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Election Day Has an Impact on MLS Expansion

The fallout from Election Day goes way beyond the U.S. soccer landscape, of course, but two votes in particular could help shape the future of MLS.

Let's get this out of the way first: Tuesday's Election Day across the United States has implications that are of considerably greater importance to the general population than the future of American soccer. In the grand scheme of life, where MLS expands to next doesn't quite come close to touching the value of what's actually at stake at the polls on Nov. 6.

That said, there are two votes, specifically, that will shape part of the future of the American soccer landscape.

San Diego's potential MLS expansion bid and Miami's accepted bid have measures on the ballots in their respective cities that they need passed in order to move forward with their intended plans. Voters have killed MLS expansion plans at the polls not so long ago, with St. Louis being dealt a setback in the spring of 2017. The bid's wish to secure $60 million in public funding for a stadium went ungranted, and the 53-47 vote defeated Proposition 2. St. Louis bid organizers then watched as Nashville and Cincinnati (and, by virtue of the recent events in Columbus, Austin) jumped to the front of the line in the months that followed, though a bid has been revived in the city and does not appear to require public approval.

No matter how strong a bid's plan is, it can only control what it can control, and if it comes down to voters, there's always an element of unpredictability. Here's a closer glance at what voters in the two communities in the soccer spotlight on Tuesday will be looking at:


The FS Investor group that has Landon Donovan working on its behalf, is one of two bidding for the right to lease and build on the Mission Valley stadium site, going head to head with a competing bid from San Diego State University.

Soccer City San Diego hopes the majority will vote "yes" on Measure E, which would secure the site and pave the way for a new 22,000-seat stadium to be the centerpiece of a massive project. If voters instead choose Measure G, in favor of the SDSU plan, then Soccer City San Diego's chances would diminish. Theoretically, San Diego could still feature an MLS team at a new SDSU football stadium, but that plan takes the stadium control away from the soccer group and is unlikely to be met with much joy at MLS HQ. If neither bid receives a simple majority of the vote–voters can select "no" on both proposals–then that would throw another curveball into the situation.

In simplest terms, if the measure doesn't pass for Soccer City San Diego on Tuesday, the bid's hopes at securing a team would appear to go by the wayside. If it does pass, there's no provision that states MLS has to grant the bid an expansion franchise. But it would certainly go a long way for a group that appears to have all of the other pieces in place for a successful launch.

“One thing we like about the Soccer City initiative is that it has an MLS ownership group already associated with it, that’s backing it, that’s very enthusiastic about joining MLS, and that’s already been approached by our league as a qualified ownership group," MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said last month.

With one place left in the league's growth to 28 (and it's important to note that MLS has never explicitly stated it will stop expanding once it hits that number), St. Louis's new bid appearing to be promising, Sacramento still a major investor away from ticking all of the league's boxes and USL's Phoenix Rising gaining steam with its new main investor and stadium plan, Soccer City San Diego needs this vote to go its way to have a shot.

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David Beckham's ownership group, backed by Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son and Miami-based brothers and entrepreneurs Jorge and Jose Mas, has ditched the Overtown stadium plan that took ages to come to fruition and eventually triggered MLS's approval on the years-long quest to put a team back in southern Florida.

The neighborhood was never the desired location for the club, which has instead put its focus on turning the Melreese public golf course into a sports, hotel, shopping and entertainment megacomplex. Inter Miami CF's proposed stadium would be the crown jewel of the $1 billion Miami Freedom Park project. 

What voters are deciding on Miami Referendum 1 - #378 is not to approve the leasing of the location but instead to approve the bypassing of a competitive bidding process for the location, which is the typical operating procedure (The Miami Herald lays out the proposal in great detail here and here). Without the need to bid against a competitor, Inter Miami could then negotiate the lease terms with the city, though that would still require approval from four of the five city commissioners, according to the Herald, before any building can take place.

If Beckham's group does not have the vote on Tuesday go its way, it's unclear where it would turn next. Jorge Mas is on the record saying he won't go back to Overtown, and the club is supposed to start play in 2020 alongside Nashville. Without a stadium, or the potential of a future stadium site, locked down, it would be the latest black eye on this seemingly never-ending project and raise a whole new series of questions for MLS regarding Miami's future in the league.