Expansion of Major League Soccer
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Major League Soccer is the top level of professional soccer in the United States and Canada. MLS was established in 1993 with 10 teams that began play in 1996. Since then MLS has expanded several times into new markets across the United States, and for the first time, beginning in 2006, into Canada. In 2013, the league announced that the 20th and 21st teams, New York City FC Orlando City, respectively, will begin play in 2015.
Major League Soccer considers several criteria when determining where to award expansion franchises: (1) owners that are committed to MLS and have the financial wherewithal to invest in a team, (2) a stadium or approved plans for a stadium (preferably a soccer-specific stadium) that allows the team to control revenue streams such as parking and concessions, (3) the size of the market of the metropolitan area, and (4) an established local fan base. MLS has an Expansion Committee whose duties include reviewing applications from expansion contenders. Expansion committee members include MLS President Mark Abbott and former Real Salt Lake co-owner Dave Checketts.
On July 31, 2013, during the 2013 MLS All-Star Game, Commissioner Don Garber announced that the league planned to reach a total of 24 teams by 2020. In December 2013, Garber named Atlanta and Miami as targets for further expansion.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Foundation (1993–1996)
- 1.2 First expansion: Chicago (1998) and Miami (1998)
- 1.3 Contraction from Florida (2002)
- 1.4 Expansion resumes: Chivas (2005) and Salt Lake (2005)
- 1.5 Relocation: Houston (2006)
- 1.6 Toronto (2007)
- 1.7 San Jose (2008)
- 1.8 Seattle (2009)
- 1.9 Philadelphia (2010)
- 1.10 Vancouver (2011) and Portland (2011)
- 1.11 Montreal (2012)
- 1.12 New York City (2015)
- 1.13 Orlando (2015)
- 2 Future size of league
- 3 Likely expansion markets
- 4 Other potential expansion markets
- 5 Failed or stalled expansion efforts
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 References
Major League Soccer was established in 1993, as part of an agreement with FIFA that the United States set up a professional first division to gain the right to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. No successful professional outdoor soccer league existed since the North American Soccer League folded in 1985. Due to rapid over-expansion and poor franchise placement, the NASL collapse led future MLS leaders to be extremely cautious of establishing new franchises.
Initially twelve new teams were to be placed in carefully selected cities where a strong soccer market was thought to exist. This was scaled back to ten after potential backers could not be found. Eventually 22 communities submitted formal bids to host an inaugural MLS franchise.
The initial ten teams created were the Columbus Crew, D.C. United, the New England Revolution, the NY/NJ MetroStars, the Tampa Bay Mutiny, the Colorado Rapids, the Dallas Burn, the Kansas City Wiz, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Clash. While New York and Los Angeles were awarded franchises, the next four largest American cities—Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Detroit were all without a team. Using American football stadiums, the new league kicked off in April 1996.
First expansion: Chicago (1998) and Miami (1998)
In 1998, the league expanded for the first time, rising from ten teams to twelve. The new teams were the Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion. Miami owner Ken Horowitz paid a $20 million expansion fee for the right to join MLS.
Contraction from Florida (2002)
Major League Soccer had reportedly lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years. The league's poor financial condition forced MLS to stop the bleeding. During the winter break between the 2000 and 2001 seasons, reports began circulating that MLS was considering trimming the league from 12 teams back to 10 teams. MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the two Florida franchises, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion. Both teams were withdrawn from the league and folded. The league had chosen to fold the Miami Fusion, in part because the Fusion's ownership reportedly lacked financial resources, had been trying to run the Fusion on a bare-minimum budget, and had asked the League to pay some of the club's expenses. Miami ownership had reportedly experienced $15 million in operating losses since Miami joined the league. The League chose to fold the Tampa Bay Mutiny, in part because the team was operated by the League instead of by an individual owner, meaning that the League had to absorb 100% of the team's operating losses. This contraction left the league with 10 teams, the same number as when MLS began.
Expansion resumes: Chivas (2005) and Salt Lake (2005)
The surprise performance of the US national team at the 2002 World Cup, where they reached the quarterfinal, sparked a recovery in the league’s fortunes, and attendances once again began to rise. MLS began looking to expand once more with a number of cities interested in hosting new teams. The demand for an expansion team grew.
In 2004, Los Angeles became the first city to host two MLS teams when Chivas USA was founded. They were linked to the Mexican powerhouse Club Deportivo Guadalajara and hoped to build a following amongst the Hispanic community. They share StubHub Center with the LA Galaxy, thus creating MLS's first local derby game.
Relocation: Houston (2006)
In 2005, the San Jose Earthquakes were put on hiatus because of a failure to secure a soccer-specific stadium. The players and the coach were moved to an expansion team in Houston, Texas where they became the Houston Dynamo playing out of Robertson Stadium. The number of teams in the league did not change.
In 2005, the league announced the creation of a Canadian franchise to be based in Toronto. This was confirmed on May 11, 2006 when the new team name Toronto FC and logo were announced. The club played their first season in MLS in 2007, finishing at the bottom of the table. The introduction of the MLS into Canada took MLS into a separate country for the first time, mirroring the set-up in MLB, the NHL, and the NBA, which involve teams from both nations.
San Jose (2008)
Seattle was awarded a franchise in 2007 in spite of the fact that the city did not have a Soccer-specific stadium or any plans to construct one. However, they would play at Qwest Field, now known as CenturyLink Field, which was built as a combined football/soccer stadium with an MLS team in mind, including soccer-specific features. They are sharing CenturyLink Field with the National Football League's Seattle Seahawks. Following a vote by supporters, the team chose the name Seattle Sounders FC, because of its heritage in Seattle soccer.
On February 28, 2008, MLS announced that the sixteenth franchise would be awarded to Philadelphia. Philadelphia was appealing to MLS because Philadelphia was the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without an MLS franchise, and it had a strong ownership group. There had been a strong campaign to bring a team to the city, with intense lobbying by supporters groups such as the Sons of Ben.
On May 11, 2009 it was announced that the team name would be Philadelphia Union. The new team announced their intention to construct a 18,500 seat stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, which ultimately became PPL Park.
Vancouver (2011) and Portland (2011)
One of three Canadian cities in the running for 2011 MLS expansion, Vancouver's bid was led by local businessman Greg Kerfoot, at that time owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in USSF D2 Pro. NBA star Steve Nash was also involved as a minority stakeholder. The city's bid was boosted by the proposed construction of the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium, with an initial capacity of 20,000 and the potential for further expansion. Don Garber called the bid presentation by Vancouver "one of the best I've ever seen." On March 18, 2009, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced that Vancouver had been awarded one of the two 2011 expansion spots. Vancouver continued to field the second-tier Whitecaps until the MLS team made its debut in 2011. The MLS Whitecaps began the 2011 season at Empire Field, sharing it with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, before both teams moved into the renovated BC Place in October 2011.
On July 31, 2008, Merritt Paulson announced that he would apply for an MLS franchise for Portland as an MLS continuation of the Portland Timbers. Paulson further outlined his plan by launching a website. The MLS Timbers would play in a renovated PGE Park, which was renamed to Jeld-Wen Field by the time the team made its MLS debut in 2011, sharing with the Portland State University football team. On March 20, 2009, commissioner Don Garber confirmed in a news conference that Portland would receive the 18th franchise.
The city of Montreal has been a consideration by Major League Soccer for a club since the league's founding and planning stages in 1993. In the fall of 2008, the Joey Saputo group was on a short list for the next round of expansion. On May 7, 2010, Commissioner Don Garber announced that Saputo and the Impact group would join the league as its 19th club for the 2012 MLS season with Stade Saputo being renovated to increase the seating capacity to around 20,000.
New York City (2015)
In May 2010, league commissioner Don Garber announced the league's desire to place its 20th team in New York City  On June 27, 2012, MLS announced plans to build a new soccer-specific stadium in Queens, New York, with a seating capacity of 25,000 and located near the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
On May 21, 2013, MLS announced New York City FC as the next expansion team. The team's expansion rights were purchased by the Premier League club Manchester City and the New York Yankees baseball team for $100 million, and it will begin play as early as 2015 depending on stadium availability.
On October 25, 2010, Phil Rawlins and his investor group of Orlando City Soccer Club, announced their intentions of joining Major League Soccer within the next 3 to 5 years. Commissioner Garber and other MLS officials met with Orlando City team officials in February 2011 and again in November 2011 to discuss MLS expansion in Orlando. In March 2012, Garber met with Orlando city and county officials, and stated, “It’s not a matter of if, but when,” when addressing Orlando’s chances of joining MLS.
On August 31, 2012, Rawlins told the Orlando Business Journal to get the Major League Soccer approval, Orlando would need to explore building a 22,000-seat soccer-specific stadium. “They didn’t say we had to have a stadium built before we could join, but they at least would like a plan that it’s happening.” In April 2013, the City of Orlando purchased downtown land to be used towards the construction of a $110 million MLS soccer stadium. In August 8, 2013, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer reached an agreement on a deal to provide financial support for a variety of Orlando projects including the new MLS soccer stadium. In October 2013, MLS President Mark Abbott stated that “We’d like Orlando to be the next team that we add.” On October 22, 2013, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve the use of $20 million in tourist development tax funds to build an $84 million multi-purpose soccer stadium in downtown Orlando. On November 19, 2013, Orlando was officially announced as the league's 21st team.
When discussing MLS expansion in November 2013, MLS spokesperson Dan Courtemanche cited Orlando's ability to average 8,000 home fans during the 2013 season. 
Future size of league
In terms of MLS longer-term goals, Commissioner Don Garber noted during a press conference on February 14, 2011 that he saw 22 teams in MLS by 2020. On March 12, 2011 Garber said, “I believe we will be larger than 20 teams,” and “I can’t say when that will be."
However, league president Mark Abbott said in September 2011 that the league didn't see the need to grow beyond 20 teams, where it would be with the addition of New York City FC. While other markets could be considered, Abbott said, "We feel good about the size we're at". League president Mark Abbott said in October 2012 that the league had "not made a determination about the timeline for expansion beyond [20 teams]" at the time.
In April 2013, in response to a question about future expansion plans, Garber posted on his Twitter account, “30 seems like too many.” And on July 31, 2013, in his interview during halftime of the 2013 MLS All-Star Game, Garber said the aim was to have 24 teams in the league by 2020.
Likely expansion markets
On March 12, 2011 MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, "I can’t imagine that when this league is fully expanded that we don’t have teams in the Southeast, that we don’t have another team in the Midwest, that we’re not even expanding to the southern part of California." In October 2012, Garber said MLS would continue to look at Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Miami as expansion contenders. During his annual "state of the league" conference call on November 26, 2012, Garber announced that possibilities for expansion beyond New York include Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Minneapolis. In April 2013, MLS Executive VP Dan Courtemanche stated that MLS's goal is to have at least one team in the Southeast.
In May 2013, following the announcement of New York City FC, Garber said that "There's still a lot of activity going on in a lot of different markets. There's activity in Miami, there's activity in Orlando, Atlanta and a handful of other places." In an interview for Bloomberg's Sportfolio on July 5, 2013, Garber confirmed that Miami, Atlanta, and Orlando were all candidates for the next round of MLS expansion, and added that MLS was also looking at Texas. On July 29, 2013, Commissioner Garber stated that MLS was impressed with Orlando's strong ownership and incredible turnout for the club, but with Miami, MLS would first need to ensure there is strong ownership, stadium, and business plan in place.
Orlando, Atlanta, and Miami were the three “spoken for” expansion sites that Commissioner Garber referenced on September 11, 2013, according to reports. According to Garber, three of the four MLS expansion teams have been spoken for, to be added between 2015 and 2020, which will expand the league to 24 teams.
In December 2013, during the MLS State of the League address, Commissioner Garber emphasized MLS's goal of continuing to expand in the southeast, and added, "if we can continue to advance our discussions positively with Arthur [Blank] and the [Atlanta] Falcons, we hope to be able to get a situation finalized so that could potentially be our second team. Orlando being the first, maybe Atlanta or Miami would be the second or the third.”
For the following cities, an MLS official has recently publicly stated that MLS is considering placing an expansion team in that location:
MLS Commissioner Don Garber and other MLS leaders have mentioned Atlanta several times over a number of years as a contender for an MLS franchise. In May 2012, Garber cited Atlanta as one of three intriguing markets for future league expansion. In the Commissioner's "state of the league" address in November 2012, Garber said that if the Falcons could complete plans for a new stadium, MLS would "try to figure out how an MLS team could be part of their plans." MLS Executive VP Dan Courtemanche also said, “We are big believers in the Atlanta market,” and cited the city's growing Hispanic population and corporations that could serve as sponsors.
A significant factor in Atlanta's appeal as an MLS candidate are its stadium plans. On May 12, 2012, at the Atlanta Falcons annual "State of the Falcons" meeting, Atlanta Falcons' owner Arthur Blank laid out his case for a new stadium with a retractable roof by saying in part that it could help to attract a Major League Soccer franchise as well as become a potential site for World Cup soccer games. In March 2013, the city and the Falcons agreed to financing for the new stadium. In May 2013, the Georgia Department of Economic Development board approved $30 million in bonds to finance the land purchase. The stadium is set to open in 2017 and can be configured for professional soccer.
Other sources have reported progress of bringing an MLS franchise to Atlanta. As of April 2013, there were no formal discussion between the league and the Falcons, but the two parties were in contact regularly. In April 2013, Rich McKay, Falcons president and CEO, said that the team was "open to various options, including [its] ownership of a team or someone else owning a team". Following the approval of the new stadium, discussions between Blank and MLS accelerated. Major League Soccer and Arthur Blank are in "significant discussions" to bring an expansion team to the city, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported September 12, 2013. The newspaper, citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the talks, said talks "accelerated" when the Falcons received permission for a new stadium, scheduled to be completed in 2017.
Previously, in October 2008, Arthur Blank's AMB Group had submitted a bid in for an expansion franchise, but withdrew its bid in early 2009 due to its inability to get a soccer stadium built.
MLS officials have said there were no discussions between the league and the existing Atlanta Silverbacks of the second-tier North American Soccer League,and Silverbacks chairman Brois Jerkunica said the team was not interested in a "promotion" to MLS.
In his State of the League address in December 2013, Garber said the league was "making progress" in discussions with the Atlanta Falcons and that the stadium situation was "finalized". Garber said, "We’ve been working on a downsizing technology we think will be unique and will be the only one of its kind anywhere in the world." 
Commissioner Garber stated in 2009 that MLS expansion in the future would include Miami. In November 2012, Garber confirmed the league's interest in placing an expansion franchise in Miami. In November 2013 Garber stated "I’m convinced we can go back to Miami . . . and we’ll be successful in 2017 or 2018 where we weren’t in 2002.”
Former Los Angeles Galaxy player David Beckham received an option to purchase an expansion team at a price of $25 million when he signed joined the Galaxy in 2007. The league has held preliminary discussions with Beckham's advisers about several expansion targets, including Miami. David Beckham along with Marcelo Claure has visited potential venues for a possible Miami expansion team.
In early October 2013, Italian financier Alessandro Butini announced that he was leading an investment group with a competing bid to place a team in Miami. Butini envisions an 18,000- to 20,000-seat stadium in Downtown Miami that would cost between $70–$90 million and would be 100% privately financed. Butini met with Commissioner Garber in February 2013, and planned to meet with city officials and Garber again in December 2013.
In December 2013, Don Garber said "There's a lot of work that needs to happen", and that the expansion couldn't happen without "the right stadium solution."
Previously, in December 2008, a Miami expansion team led by FC Barcelona and billionaire Marcelo Claure had announced an expansion bid, but the league and Barcelona announced in March 2009 that Miami was no longer a candidate due to local market conditions. Additionally, MLS expressed concerns about Miami's lack of fan interest in an MLS franchise, the fact that USL team Miami FC was not doing well, and the plan to use FIU's stadium and being a secondary tenant in a college stadium with an artificial surface.
Other potential expansion markets
An MLS executive has recently mentioned each of the following markets as a potential expansion market, although MLS stated it has not examined these markets in depth.
San Antonio / Austin
In late 2011, San Antonio joined the fight to be MLS's 20th team. The San Antonio Scorpions successfully launched their inaugural season in NASL in 2012, leading the league with an average attendance of 9,178. The Scorpions play at Toyota Field, a soccer-specific stadium that was completed in spring 2013 with an initial capacity of 8,000, and an expansion capability of 18,000.
A previous negotiation between for an MLS team in San Antonio ended in 2005, when negotiations between the league and then-mayor Ed Garza ended. Incoming mayor, Phil Hardberger criticized the terms of the proposed deal, while Commissioner Garber claimed that the criticisms were politically motivated and hurt efforts to sell season tickets and recruit local investors.
In 2011, MLS confirmed that it had made contact with the ownership group of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings regarding their interest in an MLS franchise for the Twin Cities. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf expressed interest in owning an MLS team if he were able to build a new, retractable-roof stadium for the Vikings.
On May 10, 2012, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill for a new NFL stadium in Minneapolis, projected to open by fall 2016. The bill included a provision allowing for the Vikings to pursue an MLS franchise. Construction of the new stadium is to begin in October 2013.
Jeff Cooper and his investment group St. Louis Soccer United twice attempted to bring an MLS expansion team to the St. Louis metropolitan area in 2008 and 2009, only to have both bids turned down in favor of other cities. Despite approved stadium plans to build the $600 million Collinsville Soccer Complex in suburban Collinsville, Illinois, MLS was not impressed with the bid's financial backing, and suggested Cooper expand his group of investors.
Cooper instead launched a second division men's club and a Women's Professional Soccer franchise. AC St. Louis played only one season in Division 2 averaging 2,750 fans at Anheuser-Busch Park during the 2010 season, before folding. AC St. Louis' sister-club Saint Louis Athletica folded midway through its second season in 2010.
Failed or stalled expansion efforts
This section includes cities with bids that have failed or stalled, or cities where no MLS official has recently publicly stated that MLS is considering the city as an expansion candidate.
In 2004 MLS announced that Cleveland would be getting an expansion franchise for the 2005 season, as area businessman Bert Wolstein had signed a letter of intent to launch an MLS club in Cleveland. However, Wolstein ran into delays in trying to obtain public financing for a stadium, and died in 2004, thus ending any Cleveland expansion.
On November 30, 2006 the Wolstein Sports and Entertainment Group (the former owners of the Cleveland Force indoor soccer team) promoted the construction of a 20,000+ seat, retractible roof, soccer-specific stadium complex for a Cleveland-Akron area MLS club. "The Summit," as the project was to have been called, was to have been located on a site in Macedonia, Ohio along Route 8 between the Ohio Turnpike and Interstate 271.[self-published source?] Eventually, a ballot-initiative to fund the stadium via an increase in "sin" taxes was put to the voters where it failed.
On November 16, 2009, a Canadian firm led by Andreas Apostolopoulos purchased the Pontiac Silverdome in the Detroit suburbs of Pontiac, Michigan, and planned to convert the gridiron stadium into a 30,000-capacity outdoor soccer-specific facility. On June 8, 2011, Triple Sports & Entertainment submitted an application to MLS toward acquiring an expansion franchise to play at the Silverdome.
On July 24, 2013, Triple Sports & Entertainment submitted a proposal to purchase a site in downtown Detroit and turn it into a residential and entertainment district anchored by a new MLS stadium. Andreas Apostolopoulos is leading the effort, saying that the league was more interested in a downtown team than one that played in Pontiac.
During the fall of 2011, Dennis Porter and the Utility Services Director of the City of Henderson expressed interest in moving a new MLS club into a proposed stadium in the Las Vegas area that it could potentially share with an NBA team. On February 10, 2012, Las Vegas National Sports Center and International Development Management announced that they had secured financing for a basketball arena and a separate open-air soccer stadium, but on November 28, 2012, the developer called the deal off stating the stadium/arena deal was not financially viable. The land deal then became the subject of a court battle and a federal investigation.
New York Cosmos
In 2009, the rights to the name of the former NASL side New York Cosmos were purchased, with the new owners announcing their ultimate aim of securing a place in MLS as an expansion franchise. In May 2010, MLS announced the league's desire for a second franchise in New York, although MLS did not endorse the Cosmos as its candidate expansion franchise. Difficulties in the management of the new Cosmos led to a sale to new owners. While club retained its ultimate goal of playing in MLS, it began playing in the second-tier North American Soccer League in the fall of 2013.
MLS awarded the second New York franchise to New York City FC in May 2013. Afterwards, Cosmos chairman Seamus O'Brien acknowledged that the new club made it unlikely for his side to enter MLS for some years, but suggested New York City could handle three soccer teams.
In April 2012, MLS President Mark Abott and NASL Commissioner David Downs met with the NASL club Carolina RailHawks FC and their fans. During the visit to Raleigh and Cary, Abbott said, "We’re not currently in the process of trying to outline a timeline or specific path for clubs coming into the league on an expansion basis." MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche also said in 2012 that MLS was currently "not in discussions to bring a future expansion team to North Carolina.”
In the fall of 2008, the City of Ottawa was presented with a proposal to revitalize Lansdowne Park and Frank Clair Stadium. In April 2009, the City of Ottawa was presented a report on the merits of the Lansdowne Park proposal. Lansdowne proponents stated that a pro soccer team could play at a renovated Frank Clair Stadium alongside a potential Canadian Football League team. On April 22, 2009, the City of Ottawa Council chose the Lansdowne proposal as its choice for a new outdoor stadium. On June 20, 2011, Ottawa was awarded an NASL expansion franchise to begin play at Frank Clair Stadium in 2014.
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are a professional soccer team founded in 1999 now playing in USL Pro. In spring 2013, the team began play at Highmark Stadium, its new soccer-specific stadium near downtown Pittsburgh. The stadium seats 3,000 spectators, although it is expandable to 18,500 seats. The Riverhounds contemplate the possibility of promotion to Major League Soccer by 2023.
In December 2011, a group led by former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez is exploring the possibility of landing an MLS franchise for the Sacramento area, with the suburb of Elk Grove as a possible stadium site.
On December 3, 2012 Sacramento was granted a USL Pro team to begin play in the 2014 season. A group of investors, led by local business leader Warren Smith, ultimately plans to convert this Sacramento franchise to an MLS team. Warren previously helped bring the Sacramento River Cats, an MiLB franchise, to Sacramento. In November 2013, Warren Smith re-confirmed his goal of his Sacramento Republic FC USL Pro team landing in MLS in 2016.
In 2001, a group of investors attempted to bring an MLS franchise to Trenton, New Jersey. The centerpiece of their efforts was a proposed $31 million soccer-specific stadium to be built across the street from the Sun National Bank Center and with access to the under-construction NJ Transit RiverLINE. The proposed Trenton MLS team was to have been named "Union FC". However, the MetroStars (now New York Red Bulls) objected that a Trenton franchise would infringe the club's 75-mile competition-free zone guaranteed by the league.
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