Expansion of Major League Soccer

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The expansion of Major League Soccer has occurred several times since the league began play in 1996. Major League Soccer was established as the top level of professional soccer in the United States in 1993 with 10 teams and began play in 1996. It has expanded several times since 1998 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, and in 2014 announced the 22nd and 23rd teams, Atlanta (which begins play in 2017) and Miami (pending a finalized stadium plan). In July 2013, Commissioner Don Garber announced that the league planned to reach a total of 24 teams by 2020.[1] Expanding and establishing a bigger national footprint is seen as essential to securing television rights fees needed to reach MLS's stated goal of becoming one of the top leagues in the world by 2022.[2]

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.[3][4]

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.[citation needed]

History[edit]

Foundation (1993–1996)[edit]

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.[5] 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.[6] Eventually 22 communities submitted formal bids to host an inaugural MLS franchise.[7]

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.[6] Using American football stadiums, the new league kicked off in April 1996.

First expansion: Chicago (1998) and Miami (1998)[edit]

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.[8]

Contraction from Florida (2002)[edit]

Main articles: Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny

Major League Soccer had reportedly lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years.[9][10] 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.[11] MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the two Florida franchises, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion.[12] 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.[11] Miami ownership had reportedly experienced $15 million in operating losses since Miami joined the league.[8] 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.[8] This contraction left the league with 10 teams, the same number as when MLS began.[13]

Expansion resumes: Los Angeles (2005) and Salt Lake City (2005)[edit]

Main articles: C.D. Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake

The surprise performance of the US national team at the 2002 World Cup, where they reached the quarterfinal,[14] 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.

Real Salt Lake were created in 2004, owned by Dave Checketts. They initially played out of Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah before moving to the Rio Tinto Stadium in October 2008.

Relocation: Houston (2006)[edit]

Main article: Houston Dynamo

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.[15] The number of teams in the league did not change.

Toronto (2007)[edit]

Main article: Toronto FC

In November 2005, Major League Soccer announced that it had approved an expansion franchise in Toronto to be owned and operated by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which also owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. The Toronto City Council had previously approved $9.8 million in funding for a $62.8-million stadium, with the rest of the money coming from Ottawa, Queen's Park and MLSE.[16] The team name Toronto FC and logo were announced in May 2006.[17] 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.

San Jose (2008)[edit]

Main article: San Jose Earthquakes

After a two-year hiatus, the San Jose Earthquakes were reactivated in 2007 and resumed play in MLS in 2008.[15]

Seattle (2009)[edit]

Main article: Seattle Sounders FC

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.[18] The city did not have a Soccer-specific stadium or any plans to construct one,[19] 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.[20] The stadium was built as a combined football/soccer stadium with an MLS team in mind, including soccer-specific features.[citation needed]

Philadelphia (2010)[edit]

Main article: Philadelphia Union

On February 28, 2008, MLS announced that the sixteenth franchise would be awarded to Philadelphia.[21] 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.[22] 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.

Philadelphia won the bid over a competing bid from St. Louis that was led by St. Louis investor Jeff Cooper. St. Louis had a stadium deal in Collinsville, Illinois, but lacked sufficient financing.[22][23]

On May 11, 2009, it was announced that the team name would be Philadelphia Union.[24] The new team announced their intention to construct an 18,500 seat stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, which ultimately became PPL Park.

Vancouver (2011) and Portland (2011)[edit]

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.[25] Don Garber called the bid presentation by Vancouver "one of the best I've ever seen."[26] 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.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29] Paulson further outlined his plan by launching a website.[30] 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.[31]

Montreal (2012)[edit]

Main article: Montreal Impact

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.[32]

Confirmed future teams[edit]

New York City (2015)[edit]

Main article: New York City FC

In May 2010, league commissioner Don Garber announced the league's desire to place its 20th team in New York City [33] 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.[34]

On May 21, 2013, MLS announced New York City FC as the next expansion team. The team's expansion rights were purchased by the English Premier League club Manchester City and the New York Yankees baseball team for $100 million, and the team will begin play in 2015.[35]

Orlando (2015)[edit]

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.[36] 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.[37][38] 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.[39]

In April 2013, the City of Orlando purchased downtown land to be used towards the construction of a $110 million MLS soccer stadium.[40] 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.[41][42] 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.[43][44]

On November 19, 2013, Orlando was officially announced as the league's 21st team, and will begin play in MLS in 2015.[45]

Atlanta (2017)[edit]

Main article: Atlanta MLS team

The league announced it was awarding an expansion franchise in Atlanta to Atlanta Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank on April 16, 2014, with plans to begin play in 2017. The team will share the New Atlanta Stadium, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017, with the Falcons.[46] Discussions between Blank and MLS had "accelerated" following approval of the stadium plans in late 2013.[44]

Atlanta became the third franchise awarded in the southeastern United States in five months, following Orlando City announced in late 2013 and Miami announced earlier in 2014.[46] The Atlanta metropolitan area was at the time the largest media market without an MLS franchise.[47]

Previously, in October 2008, Arthur Blank's AMB Group had submitted a bid for an expansion franchise,[48] but withdrew its bid in early 2009 due to its inability to get a stadium built.[49]

Miami (TBD)[edit]

Main article: Miami MLS 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.[50] 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.[51]

Future size of league[edit]

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.[52] On March 12, 2011, Garber said, “I believe we will be larger than 20 teams,” and “I can’t say when that will be."[53]

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".[54] 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.[55]

In April 2013, in response to a question about future expansion plans, Garber posted on his Twitter account, “30 seems like too many.”[56] 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.[1]

With four new teams approved between 2013 and 2014, some observers questioned if the league was expanding too fast.[2] The Washington Post's Steven Goff argued that of the four new teams, only Orlando made "perfect sense" because only it had an organic fan base, a set plan for its own stadium, and just one other major sports team in the city, while the other three shared stadiums, had not finalized plans for a stadium, or both, and neither Atlanta nor Miami had a history of supporting sports teams. Goff wrote that the league needed to "get past expanding just for the sake of expansion".[57]

Markets under consideration[edit]

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."[53] In October 2012, Garber said MLS would continue to look at Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Miami as expansion contenders.[58]

During his annual "state of the league" conference call on November 26, 2012, Garber announced that possibilities for expansion beyond New York included Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Minneapolis.[59]

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.[60]

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.[61] In February 2014, Garber again confirmed Minneapolis and San Antonio as candidates, and also mentioned San Diego and Sacramento as expansion candidates.[62] Garber discussed several expansion candidates in March 2014, saying that Minneapolis was "on the short list," and expansion into San Antonio or elsewhere in Texas was likely but not any time soon.[63]

Minneapolis[edit]

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.[64] 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,[65] and the team holds five-year exclusive rights to host MLS games in the new stadium.[66]

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.[66] 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.[67] In March 2014, Commissioner Garber confirmed that MLS thinks highly of the Minnesota United ownership group and has been in talks with them.[63]

Las Vegas[edit]

The Las Vegas Sun reported on May 14, 2014 that a potential ownership group held talks at the MLS league office about an expansion team in Las Vegas.[68] The investor group, consisting of Findlay Sports and Entertainment and real estate developers, Cordish Company, acquired a 61-acre site at Symphony Park in Downtown Las Vegas from the city and released a plan to build a 24,000-seat stadium there.[69] The University of Nevada, Las Vegas has also proposed a 50,000-seat on-campus stadium that would host UNLV Rebels football games as well as a prospective MLS expansion team. However, MLS spokesperson Dan Cortmanche said, "We want soccer to be a priority and primary tenant, and the stadium in an urban core,” while both Mayor Carolyn Goodman and the Findlay group expressed preference for a downtown stadium.[70]

An expansion bid was previously proposed in Fall 2011, when Henderson, Nevada Utility Services Director Dennis Porter expressed interest in bringing a new MLS club to the Las Vegas area.[71] On February 10, 2012, Las Vegas National Sports Center and International Development Management announced that they had secured financing to build the Las Vegas National Sports Complex in Henderson, a multi-purpose stadium where an MLS team would play.[72] But on November 28, 2012, the developer called the deal off, stating the deal was not financially viable.[73] Henderson's Bureau of Land Management later sued the developer for fraud, and the land deal became the subject of a federal investigation.[74]

San Antonio[edit]

In late 2011, San Antonio announced its bid to be MLS's 20th team.[75] The city's North American Soccer League franchise, the San Antonio Scorpions, launched in 2012 and led the league in attendance in 2012[76] and 2013 seasons.[citation needed] The Scorpions play at Toyota Field, a soccer-specific stadium with a capacity of 8,000, and an expansion capability to 18,000.[77]

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 proposed deal, while Garber claimed that the criticisms were politically motivated and hurt efforts to sell season tickets and recruit local investors.[78]

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.[79] In January 2014, Garber met with Mayor Julian Castro and Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman concerning San Antonio's bid to receive an expansion franchise.[80] 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.[81]

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".[82]

Sacramento[edit]

In December 2011, a group led by former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez began exploring the possibility of landing an MLS franchise for the Sacramento area, with the suburb of Elk Grove as a possible stadium site.[83]

Sacramento was granted a USL Pro team to begin play in the 2014 season.[84] A group of investors, led by local business leader Warren Smith, hopes to convert this Sacramento franchise to an MLS team. Warren previously helped bring the Sacramento River Cats, an MiLB franchise, to Sacramento.[85] In November 2013, Warren Smith re-confirmed his goal of his Sacramento Republic FC USL Pro team landing in MLS in 2016.[86]

On March 13, 2013, the Elk Grove city council voted unanimously to study potential sites for a soccer-specific stadium in the city that could host either a MLS or NASL team.[87]

Sacramento is the 20th largest television market in the United States.[88][89]

Failed, stalled, or speculated expansion efforts[edit]

This section includes cities with bids that have either failed or stalled, or are otherwise not explicitly included in the MLS expansion roadmap, the latest of which was announced in December 2013.[79]

Cleveland (2004-06)[edit]

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.[90] However, Wolstein ran into delays in trying to obtain public financing for a stadium, and died in 2004.[91]

In 2006 the Wolstein Sports and Entertainment Group proposed the construction of a 20,000+ seat soccer-specific stadium with a retractable roof for a Cleveland-area MLS club. The project was to have been located on a site in Macedonia, Ohio along Route 8.[92] However, Summit County voters rejected a countywide sin tax that would have raised $104 million of the $165 million needed for the stadium and retail complex and environmental groups raised concerns about the wetlands near the stadium site, before the area was hit by the Great Recession of 2008.[93]

In March 2014, Commissioner Garber said there had not been any developments regarding MLS expansion in Cleveland since talks were held "many years ago".[82]

Detroit (2009–)[edit]

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.[94] On June 8, 2011, Triple Sports & Entertainment submitted an application to MLS toward acquiring an expansion franchise to play at the Silverdome.[95]

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.[96] However, local officials awarded the site to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert's Rock Ventures LLC for an entertainment and retail complex.[97]

Miami (2008–09)[edit]

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.[98] But in March 2009, the league and Barcelona announced that Miami was no longer a candidate due to local market conditions.[99] 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.[100] However, Garber said that Miami would be an expansion target in the future.[101] Claure later joined David Beckham's group of investors for the Miami expansion bid that was accepted by the league in 2014.

New York City (2010)[edit]

In 2009, English businessman Paul Kemsley bought the rights to the name of the former NASL side New York Cosmos from former club general manager Peppe Pinton, with the stated aim of an MLS expansion franchise.[102] In May 2010, MLS announced the league's desire for a second franchise in New York, although MLS did not endorse the Cosmos, and also held talks with New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon.[103] The Wilpons' interest in MLS reportedly faded following the family's losses in the Madoff investment scandal,[33][102] while disputes between Kemsley and Cosmos investors, as well as a lack of progress in stadium development,[104] led to his resignation and a sale to new owners in October 2011.[105] The league also announced it was meeting with "two or three other prospects" for a New York expansion team.[104]

Negotiations between the league and the new ownership group broke down, partly because the club rejected the league's single-entity structure.[106] The new Cosmos began playing in the second-tier North American Soccer League in 2013.[107]

MLS awarded the second New York franchise to New York City FC in May 2013,[108] and on April 25, 2014, Garber told Associated Press's sports editors that there would not be a third New York team after the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.[109]

St. Louis (2008–10)[edit]

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.[110][self-published source?] AC St. Louis' sister-club Saint Louis Athletica folded midway through its second season in 2010.

Other efforts[edit]

Rochester, New York had been mentioned as an expansion candidate due to the success of the Rochester Rhinos. The Rhinos won the US Open Cup in 1999 — the only non-MLS team to win the Cup since that competition was opened to MLS teams — and the Rhinos averaged over 10,000 fans from 1999-2005.[111] In 2006, Don Garber stated: "At some point we want to find a way we can have an MLS team in Rochester."[112] However, the Rhinos saw a downturn in attendance and finances, and the city is no longer under consideration by MLS.[112]

Throughout late 2008 and early 2009, Ottawa was a longshot candidate for one of two slots for MLS expansion,[113] but the push ended in March 2009 when MLS selected Vancouver and Portland instead.[114] On June 20, 2011, Ottawa was awarded an NASL expansion franchise to begin play at Frank Clair Stadium in 2014.

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