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MLS Expansion: How does race stand post-St. Louis?
by Paul Kennedy, April 21st, 2017 2:38AM
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TAGS:  mls, sacramento republic fc

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Around the country, supporters of MLS expansion bids cheered the defeat of the St. Louis soccer stadium proposition that all but killed the chances of the favorite in the field of 12 bidders. But how much farther along are the others?

As of Friday, the field could be down to 10. .

On the other hand, San Diego continues to be very visible with its $1 billion "Soccer City" redevelopment plan, and Cincinnati and Phoenix have drawn lots of attention on the soccer side.

Here's an update on the bids of the 12 candidates, with a look at USL and NASL attendances for those clubs backing expansion bids and dates of big summer matches in their markets.

Charlotte. Speedway Motorsports owner Bruton Smith and his son, Marcus, want to build a $175 million soccer stadium at the site of old American Legion Memorial Stadium (Rodney Marsh's stomping grounds with the ASL Carolina Lightnin').

The plan was they'd contribute half the cost of the $175 million stadium and the other half would come from Mecklenburg County and Charlotte. The Smiths secured the support of the county (5-3 vote) in January. The city is the hold-out.

Charlotte council member James Mitchell, who chairs the Economic Development Committee, recently said on the Sports Charlotte podcast that the city has other priorities -- "workforce development, trust and accountability and affordable housing" -- but it might be ready to negotiate in 2018. He said the turning point for those new priorities came last September when protests followed the the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

Cincinnati. As FC Cincinnati began its second USL season, all the attention was on Nippert Stadium, owned by the University of Cincinnati and used primarily a football stadium. FC Cincinnati hasn't ruled out staying at Nippert Stadium, whose atmosphere and location it touts, but it's reportedly exploring plans to build a soccer stadium if that's what MLS wants.

FC Cincinnati, which paid for the widening of the Nippert Stadium surface, set a USL record for the largest opening-day crowd when it drew a crowd of 23,144 fans for its 4-0 win over Saint Louis FC.

Perhaps even more impressive: it drew 15,227 fans on Wednesday night for its 1-1 tie with Tampa Bay. That was more than the Reds, Cincinnati's famed MLB team, drew 15,083 for their game against the Baltimore Orioles the same night at Great American Ball Park.

USL ATTENDANCE: FC Cincinnati -- 19,186 average (2 games).

Detroit. Just which is a better deal for Detroit?

Complete the unfinished 2,000-bed jail on downtown Gratiot Avenue (cost: $300 million)? Or give the land to Rock Ventures (owned by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert) for a 23,000-seat soccer stadium as part of a $1.5 billion development at a downtown location and have Rock Ventures build a from-scratch criminal justice complex (adult and juvenile detention facilities, new criminal courthouse and sheriff's and prosecutor's offices) about 1.5 miles away (cost to Rock Ventures: $420 million minus the $300 million)?

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has favored finishing the original jail project, or at least use that option as leverage in the county's negotiations with Rock Ventures over just how big the new criminal justice complex would be.

Rock Ventures commissioned a study that projects the soccer stadium and downtown development -- plus new criminal justice complex -- would bring more jobs and tax revenues to the city than a finished jail. Evans' response? “This study does nothing to sway my thinking,"



Indianapolis. Former Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard has been pushing for a soccer stadium, but time has run out on Indy Eleven's efforts to obtain funding for part of the new soccer stadium expected to cost $100 million-$120 million. No soccer legislation was before the 2017 Indiana General Assembly, which is supposed to adjourn for the year on Friday.

NASL ATTENDANCE: Indy Eleven -- 9,064 average (1 game).

Nashville. Mayor Megan Barry favors the construction of a soccer stadium (cost: $110 million) at the Fairgrounds Nashville as part of other work on facilities at the speedway, located south of downtown Nashville.

The first hurdle in the effort to bring MLS to Nashville was passed when the Tennessee's House of Representatives agreed (87-2) to a ticket tax. The bill would allow taxes collected at the soccer stadium be used by the Metro Sports Authority to offset the cost of the stadium. (Both NFL Titans and NHL Predators use ticket taxes to generate funds to pay for venue costs.)

The hard part: Agreeing on a "private-public partnership" Barry favors to pay for the construction of the stadium.

Summer of Soccer:
July 8: USA vs. Panama, Martinique vs. Nicaragua (Gold Cup) at Nissan Stadium.
July 29: Tottenham vs. Man. City (International Champions Cup) at Nissan Stadium

Phoenix. In its favor, Phoenix always had a large media market -- the second largest of the 12 expansion markets just behind Tampa/St. Petersburg and just ahead of Detroit -- but soccer interest except for (Mexican) international matches always suffered. That's changing.

The USL's Rising FC has been very much in the news with the signing of Didier Drogba for the 2017 and 2018 seasons to an ownership interest in the club. Its first two games at its new "pop-up" stadium have draw a club-record 6,890 and 6,330 fans, convincing it to proceed with plans to expand its stadium in south Scottsdale to 10,000 seats.

"I'm trying to be as objective as I can," lead owner Berke Bakay told ESPN FC after the Drogba signing, "but if I'm in MLS's position, and if the franchise values are driven by media revenues, and if Phoenix is a giant, must-have media market and you've got a good ownership group there, and a stadium solution, I feel we are very well positioned."

USL ATTENDANCE: Phoenix Rising FC -- 6,610 average (2 games).

Summer of Soccer:
July 20: 1C vs. 3A/B, 2C vs. 2A quarterfinals (Gold Cup) at University of Phoenix Stadium.



Raleigh. Steve Malik, owner of North Carolina FC (formerly Carolina RailHawks) and the North Carolina Courage (formerly Western New York Flash), plans on building a 22,000-seat soccer stadium if WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary isn't expanded. No details have been made public.

Carolina soccer got good news this week, though, as the NCAA agreed to return to WakeMed Soccer Park for the Women’s College Cup (2018 and 2020) and Men’s College Cup  (2019 and 2021) after Governor Roy Cooper signed the repeal of the controversial "Bathroom Bill."

NASL ATTENDANCE: North Carolina FC -- 5,176 average (2 games).

Sacramento. If the state of its stadium plan remains the deciding factor, Sacramento is in good shape. In December, the Sacramento city council approved Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings' plans to build a $180 million soccer stadium with 25,000 seats on the eastern edge of the downtown railyard.

Differences between Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings and Sacramento Republic FC over the purchase of the club currently in the USL spooked many Sacramento fans, and two months after Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg stepped in to make peace between MLS lead investor Kevin Nagle and Sac Republic founder Warren Smith no deal had been concluded.

But Smith insisted to the Sacramento CBS affiliate at the beginning of the month a deal was "very close" and there were "no sticking points."

USL ATTENDANCE: Sac Republic FC -- 11,569 average (1 game).


 
St. Louis. St. Louis had been tipped as one of the favorites for an MLS expansion spot. MLS commissioner Don Garber even attended a rally for the SC STL bid to win city voter approval of Proposition 2 that would have provided $60 million in public financing for a 22,000-seat downtown soccer stadium.

In what MLS termed a "significant setback for the city's expansion opportunity," city voters rejected the measure by 53 percent to 47 percent. SC STL vice chairman Terry Matlack went further, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "It's unlikely St. Louis ever gets an MLS team now."

USL ATTENDANCE: Saint Louis FC -- 5,187 average (2 games).

San Antonio. Spurs Sports & Entertainment (owner of the NBA Spurs and second-year USL team San Antonio FC since 2016, among other sports teams) is spearheading the San Antonio bid that will likely depend on Bexar County voters approving a bond measure to fund a portion of Toyota Field's upgrades (estimated cost: $100 million) in December.

SS&E has been relatively quiet through the whole bid process, but San Antonio FC has made noise by drawing a sell-out crowd of 8,081 followed by crowds of 6,217 and 6,403 for its first three home games of the 2017 season.

USL ATTENDANCE: San Antonio FC -- 6,900 average (3 game).

Summer of Soccer:
July 9: Mexico vs. Curacao, El Salvador vs. Jamaica (Gold Cup) at Alamodome

San Diego. Probably no group has been as visible as FS Investors, the group seeking an MLS expansion team in San Diego. Its plans for “SoccerCity” include the construction of a $200 million soccer stadium as part of a $1 billion redevelopment of the Qualcomm Stadium site in Mission Valley.

It's enlisted the support of new San Diego resident Landon Donovan, made national headlines with its name-the-team contest -- it's selling "Footy McFooty Face" T-shirts for charity -- and garnered more than 100,000 signatures for its petition to seek approval of the development plan.

FS Investors told the San Diego Union-Tribune that it will ask the San Diego city council to put its plan to redevelop the 166-acre site in Mission Valley and build a soccer stadium to city voters on Nov. 7. It also told the Union-Tribune that the timing of the measure won't jeopardize its expansion bid because MLS won't make a decision on teams 25 and 26 until after the results of the measure are known.

Summer of Soccer:
July 9:
Mexico vs. El Salvador, Curacao vs. Jamaica (Gold Cup) at Qualcomm Stadium.



Tampa/St. Petersburg. As of Monday, more than 18,000 mail-in ballots had already been returned in the St. Petersburg soccer referendum on May 2.

The referendum isn't about money -- the Rowdies' Bill Edwards, who's paying for the referendum, plans to spend $80 million to expand city-owned Al Lang Stadium, their home in the NASL and now USL, from 7,200 seats to 18,000 -- but rather St. Petersburg residents must give the city council the authority to negotiate a use agreement on a long-term basis because of the stadium's bay-front location.

(The ordinance would require Rowdies to pay for all work on Al Lang Stadium as well as all MLS expansion fees.)

USL ATTENDANCE: Tampa Bay Rowdies -- 5,782 average (3 games).

Summer of Soccer:
July 12: USA vs. Martinique, Panama vs. Nicaragua (Gold Cup) at Raymond James Stadium.



12 comments
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 7:54 a.m.
    This is such lame editing.. why is the editor mixing up MSL expansion with summer gold cup ? Also with the current tide of Republicans vs Democrats no expansions involving government will get approved best to wait till after November midterm elections...I personally don't want to see any tax dollars being spent to fund professional sports. It's a total waste of our bureaucratic system. San Diego seems like the best bet but we all know that is just a temporary resting ground for any bad sports team and yes the soccer team will also be bad.
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 4:03 p.m.
    Midterm elections are next year and these issues are decided at the state and local level, not federal.
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 22, 2017 at 8:21 a.m.
    Fire, it's mid terms for local government Mayor, Governor, local congress and city councils-- the ones that makes local policy decisions and create an appropriate spending bills-- again not everyone has zero ideas like you..
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 2:07 p.m.
    It's "mid terms" for governor? Huh? There are only two gubernatorial elections this year (NJ and VA). Not sure what are you saying beyond your personal attacks.
  1. John Mcpherson
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 9:23 a.m.
    Paul you fail to discuss anything to do with the stadium situation in Phoenix. Phoenix has the land, has the private financing and is actively working on the design. It needs no city, county or state money. It needs no city, county or state votes. It simply needs MLS to award the franchise and development can begin
  1. Quarterback TD
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 11:26 a.m.
    Phoenix is actually better than San Diego-- great call
  1. Fanfor soccer
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 12:42 p.m.
    First I will say I do not agree with public funding of private enterprise. St. Louis is a victim of demographics and split government. St. Louis is a large metro area with the prime amount of the population living in St. Louis County and not in St. Louis City. They are two separate entities. The vote was taken within the St. Louis city limits and did not include St. Louis County which has a far more diversified demographic. St. Louis City does not have the voter makeup to support soccer on its own. The primary population mix within the City of St. Louis has very little interest in soccer or civic interest period. If the vote would have included the St. Louis County area I venture to say it would have passed and the stadium would be on the way up with the grass growing.
  1. I w Nowozeniuk
    commented on: April 21, 2017 at 7:15 p.m.
    Love the speed by which MLS is expanding. We still have venues with "turf", and the quality on the pitch is constantly being watered down. And let's not forget that many current venues have not taken into consideration in providing the paying spectators with some semblance of comfort from the natural elements. Is MLS thinking about its fans?
  1. Fire Paul Gardner Now
    commented on: April 23, 2017 at 2:09 p.m.
    I don't agree - the quality of play is better than ten years ago even with the number of teams almost doubling. Expansion dilutes quality in US leagues like the NBA, MLB etc because the player pool is smaller. The worldwide player pool in soccer is enormous so expansion can (and has) occur without dilution of quality.
  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: April 22, 2017 at 5:21 p.m.
    Hola everyone! Guess todos ustedes - y'all, have forgotten just how long it took in our beyoootiful city of Nuestra Senora de LOS ANGELES to finally get a futbol-soccer stadium dab smack in the middle of our fair city, that is, get rid of that staid and then literally and then virtually uselsss "Sports Arena" situated dab smack next to the LA Coliseum (home of that other university in LA, USC, and the home of the Mighty Endeavor??? So, my fine feathered amigos, construction for the LOS ANGELES FOOTBALL CLUB is not only proceeding, but I will dare say that it is probably ahead of schedule. Since the LAFC property was/is under the control of the City and County of Los Angeles, plus the State of Calif, the many attempts to get that Sports arena torn down and a soccer venue constructed only happened when the MLS had the lights turned on, smelled the coffee brewing and the roses a bloomin' when they bought out that goofy guy owner of Chivas USA, ran the club in it's last gasping year, and then sold the franchise to some very soccer-knowledgeable folks, from Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra, Magic Johnson, et.al. plus lots of dinero, yada yada yada. Yet to see that good ole David Beckham can't even persuade those crazy Miami politicians, and then see the 12 sites listed above jump through the perennial political shennanigans,read these comments, know what senores, I'm glad I live in Los Angeles and am looking forward to the '18 season when the LAFC takes the field. As for MLS expanding, yeah ok, it will happen, just be patient! Meantime, PLAY ON!!!
  1. Glenn Maddock
    commented on: April 24, 2017 at 2:39 p.m.
    The premise of this article that fans of other cities are cheering St. Louis failure is crazy. most of us wanted STL to succeed. there are 4 slots open. Miami is going to fail, so maybe 5 slots. San Diego is clearly on top. There plan makes all others pale in comparison, and everyone in MLS wants a team in San Diego. it's a no brainer! To compare Phoenix to San Diego is laughable. Why does everyone in Phoenix spend their summers in San Diego? because its 110 degrees at night in Phoenix! Drogba will be melted by July. Good luck with that!
  1. Kate Phillips
    commented on: April 25, 2017 at 10:23 a.m.
    HB2 wasn't so much repealed, as it was replaced with something just as bad. As much as I'd like to see MLS in Charlotte and/or Raleigh, until this mess is cleaned up, MLS should ignore any suitor of MLS from NC.

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