Nashville was granted a franchise on Wednesday, but the league will take its time to decide which of the Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit bids will be joining Music City.

By Brian Straus
December 21, 2017

The speed at which Nashville put together its winning MLS expansion bid isn’t normal. In fact, commissioner Don Garber called it “unprecedented” after announcing Music City’s entry on Wednesday. And so a week after the league’s board of governors met to evaluate the remaining finalists, it comes as no surprise that MLS, Cincinnati, Detroit and Sacramento are going to step back, take a breath and give each other a bit more time.

MLS confirmed Thursday morning that the second expansion award of this round, originally scheduled to announced this month, now will come after the holiday season. No firm date was established.

“Major League Soccer remains in discussions with the other three finalists for the next team to be awarded during this round of expansion—Cincinnati, Detroit and Sacramento. All three submitted impressive bids which the league will take additional time to review before announcing a final decision in the new year,” the statement read.

Investor groups from those three cities are expected to issue their own statements later Thursday.

Separately, MLS is making progress in Miami now that David Beckham has finalized his investor group with the addition of Jorge and Jose Mas. The expansion agreement is being reviewed and after nearly four years of false starts and detours, it appears Miami finally may be on the verge. It’s even possible Beckham could get the official green light before the league makes its choice from among Cincinnati, Detroit or Sacramento. MLS needs to get that decision right and with no deadline established, at least publicly, it theoretically could drag into February.

The issues have been well established.

Regarding Sacramento Republic, which has been knocking on the league’s door since 2014, there are concerns about the financial heft and staying power of an investor group led by pharmaceutical executive Kevin Nagle.

Later Thursday, Nagle released an open letter acknowledging those concerns and said Republic has “pledged to do whatever it takes to address and resolve these questions.”

Claiming that he’s already spent $30 million to bring the club to the threshold of MLS, Nagle wrote that he’s “willing to be open and flexible in order to attract the right partners,” including “another major investor or investors.”

Although he remains the lead owner at the moment, Nagle appears ready to reduce his stake if a more well-funded investor comes along. None of the minority partners currently connected to the bid, including billionaire Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, is thought to be a candidate to take on the lead role. Republic also will seek to add additional minority partners, Nagle wrote.

“No question, this will be a tall task,” he added. “And we will need to move quickly to remain competitive for the next expansion slot. But if ever there was a community that can dig deep and persevere, it’s Sacramento …. We are so close to our goal. Our bid fundamentals remain extremely strong. We know exactly what we need to do. And Commissioner Garber remains confident that Sacramento is MLS ready.”

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With FC Cincinnati, there still are a couple of final details to confirm on the club’s stadium deal in Oakley. In addition, there’s no assurance that the neighborhood northeast of downtown Cincinnati is even the league or FCC’s first choice. Potential sites closer to the urban core in the West End area and across the Ohio River in Newport, Kentucky, also have been identified.

Detroit is the largest market and has the wealthiest ownership group, but the league likely remains unconvinced that the plan to play at the Lions’ Ford Field is a winning one.

The delay probably shouldn’t disappoint any of the three remaining finalists. The expansion agreement is a long, complex document that was sent to the bidders for review only last month. They’ll now have more time to evaluate those terms, in addition to addressing the aforementioned issues facing their particular bids.

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