MLS Expansion: Latest Update & Ranking the 12 bids (November 2017)

Ford Field Detroit Lions
Ford Field (Home of the Detroit Lions)

We are only about a month away from the league announcing the next two cities to be selected in the MLS expansion process. Over the past month, Nashville dominated expansion headlines, while the majority of the pack remained quiet. Detroit had a stadium pivot, and the NASL lawsuit results could see Raleigh and Indy making a different move even sooner. Here’s the latest for each of the 12 bids and where I currently rank their chances of landing an MLS franchise.

Sacramento

Ranking: 1st (Last Month 1st)

  • Not a lot happened with the leading contender over the past month. But honestly, they just need to count down the days until the December announcement without any setbacks.
  • The club did reveal that UC Davis Health signed on for a 5-year deal as their primary shirt sponsor in Sacramento gets an MLS franchise.

Nashville

Ranking: 2nd (Last Month 2nd)

  • The big movers since our last update. While they haven’t overtaken Sacramento, they’ve significantly distanced themselves from the rest of the pack. Making this look like the December announcement is a formality.
  • Ownership: The Wilf family, owners of the Minnesota Vikings, have signed onto the ownership group, giving this bid an enormous amount of financial resources to help ensure the project is a success.
  • Stadium: On November 6th, the city council voted to approve the mayor’s proposed $275M stadium, with a planned capacity of 27,500.
  • Solid financial owners. Local government support. Strong fan engagement. Stadium location secured and design revealed. Hard to see how Nashville isn’t on the MLS map.

Cincinnati

Ranking: 3rd (Last Month 3rd)

  • Early in the running Cincinnati seemed to be a lock for the top two, mainly off the strong performance and attendance at FC Cincinnati. While still in 3rd and a likely MLS team eventually, the past month has seen the distance to 2nd place extended.
  • The USL attendance leaders (21k), already have 10,000 season tickets sold for next year.
  • Seeing the progress made by Nashville, the club president told Soccer America that they are hoping to announce financing plans sometime later this month.
  • If the club makes the jump to MLS, Mercy Health will take over as their new primary shirt sponsor.

Detroit

Ranking: 4th (Last Month 4th)

  • On November 2nd, SI reported that the Ford Family (who own the NFL’s Detroit Lions) joined the MLS expansion ownership group. Additionally, the group was no longer seeking to build a soccer-specific stadium and would instead use Ford Field (home of the Lions) as their proposed stadium.
  • MLS issued a statement later that night, with the key line being ‘MLS continues to prioritize soccer-specific stadiums as a criteria for the selection of MLS expansion markets.
  • Detroit is expecting a visit from MLS officials in November, after the stadium news, most of those conversations will likely be around why the bid group thinks that is the best move (besides ‘hey look at Atlanta’).
  • MLS has seen positive examples of franchises using NFL stadiums (Seattle & Atlanta), as well as failures (New England Revolution). While playing at Ford Field may not be what the NFL wants, having a domed stadium in Detroit could actually help their attendance numbers at the start and end of the MLS season.

Raleigh

Ranking: 5th (Last Month 5th)

  • This past month’s activity for the Raleigh-2-MLS bid (or 919toMLS), happened away from the actual bid itself.
  • First, North Carolina FC made the NASL semi-finals but lost to the eventual champions – the San Francisco Deltas. Meanwhile, NASL lost its injunction claim against USSF, leaving the league without D2 status next year. It appears as though NCFC will move to the USL for the 2018 season, and an official announcement could come sometime this month.
  • The best news for Raleigh is that Detroit moved their stadium plans to the NFL’s Ford Field. MLS was none too pleased with this pivot, which could provide a slight opening for Steve Malik and company in NC. The Raleigh group is still working to secure downtown land from the local government before moving forward with stadium announcements. Clearly out of the running for spots 25 & 26, but still very much alive in next year’s race.

Phoenix

Ranking: 6th (Last Month 6th)

  • Not much from Phoenix over the last month, which has this bid sitting just outside of contention for one of the 4 MLS spots.
  • However, given the size of the market (population and TV), land secured for the stadium, and current investment, the bid has plenty of time to be a top contender by this time next year for spots 27 & 28.

Tampa Bay

Ranking: 7th (Last Month 7th)

  • Maybe you can blame the USL playoffs, but here we have another bid that is far too quiet with so much on the line.
  • It’s looking likely that the Rowdies will remain as USL side for the foreseeable future, which isn’t a bad thing.

San Antonio

Ranking: 8th (Last Month 8th)

  • For a city that many thought would be climbing the ranks, only bad news has surfaced over the past month.
  • First, Anthony Precourt, owner of the Columbus Crew, announced that he was looking to relocate the club to Austin, TX for the 2019 season. Not only would that hurt the pull area of fans San Antonio was hoping for, but basically end their bid’s hopes. Houston and Dallas have struggled with attendance, if Texas gets a third team in the relocated Austin ‘Crew’, there is no chance of a 4th franchise in the state.
  • Then on October 27th, Court judge Nelson Wolff, issued a statement calling for an investigation to see if there was any conflict of interest between the MLS, Precourt’s potential move, and when the San Antonio bought Toyota Field. Don’t expect any real legal results here, but this only serves as another nail in the coffin.
  • I’d have dropped them further, if not for the poor performance below them.

San Diego

Ranking: 9th (Last Month 9th)

  • Realistically at this point, San Diego at best is hoping the announcement for teams 27 & 28 gets delayed as long as possible. ESPNFC noted that a ‘4 billion development project that includes a proposal for a 32,000-seat stadium’ would be up for a vote to the public – in November 2018. It’s a great market, but by the time they are ready they may be pushing MLS to expand to 30 or 32 teams.

Indianapolis

Ranking: 10th (Last Month 11th)

  • The Indy Eleven led the NASL in attendance for 2017, ending the year averaging over 8,000 fans.
  • No news about the bid, perhaps due to the end of the NASL season and the lawsuit the league has been going through. The judge denied NASL’s injunction request, leaving NASL in limbo and belief that the Indy Eleven will make a move to the USL for 2018.

St. Louis

Ranking: 11th (Last Month 10th)

  • *Crickets*

Charlotte

Ranking: 12th (Last Month 12th)

  • A quote from the MLS4CLT’s chief strategy officer, Mike Burch, to ESPNFC, sums up where this bid currently is, “If there’s any interest or will [be] from the city council to continue this process, to be engaged, then we’re willing and open-minded. But really, we’ll leave the ball in their court. If they want to pick it up and move it forward, then we’re willing to participate.”
  • A new mayor was elected in Charlotte earlier this month, so there is a chance the local government’s feelings towards the bid may be different. But honestly, getting an MLS team is probably not high on her list of priorities as she takes office.
  • Local fan group, The Queen’s Firm, has taken up the torch to keep public interest engaged.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *