Major League Soccer's landscape became a little more clear after Tuesday's Election Day votes in Miami and San Diego.
Inter Miami CF's hopes to build a state-of-the-art stadium at the heart of the major Miami Freedom Park project took a step forward, while San Diego's plans to secure a stadium site that would lure a potential expansion franchise to the city were all but vaporized as the people in each community had their say.
Miami's ballot measure won about 60% of the vote, which grants David Beckham and his ownership group the ability to negotiate a lease for the site with the city without a competitive bidding process, which is otherwise the standard operating procedure. It does not, however, guarantee that its plan is a slam dunk. After convincing tens of thousands of citizens to support the project, Inter Miami has to have four of the five city commissioners on board with the plan before securing a clear pathway to build a stadium. Two of the five were opposed to putting Inter Miami's stadium measure on the ballot to begin with, so the work is not complete.
“Everybody has their right to their opinion," Beckham told the Miami Herald Tuesday night, where he appeared with co-owner Jorge Mas at an election night party. "At the end of the day, that’s why there’s a vote. That’s why there’s a yes and a no. But tonight, we were successful. We had amazing support and an amazing team that put this together. The hurdles are not over yet. We still have things to clear up over these next few years, but I think we’re in a good place.”
The proposed 25,000-seat stadium would be located on what is currently the Melreese public golf course, and would be surrounded by hotels, office, retail and commercial space. Inter Miami is slated to begin play in 2020, and while the proposed stadium would not be complete by then, city approval would at least signal the end to what has been a multi-year struggle to secure a home for the team in Miami. Should the city commissioners not approve a lease, it's unclear what that would mean for the franchise. Mas has said on the record that there is no "Plan B" and that going to back to the Overtown neighborhood, where the club had initially had the stadium plan approved that triggered the league granting its expansion bid, is not an option.
“Today is a historic day for the sport in our country, and another building block in our vision to become a soccer nation,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “Inter Miami CF’s plan for a world-class soccer stadium as the keystone for Miami Freedom Park will help transform the City of Miami and be a hub for soccer fans from all over South Florida. On behalf of all of us at Major League Soccer, we thank the community for its support, and Miami city officials for their leadership. We also thank Jorge and Jose Mas, David Beckham and Marcelo Claure for their hard work and deep belief in MLS. We look forward to Inter Miami CF’s launch in 2020.”
Beckham's former LA Galaxy teammate, Landon Donovan, did not enjoy the same positive experience Tuesday night. Donovan's Soccer City San Diego group watched as its Measure E initiative to secure the ability to lease and build on the Mission Valley stadium site was en route to be heavily defeated, according to the latest reports of election results in the city. Needing over 50% approval, Measure E was polling at less than 30% with over 70% of vote accounted for. Instead, San Diego State University's Measure G received the majority of the vote required to win that right–essentially a deathblow to San Diego's hopes at securing an MLS team anytime soon.
San Diego State plans to build a new college football stadium on the site, which was vacated when the Chargers moved to Los Angeles. While an MLS team could theoretically play in that stadium, that thought is unlikely to be met with much excitement at MLS headquarters.
Donovan, on San Diego radio station Mighty 1090, had explained prior to the vote what the yes or no ruling would mean for the bid he has campaigned publicly for over the last year–and why playing at SDSU's football-first stadium isn't an option.
"Major League Soccer is past those days, where they will play in an NFL or college football stadium. That just doesn't work for Major League Soccer's business model, so that just won't happen.
"MLS has three criteria when they're expanding. One is a stadium option that works. The college football stadium that SDSU West has proposed doesn't create the type of atmosphere and energy that all of us who have been to soccer games are used to. It doesn't provide that kind of energy and atmosphere. There's nothing around the stadium that's exciting for people to go to. So it would just be go to the game, leave. Go to the game leave. Major League Soccer knows that's not a successful business model.
"The other two pieces are an ownership group that works, and we tick that box every way. And the third is the market, and the market is great, and they want to be here, but they're not going to be here without the other two pieces of the puzzle."
When pressed on why voters would choose to build a soccer stadium when there was no firm commitment from MLS that it would even grant San Diego an expansion franchise, Donovan responded confidently: "I have been told ... We know that if this passes tonight, we will have a Major League Soccer team."
Unfortunately for Donovan and San Diego, it doesn't appear that will be the case.
“We overwhelmingly believe Major League Soccer is gone from the city of San Diego if we lose, which is sad,” Soccer City San Diego project manager Nick Stone told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The pending defeat in San Diego is a boon for the competing bids to land MLS franchises. With the league adding Nashville, Cincinnati and Miami in the next two years and likely expanding to Austin as well, with Anthony Precourt appearing set to sell the Crew while securing the team in Texas that he desired, that leaves one spot on the road to 28 teams. MLS has not unequivocally stated it will stop expanding once it hits 28, but that is the current limit that has been publicly set.
St. Louis's revived bid provides an intriguing option in a city that MLS has long coveted, while Phoenix Rising FC's bid has the backing of Chinese hotel magnate Alex Zheng, a stadium plan and the star ownership clout of Didier Drogba. Sacramento, which has long ticked almost every box in the expansion hunt, is still seeking a majority investor that would allay any and all financial concerns regarding its viability. Detroit and a pair of North Carolina bids were among the others on the radar during MLS's extensive process over the last couple of years.