FanPost

MLS Expansion

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Not that anyone asked but I wanted to give my two cents on the prospective MLS expansion candidates. And if there is anyone qualified to give you an in depth look at who is likely to join the MLS Fraternity it’s me. I mean, I have absolutely no league sources or insider information about how MLS plans to evaluate the potential suitors. I have no experience working with professional sports leagues or franchises. And to top it all off I think I got a C in the last Economics class I took.

Clearly my credentials are undeniable.

So, I plan to offer you my "Expert" opinion on each of the bids and then offer up my short list of likely expansion sites.

Charlotte

Initially I thought this could be one of the front runners but with stadium proposals being shot down, not once but twice in recent weeks, that pretty much ends any chance they had at this round of expansion. But like several other cities on this list with some work I think they become very strong contenders for the next round of expansion.

Outcome: Better luck next time

Cincinnati

Cincy is the new Orlando/Portland. It is a successful USL Franchise that has shown an ability to draw strong crowds and for the most part play good soccer. They also have a Billionaire owner which when you look around the current MLS ownership groups you see a lot of collectives but very few individuals who can put a B next to their net worth. The biggest thing they have going for them is that we have seen this model work before and the transition to MLS has gone pretty well for both Portland and Orlando.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. They do not currently have their own stadium and then there is the concern about oversaturating a market. It is less than 2 hours from Columbus (an original MLS franchise) and would undoubtedly pull fans away from a team that already has a pretty small base. And since we don’t have to look at these things in a vacuum, it is also less than 2 hours from another MLS hopeful in Indianapolis. That is just too many teams too close to each other with markets that aren’t huge.

Outcome: I think you have to consider them and I think it is too early to call it on Cincy but the one guarantee I will make is that you will not see both Cincy and Indianapolis come into the league.

Detroit

So if 1 Billionaire owner is good how about 2. That is what you have in the bid from the Motor City. What you also get with G2 (Gorres & Gilbert) is owners of two different sports franchises in the Pistons and the Cavs so they are not newbies to the game of running a pro sports franchise. This is probably the strongest prospective ownership group when you put together their wealth and experience in pro sports.

But once you get past the fancy owners that is where the shine starts to fade away and the grime that covers Detroit comes through. If you were to hear a Detroit soccer fan tell it, the city is a soccer Mecca…I don’t buy it. Their current "Pro" team plays in the NASL and if you read their SB Nation page they tout an opening day attendance number of 7k as impressive (and further digging shows avg attendance of sub 5k). Quite frankly of the prospects with current soccer teams playing in lower divisions this number is laughable, so I am underwhelmed by the soccer affinity. On top of that you have a city that is still trying to recover from some brutal years with the recession and a Pro Sports market that is the very definition of over saturated with 4 other big time pro teams in the market to contend with. And the final nail in the coffin is a "pie in the sky" stadium proposal that is far from a done deal.

Outcome: Too Much competition, too little to gain and no clear stadium deal means this one was DOA.

Indianapolis

I put Indy in the same mold as Cincinatti. This is another highly successful lower division team that has an established fan base, draws good numbers and plays good soccer.

Unfortunately for Indy that is where the "good" similarities end. What Cincy has that Indy doesn’t is the deep pockets of a Billionaire owner. The current ownership group is made up of entrepreneurs and self made Millionaires but there is a big difference between that M and a B. They just don’t seem to have stable backing that MLS needs in a prospective Owner. They also have a very hazy stadium plan with no site and no approved funding.

Outcome: Given their soccer success you have to give them a chance but there are a lot of things working against them so I am not optimistic. Also, as I mentioned above, on top of competing with the other bids they are in a separate direct competition with Cincy because both teams will not make it into the league.

Nashville

This is a very hard one to evaluate because there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of things working in its favor.

First the positives: Good Sized market with only two pro sports teams, deep pockets in the Ownership Group, In the South East where MLS wants to expand and would create a natural geographic rivalry with another new MLS franchis, Atlanta.

Negatives: Unclear stadium proposal, not a strong lower division presence

Outcome: Not at this time. Maybe in the next round of expansion but I think this group has some growing up to do before it can be taken seriously as a contender.

Phoenix

When you say Phoenix as an expansion team out loud you just kind of nod your head and think "yeah that makes sense" a big market (that is constantly growing), with a lot of potential corporate partners, a constantly growing population of young professionals, a clear stadium proposal and a truly untapped market for MLS. It sounds good right?

I keep trying to convince myself of that too but all I see are issues. This is not a strong ownership group it looks more like a hedge fund than a strong Ownership collective. Also their current franchise has not performed well on or off the field. And while it is an untapped market for MLS it would be like putting a team in the middle of the forbidden zone. If you look at Phoenix on the current MLS map and it is literally in the middle of nowhere. So you have no natural rivals and your creating pretty big cost and travel strains on all of the other franchises by bringing them into the fold.

Outcome: I think it is a viable market but my concern is the ownership group and the performance of the current lower division franchise. I would put them in the same boat as Nashville they have some work to do but if they do it they will be a strong contender in the next round of expansion.

Raleigh/Durham

I am going to give this bid exactly the amount of attention it deserves….basically none. Being a hot bed for youth/college soccer doesn’t make you a viable candidate for an MLS franchise. The market is too small, the owner does not have the deep pockets needed and you don’t have enough corporate money in the area to support it. Beautiful part of the country, really nice people but sorry it’s a minor-league market.

Outcome: Why did they even bother?

Sacramento

This is one of the stronger contenders in my opinion, with one or two minor issues. They have a lower division team that has been very successful, the only problem being that the ownership group making the bid doesn’t own that team (Details, right?). Put that aside you have a strong ownership group with deep pockets and some experience with Pro Sports (49ers), a clear stadium plan that has been approved and funding secured and a pro sports market that could become a lot less crowded the Raiders set to leave the Bay Area. Put all that together and you have the making of a pretty strong bid.

There are two potential road blocks to me. First is its proximity to San Jose. While it gives you a good geographical rival are there enough soccer fans in the Bay Area to support two MLS teams? I just don’t know the answer to that one. The other is the conflict with Republic FC. If they can’t acquire Republic FC and either have to compete with them in market or the team moves away and they alienate the fans then this proposal is dead in the water. I would almost make awarding them a franchise contingent upon the outcome of those negotiations.

Outcome: One of the front runners

St. Louis

St. Louis…this is another one you say it out loud and it just makes sense. You have an immediate rivalry with Sporting KC, the Rams have left town opening a hole that an MLS franchise would be happy to fill. The market is a big soccer development hotbed and USMNT games are always sell outs. You also have a pretty solid ownership group.

So here are the issues. You still don’t have an approved stadium plan. But probably bigger even than that … The Cardinals own that town. So trying to establish a new franchise who’s season runs concurrent to the Cards and will be directly competing with them for time, money and attention is a tough ask. I think it could work but they are going to have to do big things early and often if they hope to divert attention away from the Red Birds.

Outcome: Definitely a front runner but only if they secure a stadium deal.

San Antonio

Now for the only one that really matters to us Texans. Ask anyone in Texas and this is a no brainer. I love to hate Dallas but I would just love to play San Antonio. I mean c’mon giving me another excuse to spend a weekend in Central Texas, count me in. Dynamo game and Alamo/Riverwalk, Dynamo game float the river, Dynamo game party in Austin…the options are endless. So besides my completely Unbiased reasons for being in favor of this truly excellent option there are some other good reasons too. The lower division team is doing well and they already have a stadium that could easily be updated to MLS level capacity. Even though the stadium is outside the "urban core" as is MLS’s, preference it does straddle the I-35 corridor. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not expecting Austinites to fully embrace any sports team that isn’t wearing the wrong color orange with a big T on the front, but I do think it is close enough that it will draw some and both cities have a high population of millennials, the MLS’s stated target audience. Then tie all that up in a little bow by having the same ownership group that oversees only one of the most highly respected professional sports franchises in the country in Spurs Sports Entertainment group.

So what idiotic reasons would keep MLS from making what should be an obvious choice? Well their slly notion about downtown stadiums for one. The misconception that Texas can’t support more than 2 teams (even though they want to put 4 maybe 5 in California and 3 maybe 4 in Florida when you already folded two franchises in that state).

Outcome: Honestly I don’t think MLS is taking this bid a seriously as they should. I think they are blinded by flashier markets and they have preference for other geographic locations. But if they do make the smart choice I think they would add more spice to the Texas Derby (can anyone say Lone Star Cup) and add a franchise that will be consistent and solid from day one.

San Diego

Coming late to the party but now that the Chargers are out the door adding another So Cal team (that isn’t based in LA) becomes a very appealing option to MLS. Having said that this bid has basically just been thrown together. You definitely have the financial backers but not much else. You are also about to add a 2nd team in LA and putting another one about an hour down the road seems like a recipe for disaster. Not to mention Tiajuana being less than an hour South of San Diego means you just have a lot of soccer competition in that market.

Outcome: Add them to the growing list of not this time but…

Tampa/St. Pete

The Rowdies want this… No seriously they really want this. Probably the "rowdiest" bid submission comes from the sunshine state. Tampa bought digital bill boards in Time Square, had supporters marching New Yorks streets up to the MLS offices. I mean they were doing their best to live up to their name. On top of that their lower divison team is fairly successful with a solid stadium plan.

But come on folks we’ve done this dance before, remember the Mutiny. Seriously they already have the Bucs (who they barely support) and the Rays (who they barely support). If MLS made this move you would always be on the edge of your seat wondering when are they going to screw it up. And another thing do you really think you should have 3 teams in Florida? You have the Beckham project in Miami (we think) and now Tampa. You go from not having much of a SE presence to being overloaded in Florida.

Outcome: They probably should be considered but if you are going to go through with a Miami franchise I think that kills Tampa’s chances.

To me this boils down to 4 primary contenders: Cincinnati, Sacramento, St. Louis and San Antonio. Detroit and Phoenix might be in the mix but I just think there are too many factors working against them. So who do you want to see come into the League?

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