MLS expansion: Why the road map leads to Sacramento and St. Louis

MLS's board of governors meeting in Los Angeles didn't select the next two expansion teams, but it set out a road map that makes it very likely that Sacramento and St. Louis will be the next two teams to join the league.

Instead of selecting one over the other and stopping at 28 teams, the cap MLS set in late 2015, Commissioner Don Garber confirmed plans to expand to 30 teams and picking teams 28 and 29 first. That all but assures they are Sacramento and St. Louis, which are much farther along that any other candidates.

What will happen next ...

-- Garber and his staff will continue to work with the Sacramento and St. Louis expansion groups;
-- MLS's expansion committee will hear presentations from the Sacramento and St. Louis expansion groups by the end of June;
-- Decisions on teams 28 and 29 will be made in the second half of the year; and
-- A timetable for team 30 still needs to be made.

Sacramento and St. Louis were both hot expansion markets when MLS set the rules in late 2016 for the campaign that would get MLS from 24 teams to 28. But for different reasons, they were passed over for teams 25 and 26 in favor of Cincinnati (which joined MLS in 2019) and Nashville (which will play its first MLS season in 2020).

The whole expansion process was thrown for a loop when MLS awarded an expansion team -- team 27 -- to Austin and Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt and a new group saved the Crew.

What's changed?

Sacramento was one of the final four candidates for teams 25 and 26 along with Cincinnati, Nashville and Detroit.

Given the success of the USL's Sac Republic FC, which has regularly sold out most of its games, and its attractive downtown stadium plan, Sacramento was once considered close to a lock for one of the two expansion spots to be awarded in MLS's year-long search that ended with the selections of Nashville and Cincinnati. When he visited the California capital in April 2015, Garber said it was "less about if, and more about when" Sacramento was awarded an MLS team.



But reservations about the financial strength of the Sacramento group weren't addressed until early this year when Ron Burkle, a Beverly Hills billionaire who made his fortune in the grocery business, buying and selling supermarket chains and distributors, came on board. The move followed a year-long search to strengthen Sacramento's bid.

The unanimous vote by the Sacramento City Council last week to approve the preliminary term sheet for construction of a new soccer stadium at the Railyards site makes Sacramento’s bid as good as go as Nashville's was in late 2017 when it was the first to cross the finish line.

Garber on Sacramento:

“Sacramento has persistently told us for nearly five years that they are built for MLS, and we look forward to continuing discussions with Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez about adding an expansion team to the market. We know Sacramento has a transformational stadium plan and strong engagement from government leaders. Since Ron and Matt recently became controlling partners in the ownership group, our expansion committee wanted to meet with them and learn more about their plans for the club.”

St. Louis quickly faded in the 2017 expansion race when the expansion group's request for $60 million in public financing for a 22,000-seat downtown soccer stadium was rejected by city voters.

But a new group emerged last fall with new plans for a stadium at the same downtown plot of land, this time with "overwhelming" private funding covering the $250 million cost.

The Taylor family behind Clayton-based Enterprise Holdings -- whose rental car brands include Enterprise, National and Alamo -- is leading the new effort, which, if successful, would make would St. Louis the first MLS team majority-owned by women. Carolyn Kindle Betz, a senior vice president at Enterprise and executive director of the company’s charitable foundation, leads the ownership group with six other female members of the Taylor family. (Jim Kavanaugh, a part-owner of the USL's Saint Louis FC, is again involved in the ownership effort.)

The big concern MLS expressed with the new St. Louis bid was the level of corporate support.

Garber on St. Louis:

“St. Louis has a terrific ownership group and a long history of supporting the beautiful game. During our visit to St. Louis last month, we came away very impressed with the corporate community’s support for a potential expansion team, and we believe the downtown site is the ideal location for a soccer stadium.  We know there is still important work that needs to be completed to secure the stadium site before an expansion team could be awarded to St. Louis, and our expansion committee looks forward to meeting with the ownership group.” 

Indeed, the good news is that Sacramento and St. Louis are on course to nail down the next expansion spots. The bad news: the expansion fee just went up to $200 million.

Left to be determined: the time frame for when teams 28 and 29 would enter the league. MLS will want to avoid having an odd number of teams like it did in 2018 when LAFC came in as the 23rd team.

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5 comments about "MLS expansion: Why the road map leads to Sacramento and St. Louis".
  1. Phil Hardy, April 19, 2019 at 10:25 a.m.

    MLS continuing to play with fire by not being able to complete the needed television market constellation by fixing the two biggest holes in the league: Detroit and Phoenix. This continuous acceptance of new teams in the lower 20's and even 30's (Cincinnati) and 40 (Austin) markets are not going to get that next TV deal's $ up to $$ and certainly not $$$ without Detroit and Phoenix. And this doesn't mention Tampa Bay at #11. Makes clear the MLS will not be able to stop expanding at 30 and probably has no intention at all of stoping until at least 32.

  2. Frank Strazzulla, April 19, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    Phoenix can go right now-use Glendale NFL stadium - grass, indoors, and would probably get 20-30K ...

  3. Peter Acel, April 20, 2019 at 1:43 p.m.

    This enthusiasm by MLS in adding new teams looks impressive on the surface but this whole business, described by some as a Ponzi scheme, resembles the way Casanova was seeking incessantly new conquests to be abandoned after the mission was completed.
    The way teams like the NE Revolution, Chicago, Phila, Colorado, San Jose, Dallas, Houston and others show their dismal attendance numbers, is embarrassing. Is there anybody in MLS tasked with following how the franchises are performing, are there any standards? For every Atlanta ans Seattle we have Dallas and Colorado. It is criminal how Robert Kraft is operating the Revolution. GARBER is letting his good mate, Kraft get away with gross neglect. Good luck with Austin, are two already failed TX franchises not enough? Where is the required downtown SSS for NYCFC? And what about Orlando City, with glorious 60k+ season opening crowds upon their MLS entry now with half full crowds in a downtown SSS? Is anybody paying attention to the way the stingy owner Flavio da Silva is running the franchise into the ground?

  4. Peter Acel, April 20, 2019 at 1:43 p.m.

    This enthusiasm by MLS in adding new teams looks impressive on the surface but this whole business, described by some as a Ponzi scheme, resembles the way Casanova was seeking incessantly new conquests to be abandoned after the mission was completed.
    The way teams like the NE Revolution, Chicago, Phila, Colorado, San Jose, Dallas, Houston and others show their dismal attendance numbers, is embarrassing. Is there anybody in MLS tasked with following how the franchises are performing, are there any standards? For every Atlanta ans Seattle we have Dallas and Colorado. It is criminal how Robert Kraft is operating the Revolution. GARBER is letting his good mate, Kraft get away with gross neglect. Good luck with Austin, are two already failed TX franchises not enough? Where is the required downtown SSS for NYCFC? And what about Orlando City, with glorious 60k+ season opening crowds upon their MLS entry now with half full crowds in a downtown SSS? Is anybody paying attention to the way the stingy owner Flavio da Silva is running the franchise into the ground?

  5. R2 Dad, April 21, 2019 at 1:10 a.m.

    I would like to see MLS find a way to get a franchise in the hands of Carmelo Anthony & friends. I was impressed when Puerto Rico FC came to San Francisco to play the Deltas. I realize MLS is not a charity organization, but the passion and committment of that club was fantastic. 

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