St. Louis raises MLS expansion game

St. Louis, one of the oldest hotbeds for soccer in the United States, has until recently rarely been considered an MLS expansion target. But with the exit of the NFL Rams to Los Angeles, a serious effort is underway to explore what it will take to bring MLS to St. Louis. The latest development was the formation of MLS2STL headed up by prominent area sports figures.

Dave Peacock, chairman of the board of directors for the St. Louis Sports Commission and former president of Anheuser-Busch, Bill DeWitt III, president of Major League Baseball’s Cardinals, and Chris Zimmerman, President and CEO of the NHL's Blues are among those on the exploratory group committee.

Also on the committee is Jim Kavanaugh, owner of the USL's St. Louis FC, and leaders from the St. Louis business community.

If successful, St. Louis would likely be in the second wave of expansion as MLS moves from 20 to 28 teams. After Atlanta (2017), Minnesota (likely 2017), LAFC (2018) and Miami (still trying to nail down a stadium), Sacramento is right now the hot pick to nail down MLS's 25th team. St. Louis and San Antonio are the most visible of the other cities looking to join the league.

The St. Louis Stars played in the old NASL for 11 years. They were one of the survivors after the contraction of 1968 but never drew as many as 10,000 fans a game. In 1978, at the height of the NASL, the Stars moved to Anaheim and became the California Surf.

St. Louis is the sixth largest television market in the United States without an MLS team lined up after Tampa-St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Detroit, Cleveland and Sacramento and 21st largest overall.

The initial goal of the group will be to work with the St. Louis Sports Commission to identify a potential team owner or owners and stadium sites, as well as evaluate funding options and overall viability of the St. Louis market.

MLS commissioner Don Garber recently talked with Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay about St. Louis.

“We know St. Louis is a tremendous soccer market and are pleased to see many prominent business and sports leaders becoming involved in the efforts to bring a Major League Soccer team to the downtown area,” Garber said in a statement MLS2STL Group released. “We look forward to working with the group to further evaluate St. Louis and see if it is ready for an MLS expansion team.”

5 comments about "St. Louis raises MLS expansion game".
  1. Randy Vogt, February 18, 2016 at 7:45 a.m.

    With its tradition in soccer and population size, St. Louis seems like an obvious expansion target. I'm not in favor of the Rams moving back to Los Angeles. It seems to me like the more ethical decision would have been to give LA and London (so there are an even number of teams) NFL expansion franchises. But then again, my father was heartbroken along with many others when the Dodgers left Brooklyn and he has not been as enthusiastic a fan of baseball since. Maybe the NFL leaving St. Louis can be to MLS's gain. One item that is missing from St. Louis is a MLS-size stadium. Could the Rams' former home, the Edward Jones Dome, be downsized and transformed into an outdoor stadium with grass?

  2. Paul Cox replied, February 18, 2016 at 3:19 p.m.

    The NFL wants to always keep at least one or two major cities without a team, if at all possible.

    Having a potential place to move out there helps the current team owners leverage their demands for ever-newer, ever-more-valuable stadium deals.

    And when it comes to newer MLS markets, I think the notion of the present "MLS-sized stadium" is ridiculous. If a 20,000 seat stadium has 5% growth in fans in that market every year, in just 10 years you need over 32,000 seats.

    Why would you intentionally restrict your market? Build bigger stadiums. LAFC should be building a 35,000 seat joint at a MINIMUM. St Louis should be looking at 30,000 MINIMUM.

  3. James e Chandler, February 18, 2016 at 9:08 a.m.

    The bi-state St. Louis metro area (MO&IL), having a larger population than the Kansas City bi-state area (MO&KS) also has a larger hole in their urban "doughnut". The keep putting their sports facilities downtown, but a lot of people don't want to go there. Kansas City debated about building a new baseball stadium downtown, but losing the ease of parking, and ingress-egress was too high of a price for most sensible people.
    The Jones Dome is not an attractive building either, and didn't feel clean, but it's really the place to get a franchise started. That's how the KC Wizards/Sporting KC operated under Lamar Hunt's ownership for years, playing in oversized Arrowhead Stadium, and only opening the lower deck/club level.
    There was discussion in St. Louis a few years back of building a soccer stadium on the Illinois side, but the site was so far to the east that people from the West side of the metro would have a 40 or more mile drive to get there, and if you can avoid I-70/I-64 going across the Mississippi River you've done well. If they could plow out a site in Maryland Heights, the would do well.

  4. Jason Toon replied, February 19, 2016 at 12:04 a.m.

    "their sports facilities downtown, but a lot of people don't want to go there"

    St. Louis Cardinals average attendance and MLB rank:
    2014: 43,711 (2nd)
    2015: 43,467 (2nd)
    And so far ahead of the suburban Royals it's not even funny.

    St. Louis Blues average attendance and NHL rank:
    2014-15: 18,545 (14th)
    2015-16: 18,228 (16th)
    Not bad for the continent's 25th largest market, and a team that has never won a championship.

    Sorry, but there's a 100% chance that any St. Louis MLS stadium will be in the city. It's the most central location. It's the most densely populated part of the metro area. And downtown stadiums are the preference of both MLS and the young urbanites who make up soccer's core audience. Not a chance they play in some strip mall in Maryland Heights surrounded by 300 acres of parking lots.

  5. aaron dutch, February 21, 2016 at 11:53 a.m.

    its great MLS will actually do the correct thing. St. Louis will be a great football town for MLS. It has a diverse population, strong soccer support and could be the next Portland fan base.

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