Saturday, April 16, 2016

MLS Expansion - Adrift

Having not quite expanded to 24 yet, Don Garber announced last week that MLS plans to expand to 28 teams sometime around 2020. Just like the plans to go to 24, the situation surrounding further expansion sounds really vague. 

The backdrop of the announcement was Sacremento and their drive to join MLS. Attendances there have been strong since they formed and they've made no secrets about wanting a MLS move. Garber met with town and corporate leaders to gauge overall interest. 

"The corporate support that was expressed in the meeting today was kind of unprecedented," Garber said. "We had it in [Minnesota] when we met with a diverse group of people there. We saw it in Orlando, but to the extent in the initial phase that we saw here today."

He also mentioned Detroit and St. Louis as a couple more cities the league is looking at. Add in San Antonio and the spots are filling up pretty quick. 


This next round of expansion will test the league. Atlanta United FC "plans" on joining the league next season, but there appears to be little info or buzz surrounding it. Out West there is another LA team "planning" to launch in 2018, but again, buzz has just wilted. Minnesota United FC is being called the "23rd" MLS team, but AGAIN, there is no firm launch year. Could be 2017 or 2018.

It's unbelievably strange that team allegedly paying 100 million dollars to join a league is not sure if they will be playing in less than 12 months. MLS has two such teams. 

Finally, the 24th team is suppose to be Miami. This is the interesting one and may be the reason Garber is in Sacremento. He even admitted that he was "tired" of dealing with it. The trip out west and the subsequent announcement that the league will continue to add cities might be more about finding a replacement for Miami (or telling them to get their act in gear).

So, all this leads back to the league going to 28. I'm sure they want it, and maybe they will get there. But it won't be 2020. Don Garber and MLS have turned expansion talk into a regular interest generator almost to the point that they aren't actually delivering any new teams into the league.

Things got a bit shaky in the last round of expansion. Orlando bulldogged their way in and had a stadium plan go sour (it's still coming, I think?) and NYCFC was a necessary evil (in their eyes) and play unwatchable games on a baseball field. With this Garber still says, "We've moved to a point where we have the ability to work with expansion groups to put together the things that they'll need, whether they realize it or not, to ensure their long-term success,"

Perhaps it is because of this now drifting / rudderless approach that "The Soccer Don" announced the forming of a new "expansion committee," that will help pull all of these things together. 


We are living in a sports crazy time that's fueled by TV revenue. Every city in the top 50 in this country thinks having some sort of pro sports team is validation of "big time" status. This equation is changing rapidly, though. 

Outside the changing TV landscape is the changing public attitudes towards the public funding of city stadiums. Orlando's extended journey to get a stadium and lack of one for NYCFC is the new normal and has created many of the unknowns that has sent the league drifting this direction. 

The committee will have their hands full.

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