After a slow period at the beginning of the year, the expansion news really heated up in 2013. Teams 20 and 21 have been announced, with New York City FC and Orlando set to join Major League Soccer in 2015. The new franchise in the Big Apple will combine the wealth and soccer background of Manchester City with the New York savvy of the Yankees. The wealth of City’s owners is well known to soccer fans, but the wildcard in this relationship is the New York savvy and television power of the New York Yankees. Among Regional Sports Networks, the Yankee owned Yes network is a powerhouse. With large national penetration and lock down carriage agreements in the all important New York Metro area (this includes New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut), the Yes Network offers MLS a huge opportunity to become a tv presence. Even though most of the national agreements do not allow for the broadcast of live games (and that could change for soccer), it seems likely that any relationship will include non match programming. While a relationship with Yes has not been confirmed, it seems almost a certainty given the Yankees involvement. Moreover, with all of the league’s national television deals set to expire in 2014, the presence of a new New York franchise that will likely spend on players will be a big negotiation carrot for the league.
Later, Orlando joined the party in November with its eyes also set on 2015. The reported entry fee will be $70 million, far in excess of prior fees (other than NYC) and supportive of the higher MLS valuations noted by Forbes Magazine (see below). The minor league version of Orlando City averaged just over 8,000 per game in 2013, a number the franchise hopes more than doubles with the team’s entry into the top tier of American soccer. The permanent home of Orlando City S.C. will hold 18,000 and the home team will be the first MLS squad to sport purple uniforms. The team’s jersey sponsor will be Orlando Health.
In addition, franchises in Miami, Atlanta and the Twin Cities were in the news as prospective owners lobbied the league and local communities for a spot in the next group of three teams. From David Beckham to LeBron James to Arthur Blank, this is a varied group of potential franchise owners. These are exciting times for Major League Soccer and its fans, and 2014 promises to provide plenty of MLS expansion news.
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