seth Klarman of the Boston-based Baupost Group, who has an option to buy USL Championship’s Las Vegas Lights. Cashman Field, the Lights’ current venue and former home to Minor League Baseball in Las Vegas, sits on a site that is seen by city officials as ripe for redevelopment because of its proximity to downtown and freeway access.
Initially, the two sides were locked into a 180-day negotiating period that was to end December 1, but they opted to extend that deadline to February 5, 2020. The extension was decided before MLS announced that it had awarded its 30th team to Charlotte. Despite plans in Charlotte moving forward, Las Vegas officials say discussions over the Cashman Field proposal will continue, with city leaders striking a positive tone about the current state of negotiations. And, with a bid from Phoenix Rising quietly lurking in the shadows, a move to 32 teams could be part of the 2020 planning.
Rendering courtesy HOK and Snow Kreilich Architects.
Here’s the rest of our Top Ten of 2019: