MLS's expansion to 30 teams has a timetable.
Speaking at the CAA World Congress of Sports conference in New York on Tuesday, MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed that the next expansion team "will be appointed sometime or announced sometime in the next 12 months."
Plenty of signs and recent public comments point to that team winding up in Las Vegas. Sacramento was the heavy frontrunner until it lost the backing of billionaire lead investor Ron Burkle, and Las Vegas has surged to the forefront with multiple groups reportedly competing for MLS's approval. Garber has also previously name-checked San Diego and Phoenix as candidates, while Sacramento could still be just a big whale away from getting back into the mix.
Las Vegas, which previously had no top-tier professional sports teams but now has three in the NHL's Golden Knights, NFL's Raiders and WNBA's Aces, could wind up with a fourth should MLS land there (USL Championship's Las Vegas Lights has been in existence since 2018). The city's bids are reportedly being led by Golden Knights owner Bill Foley, Milwaukee Bucks and Aston Villa owner Wes Edens and hedge fund founder Seth Klarman.
Precisely when the league's 30th team, whether it's in Las Vegas or elsewhere, takes the field remains to be seen. The league's 28th team, Charlotte FC, will begin play in 2022, while No. 29, St. Louis City FC, will join the league in 2023.
That's also the year the new and expanded Leagues Cup tournament featuring every team in MLS and Liga MX will kick off. It's currently slated to be a 47-team tournament (29 from MLS, 18 from Liga MX), but 48 would be considerably tidier for a competition, while also mimicking the format of the 2026 World Cup to be hosted in North America. And, although speculative, it's not too hard to connect the dots on how another MLS team launching by 2023 would help complete that puzzle.
Las Vegas recently hosted a pair of significant one-off matches as a test case of sorts. This past summer Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders, was the site of the Concacaf Gold Cup final and Leagues Cup final. The Gold Cup final, which wound up being between the U.S. and Mexico, sold out in 90 minutes and was attended by more than 61,000 fans, while the Leagues Cup final between the Seattle Sounders and Club Leon had an attendance of more than 24,000.
"That market, it continues to explode from a population growth perspective," Garber told ESPN in August. "We've seen the success of certainly the Knights and big events. ... Las Vegas is an interesting market. We do want to secure our 30th team so that we can have a fully expanded league by the World Cup in 2026, so we'll continue to focus on that market."
MLS expansion fees have soared in recent years with Charlotte FC, the most recent franchise to be granted, paying a reported $325 million to get a place in the league. That's $125 million more than what St. Louis paid.
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