Major League Soccer today unveiled plans to expand to 30 clubs in the coming years, as Commissioner Don Garber addressed the news media following today’s Board of Governors meeting in Los Angeles. Garber also confirmed the expansion fee for each of the next two teams — clubs 28 and 29 — will be $200 million.
Although the Board didn’t select any markets today, the Board authorized the Commissioner’s Office to advance the discussions with St. Louis and Sacramento. Ownership groups representing those two markets will make formal presentations to the MLS leadership and the league’s Expansion Committee. MLS anticipates these presentations will take place during the second quarter of 2019 and will address the following for each bid:
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 programs
Following those presentations, a decision on the next two expansion clubs — teams 28 and 29 — will take place in the coming months. The Board deferred the decision regarding expansion fee and timeline for the league’s 30th club to a later date.
“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,” Garber stated. “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.”
With FC Cincinnati beginning play this season, Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF debuting in 2020, and Austin FC joining MLS in 2021, MLS has added 17 clubs since the beginning of the 2005 season, leading to a rapid and remarkable transformation of professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada. MLS is the largest first division professional soccer league in the world.
Since first expressing interest in an MLS expansion team in 2014, Sacramento has illustrated an impressive level of fan support with the USL’s Sacramento Republic FC regularly playing in front of capacity crowds. Earlier this year, Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez joined Sacramento’s ownership group, providing the necessary resources to bring an MLS expansion team to the market. 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 was an important development in Sacramento’s bid.
“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,” Garber said. “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.”
Considered by many soccer fans to be the birthplace of the sport in the United States, St. Louis has a strong local ownership group in the Taylor family and Jim Kavanaugh, community and business leaders with deep roots in the city and region. Led by Andy Taylor and Carolyn Kindle Betz, the St. Louis expansion club would be the league’s first female majority-owned team.
“St. Louis has a terrific ownership group and a long history of supporting the beautiful game,” Garber said. “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.”
In addition to Sacramento and St. Louis, MLS remains in discussion with several other ownership groups and markets regarding future expansion.
As MLS evaluates potential expansion candidates, three key aspects are considered top priorities:
A committed local ownership group that has a passion for soccer, a deep belief in Major League Soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.
A market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.
A comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.