Expansion of Major League Soccer
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Major League Soccer has expanded several times since the league began play in 1996. 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 1998, MLS has expanded several times into new markets across the United States, and since 2006, into Canada.
MLS is currently at 19 teams, and the league announced in 2013 that the 20th and 21st teams, New York City FC and Orlando City SC, will begin play in 2015. In July 2013, 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, and in February 2014, former player David Beckham was announced as the head of an investment group for a Miami franchise that would begin play in 2016 or 2017.
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.
- 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)
- 1.14 Miami (2017)
- 2 Future size of league
- 3 Southeast expansion
- 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, and following a vote by supporters, the team chose the name Seattle Sounders FC, after the Seattle Sounders that played in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s and '80s. The city did not have a Soccer-specific stadium or any plans to construct one, and instead, it shared Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) with the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League who, like the Sounders, are owned in part by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The stadium was built as a combined football/soccer stadium with an MLS team in mind, including soccer-specific features.
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 said, “It’s not a matter of if, but when,” when addressing Orlando’s chances of joining MLS.
In April 2013, the City of Orlando purchased downtown land to be used towards the construction of a $110 million MLS soccer stadium. 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 on August 8, 2013. The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 on October 22, 2013 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.
On February 5, 2014, the league announced that it was awarding a franchise in Miami to an investment group led by former player David Beckham, his business partner Simon Fuller and Miami-based businessman Marcelo Claure, assuming that stadium financing and location could be agreed upon. The team would begin play in 2017. Beckham had received an option to buy an expansion franchise for $25 million as part of the contract he signed with the league when he joined the Los Angeles Galaxy.
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.
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 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.
Orlando, Atlanta, and Miami were the three “spoken for” expansion sites that 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, 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.”
Along with Miami, Atlanta was considered a front runners for the 22nd or 23rd franchises in MLS.
Dan Courtemanche, MLS's executive vice president, said in July 2010 that Atlanta was under consideration as a potential expansion market, and the league had regular discussions with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank about bringing an MLS team to the area. On May 11, 2012, MLS Commissioner Don Garber cited Atlanta as one of three "intriguing" markets for future league expansion.
On May 16, 2012, at the Falcons' annual meeting with season ticket holders, Blank presented his case for a new stadium, saying in part that it could help attract a Major League Soccer franchise and potentially host World Cup matches. In November 2012, Garber said that if the Flacons could complete plans for a new stadium, MLS would "try to figure out how an MLS team could be part of their plans." In March 2013, the city and the Falcons agreed to financing for the new stadium.
As of April 2013, there were no formal discussion between the league and the Falcons, but the two parties were in contact regularly, and 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". Dan Courtemanche said, “We are big believers in the Atlanta market,” and cited the city's growing Hispanic population and corporations that could serve as sponsors.
In May 2013, the Georgia Department of Economic Development board approved $30 million in bonds to finance the land purchase. The stadium was set to open in 2017 and could be configured for professional soccer.
Discussions between Blank and MLS accelerated following approval of the stadium plans. In December 2013, Garber said the league was making progress in discussions with the Falcons and that the stadium situation was finalized. Courtemanche said in January 2014 that the city “remains a great prospect for MLS expansion,” and in February 2014, Rich McKay said the Falcons and MLS were “far along in negotiations.”
MLS officials said in April 2013 that no discussions were taking place 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.
Other potential expansion markets
Commissioner Don Garber, in his 2013 State of the League Address, identified four additional cities — Minneapolis, San Antonio, Austin, and St. Louis — as under consideration for the final expansion candidate to join MLS before 2020. In February 2014, Garber again confirmed Minneapolis and San Antonio as candidates, and also mentioned San Diego and Sacramento as expansion candidates. Garber discussed several expansion candidates in March 2014, saying that MLS is "getting close" with Atlanta, Minneapolis is "on the short list," and expansion into San Antonio or elsewhere in Texas is likely but not any time soon.
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 stadium for the Vikings. The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill on May 10, 2012, 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, and the team holds five-year exclusive rights to host MLS games in the new stadium.
In 2013, a group led by Minnesota United FC owner Bill McGuire announced his interest in building a soccer-specific stadium at the Minneapolis Farmers Market site in downtown. McGuire's stadium plan is supported by Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter and 2020 Partners, a consortium aimed at bringing development to the area around Target Field, Target Center and the farmers market. In March 2014, Commissioner Garber confirmed that MLS thinks highly of the Minnesota United ownership group and has been in talks with them.
In late 2011, San Antonio announced its bid to be MLS's 20th team. The city's North American Soccer League franchise, San Antonio Scorpions, launched in 2012 and led the league in attendance in 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Scorpions play at Toyota Field, a soccer-specific stadium completed in spring 2013 with an initial capacity of 8,000, and an expansion capability of 18,000.
In Commissioner Garber's December 2013 State of the League address, San Antonio was one of five cities listed on a presentation map of potential expansion locations.
A previous San Antonio expansion bid 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 Garber claimed that the criticisms were politically motivated and hurt efforts to sell season tickets and recruit local investors.
In January 2014, Garber met with Mayor Julian Castro and Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman concerning San Antonio's bid to receive an expansion franchise. Although MLS has expressed preference for downtown venues, Hartman said Garber loved Toyota Field, and thought its Northeast Side location could appeal to fans in San Marcos and Austin.
In a Q&A with journalists and fans in March 2014, Garber said that expansion in the immediate future was "premature" for both San Antonio and Texas, though it was "something that is likely to happen".
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.
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.[self-published source?] 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[when?] publicly said 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.[self-published source?]
In 2006 the Wolstein Sports and Entertainment Group promoted the construction of a 20,000+ seat soccer-specific stadium complex for a Cleveland area MLS club. The project was to have been located on a site in Macedonia, Ohio along Route 8 between the Ohio Turnpike and Interstate 271.[self-published source?] A ballot-initiative to fund the stadium via an increase in "sin" taxes was put to the voters where it failed.
In March 2014, Commissioner Garber said there had not been any developments regarding MLS expansion in Cleveland since talks were held "many years ago".
On November 16, 2009, a Canadian firm led by Andreas Apostolopoulos purchased the Pontiac Silverdome, 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, saying that the league was more interested in a downtown team than one that played in Pontiac.
A Miami expansion team led by Barcelona and Marcelo Claure, a Bolivian businessman based in the city, announced an expansion bid in October 2008, with plans to begin play in 2011. But in March 2009, the league and Barcelona announced 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 F.C. was not doing well, and the plan to use FIU Stadium relegating the team to a secondary tenant in a college football stadium with an artificial surface. However, Garber said that Miami would be an expansion target in the future. Claure later joined David Beckham's group of investors for the Miami expansion bid that was accepted by the league in 2014.
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 an MLS 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. Difficulties in the new Cosmos led to a sale to new owners. The club began playing in the second-tier North American Soccer League in 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.
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 said that a pro soccer team could play at a renovated Frank Clair Stadium alongside a potential Canadian Football League team.[this quote needs a citation] 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 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 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 with access to the under-construction NJ Transit RiverLINE. 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.
During the fall of 2011, Dennis Porter and the Utility Services Director of the City of Henderson expressed interest in bringing a new MLS club to the Las Vegas area. On February 10, 2012, Las Vegas National Sports Center and International Development Management announced that they had secured financing for a soccer stadium, but on November 28, 2012, the developer called the deal off, stating the deal was not financially viable. The land deal then became the subject of a court battle and a federal investigation.
In April 2012, MLS President Mark Abott and NASL Commissioner David Downs met with the NASL club Carolina RailHawks FC, but MLS spokesman Dan Courtemanche said that MLS was currently "not in discussions to bring a future expansion team to North Carolina.”
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