MLS Expansion

The online soccer community is abuzz with recent statements from Commissioner Garber (courtesy of Steve Davis), that MLS has raised its expansion fee for a 20th team to $100 million for the New York market.   According to Davis’ article, the league remains focused on New York for team 20, but has not set a timetable for that expansion.  New York II has long been a stated goal of league leadership as has the sentiment of slow growth past team 20.  MLS has already expanded to the most likely new markets over the last few years, adding teams in Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Philly and Montreal.   If team 20 is not New York, where?

For years, St. Louis was considered  front runner for a team.  St. Louis has a long and proud soccer history.  For years, Jeffrey Cooper was the centerpiece of a St. Louis bid.  Despite an in place stadium deal, the League repeatedly expressed worries about Cooper’s finances and the Gateway City has been left behind through multiple rounds of expansion.  The league’s concern seems well placed.  Cooper has since played with various roles in the WPS and the NASL without much success. For more on Cooper’s problems, click here.

Miami has long been considered a possible destination for Major League Soccer, but those talks have died down in recent years.  Recall that Barcelona was rumored to have interest in a Miami based MLS franchise.  The Spanish powerhouse combined with Marcelo Claure and Florida International University to  submit a bid to bring MLS back to South Florida.  As MLS fans well know, the Miami Fusion entered the League as an expansion team in 1998 and were contracted just four years later.  That background, combined with South Florida’s rather weak history of supporting its teams (Florida Marlins anyone?), has lead many to scoff at any move back to the Miami area.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank has long been rumored as a possible expansion owner and there has been discussion about elevating Rochester or Carolina to MLS.  Some have also raised Hartford, Birmingham, Las Vegas as other possibilities, but the league remains focused on New York.

 

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8 Responses

  1. For the 20th team, New York makes sense only if MLS is prioritizing a cash infusion. Because adding another NY team does not expand the league’s footprint or bring in new fans. And there is a chance that the move might simply cannibalize the NYRB fan base as well (compare Chivas to the Galaxy). For quick money, add another NY team. To grow the league, one should look elsewhere.

    Along those lines, I have advocated for a Minnesota team in the past, as well as submitted material to the website mls4mn.com. While not as far along in the process as the Cosmos bid, Minnesota has all of the elements of a successful MLS team.

    Minnesota has an interested owner in Zygi Wilf (owner of the Minnesota Vikings) who has reached out to MLS and publicly stated his desire to bring a team to Minnesota. Further, the Wilfs/Vikings are actively seeking a new stadium that would serve a football and MLS team (similar to Seattle and Boston). Also, Wilf demonstrated his commitment by risking his NFL stadium, and subsequently raising his stake in the proposal by millions, in order to keep elements of the project needed to accommodate an MLS team. While the deal is not completed, Minnesota is on the right track as far as a stadium and ownership are concerned.

    And generally, Minnesota is the right environment to grow the league. As I wrote for mls4mn.com, Minnesota has a long history supporting professional soccer. When the Cosmos were setting attendance records in the 70’s, the Minnesota Kicks were second in average attendance (at the Old Met Stadium shared with the Vikings) with over 30,000 per game. When the MN Kicks were in the old NASL, their average attendance beat the Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, San Jose Earthquakes, and the Portland Timber’s. Over 20 years ago, professional soccer began again (via the MN Thunder and now the Stars) and has not left since; which is an accomplishment considering the teams have played at multiple venues such as high school stadiums and the current team doesn’t have an owner.

    More recently, when the Sounders (the best attended team in MLS) and the MN Thunder shared a league in the 90’s and 2000’s, Minnesota had better attendance in 9 of the 12 years. Also, Minnesota hosts the nation’s largest amateur soccer tournament, as well as the MLS sales training center. Minnesota has the 16th largest metro area; and a higher percentage of college graduates and a higher household income than New York, Miami, Detroit, Las Vegas, St. Louis, etc. More Fortune 500 companies per capita are located in the Minneapolis metro than any other metro area. And regarding the costs to the league, traveling to Minnesota is less expensive than New York, and MSP has more departures than JFK. All of the above suggest Minnesota is the right place to locate a team if the league wants to maximize the impact of the 20th team.

  2. Dave L: “Because adding another NY team does not expand the league’s footprint or bring in new fans. And there is a chance that the move might simply cannibalize the NYRB fan base as well (compare Chivas to the Galaxy).”
    A NY team located on the NE side of the city would cater to a largely untapped market with minimal risk to NYRB fanbase while creating a fierce rivalry. Queens and Bronx residents would have to take a 3 hour round trip to and from Reb Bull Arena to attend a match today. Suburbs like Long Island, Yonkers, etc are even worse. Millions soccer-hungry fans in those markets that would be happy to have a local club. Oh, and those fans tend to dislike residents of Manhattan and NJ that make up the current NYRB fanbase.
    I agree that they shouldn’t share a stadium like Chivas and the Gals, but hopefully that isn’t the aim.

  3. I agree with Steve that there would be some benefit to locating a second team in NY. And with a two-hour roundtrip to see my local NASL team, I understand how commute times cut into tailgating (and attendance). I also agree that a few million folks would have easier access to attending a game if the team was located in a different NY-metro location, a fact which should be considered in any analysis. However, I believe that MLS would get a better return on its investment of time, energy and money with a team located elsewhere (in an area like Minnesota). This is due to the existing MLS presence in the metro area and because New Yorkers, as a whole, already have a “home” team to support if they chose to do so.

    Overall, MLS is a young league working to penetrate the US sports marketplace (Canada as well, but the bulk of revenue is dependent on US market share and viewership). And in order to improve its market share, the league needs to get its product in front of as many fans as possible. But the league currently has teams in only 15 US markets, which means that only 27% of Americans have a home team to follow. Compare this to America’s dominant sport of the moment (the NFL) with 30 separate markets covering 39% of Americans – and should an NFL franchise relocate to LA, the percentage will rise into the low 40s. With the televisions rights set to be renegotiated just down the road in 2014, why forsake the opportunity to integrate a new fan base and achieve greater national visibility? Another New York team may be well supported, and perhaps profitable. But an additional team in New York doesn’t support the overall strategy of growing the league as well as other locations; it’s a matter of diminishing returns.

    In order to increase the visibility of its product, thus generating a better return on its investment, MLS should be thinking outside New York (…and hopefully in Minnesota).

  4. The New York metro area has more people than most of the midwest combined. The potential payoff in NYC is HUGE.

  5. We don’t need another team like New England Revolution playing in an NFL Football stadium, nothing worse than watching a game with Football lines. Minnesota needs a soccer specific stadium if they were to enter the league

  6. Like most people, I prefer a soccer-specific stadium as well. But as the Sounders demonstrate, it’s not a deal-breaker. And the Wilfs obviously plan to incorporate soccer features and concerns into their project. I’d expect any Minn. stadium to be a top-rate experience (and we’d probably bring along Nessi to make it feel more like home).

  7. San Antonio needs to be considered as well. Its a city that has more than 2 million(62% hispanic) in its metro area but is also the prize of south Texas that includes almost another 2 million border-hugging, soccer-loving people. San Antonio’s footprint is much larger than its metro area, it is a regional icon. We have the Scorpions starting next year in NASL with season tickets at almost 3,000( More than Dallas) with more than six months until the first run out. They a soccer specific stadium plan in place. Also, The San Antonio Spurs want an MLS team and have $30 million deal in place to renovate a downtown 23,000 seat football stadium (Alamo Stadium) to make it soccer specific. There are so many reasons to consider San Antonio, and I am confused at the notion that all these other cities have caused so many to overlook San Antonio. The only one I can accept is New York in Queens or Brooklyn. All others need to take back seat to San Antonio.

    San Antonio for #20 or #21!

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