By Paul Nicholson
April 23 – Major League Soccer (MLS) has announced it will now expand to 30 teams rather than sticking at 28 as had previously been the plan. It also announced that the franchise fee for teams 28 and 29 will now be $200 million.
Currently a 24-team league, Inter Miami and Nashville will being play in 2020 and Austin will become the 27th franchise in 2021. The two extra slots are good news for Sacramento and St. Louis ownership groups who had previously thought they were bidding against each other for the 28th unassigned and final franchise position.
The decision to expand to 30 teams was made at an MLS Board of Governors meeting end of last week in Los Angeles. The board “authorized the Commissioner’s Office to advance the discussions with St. Louis and Sacramento,” according to an MLS release.
Ownership groups will be asked to make formal presentations to the MLS leadership and the league’s Expansion Committee in the second quarter of 2019. These presentations will include: final stadium plan, commitments of corporate support, composition of ownership group, detailed economics on funding, strategic plans for fan development, commitments on player development, details on community programmes.
Both Sacramento and Austin are significantly advanced with their plans.
Local authorities have now given Sacramento Republic FC, which plays in the second tier USL, a kick start by proposing a range of financial support packages for a new $252 million football-specific stadium. Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced a $33 million package for the club, including fee waivers, tax rebates, advertising rights and infrastructure financing following negotiations with Ron Burkle, who is leading the drive for Sacramento to secure an MLS spot.
Burkle, a billionaire businessman from the private equity industry, has teamed up with Matt Alvarez, a Hollywood film producer and owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, to bolster the financial side of Sacramento’s MLS bid.
Meanwhile St Louis released over the weekend a series of stadium renderings. The ownership group has been working with the partnership of HOK and Snow Kreilich Architects, as the design team for the soccer-specific stadium which will have a seating capacity of approximately 22,500 to 25,500, and integrated into the St. Louis’ ‘downtown renaissance’ currently underway.
“Professional soccer at all levels is thriving in the United States and Canada and we believe there are many markets that could support a successful MLS club,” saod MLS commissioner Don Garber (pictured). “Expansion during the last 15 years has been enormously successful and a key driver behind the league’s continued rise, and we are pleased that some of the top business and community leaders representing great markets in North America are aggressively pursuing MLS expansion clubs.”
While Sacramento and St Louis look to have the next two MLS slots secured – provided they meet the criteria – awarding the 30th slot will not be a priority at present, though the MLS said that it had met with a number of other ownership groups.
MLS Expansion Timeline
|1998||Chicago Fire, Miami Fusion|
|2005||Real Salt Lake, Chivas USA|
|2008||San Jose Earthquakes|
|2009||Seattle Sounders FC|
|2011||Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps FC|
|2015||Orlando City SC, New York City FC|
|2017||Atlanta United, Minnesota United FC|
|2018||Los Angeles Football Club|
|2020||Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC|
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