MLS set its expansion target at 28 teams, saw a bunch of interested investors in more than a dozen cities run a race to be among those selected and then concluded, why stop there?
So 30 it is. For now.
Following the league’s board of governors meeting Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles, MLS announced its commitment to expand to 30 clubs “in the coming years." There currently are 24 teams, with another three coming aboard soon: Inter Miami and Nashville SC next year and Austin FC in 2021.
The two heavy favorites for slots No. 28 and 29 are Sacramento Republic, which has been vying for a spot since entering the USL in 2014, and St. Louis.
“No official decision was made on future expansion markets, but the Commissioner’s office was authorized to advance discussions with Sacramento and St. Louis ownership groups regarding their bid,” MLS said, adding that both investor groups will make another “formal presentation” to the league’s expansion committee regarding the details of their respective bids.
MLS knows Sacramento well and has voiced its interest in the market. Republic’s bid is now fronted by investor Ron Burkle, a billionaire who works in private equity. Sacramento already has a stadium deal in place. After its stadium plan suffered an electoral setback in 2017, the St. Louis bid was revitalized by the addition of Carolyn Kindle Betz and the Taylor family, owners of car rental giant Enterprise Holdings, along with St. Louis FC owner Jim Kavanaugh and his partners. St. Louis, historically an epicenter of American soccer, is another market MLS has coveted.
“The league anticipates selecting the 28th and 29th expansion teams in the coming months with a timetable yet to be determined for the 30th team,” MLS said. Commissioner Don Garber told reporters in L.A. that the July 31 All-Star Game in Orlando, where there will be another board of governors meeting, is the target.
Republic released a statement Thursday saying, “Today is a monumental step in the process and we are closer than ever to reaching our goal of bringing Major League Soccer to Sacramento. … We will continue our ongoing communication with the commissioner and with MLS and look forward to finalizing all next steps to deliver MLS to Sacramento.”
The expansion fee for teams 28 and 29 will be $200 million, up from the $150 million paid by the most recent entries and a long, long way from the $30 million MLS was charging just a decade ago.
“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 said in Thursday’s announcement. “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.”
Charlotte, Phoenix, Raleigh, Detroit, San Diego and Indianapolis are among those cities whose expansion hopes may be rekindled thanks to Thursday’s announcement.