MLS, NWSL expansion update: November 2022

It’s been a few months since we reported on any movement regarding MLS expansion, but we have have some news on that front–and we’re adding to the expansion coverage with news about NWSL expansion as wellWelcome to your November 2022 expansion update.

It’s no secret MLS had been exclusively negotiating with a group seeking to bring the league to Las Vegas, as Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris–involved separately and together as Aston Villa and Milwaukee Bucks co-owners–were reportedly looking at a Vegas development that would include a new soccer stadium. (More here.) No word on the status of these efforts, past an acknowledgement that talks are continuing. With a Vegas development involving more than just a soccer stadium, there could be many non-MLS reasons for delays.

So it makes sense for MLS to keep the door to other markets for possible expansion. MLS made one run at San Diego before, and a group has been kept in touch with MLS officials for several months now. Snapdragon Stadium, opening this fall as home of San Diego State football, was designed to host both NCAA football and professional soccer. It was a huge hit as home to NWSL’s San Diego Wavewhich set the record for the largest regular-season crowd and the largest playoff crowd

Now, playing at a facility not controlled by the team is a very non-MLS approach these days: the league is focused on developing and controlling its own stadiums. (Chicago, Seattle and NYC FC lack control of their venues; NYC FC has been on a search for its own home for years.) But San Diego State very purposely created a facility that could be used for pro soccer in terms of fan design and physical plant. Southern California has developed into the cradle of the game when it comes to soccer, with thriving youth and college programs and an accomplished pro lineup with two L.A. MLS teams, an L.A. NWSL team that led the league in attendance and an NWSL team that could well pace the circuit in attendance in 2023. 

One thing that’s being whispered in MLS circles: Don’t look at a previously announced limit of 30 MLS teams to stand firm. MLS will be at 29 squads in 2023 with the addition of St. Louis, with the current debate over a 30th team. Previous Commissioner Don Garber had said 30 would be a logical place to stop, but with a San Diego group emerging and some evidence that Louisville, Sacramento, Indianapolis, San Antonio and even Albuquerque may be capable of hosting MLS soccer, we may be looking at 40 being a more likely outcome over the next decade than 30.

Speaking of NWSL expansion: the bids are in, with teams expected to be added for 2024 and/or 2025, depending on how many teams are added. It’s no secret a return of the Utah Royals is likely, as Real Salt Lake MLS owner David Blitzer is likely to exercise his $2 million option to return the Royals to NWSL. Also, we’re seeing some heavyweights among the contenders. As had been announced, Minnesota Aurora submitted an application, though the USL W League team still needs to put together an ownership group. A Bay Area group counts Aly Wagner and Brandi Chastain among its lead investors, while three other Bay Area groups are in the mix. And MLS owners in Austin, Cincinnati, Toronto, Nashville and St. Louis have all discussed adding an NWSL team. Previous NWSL statements about limiting expansion to just two markets may be rendered moot by the number of qualified investors out there. Still to be resolved, however: will NWSL owners impacted by allegations of sexual misconduct be forced to sell their teams?

Top photo: CITYPARK, home of the most recent MLS expansion team, St. Louis CITY SC. Courtesy St. Louis CITY SC.

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