Breaking down the 12 cities vying for the next round of MLS expansion
Jan. 31 marked deadline day overseas, as the transfer windows for various leagues slammed shut. In North America, it was a deadline day of a different sort, as Tuesday was the final day for cities to submit their bids to acquire MLS expansion franchises.
All told, 12 cities submitted bids, and in the coming months, they will aim to convince MLS owners that their combination of market, stadium and ownership groups should be chosen. MLS has said it will select two cities in the second or third quarter of this year, with the other two to be chosen at a later date.
Here's how the various bids shape up.
Ownership: Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
Stadium: The current proposal would demolish Memorial Stadium and replace it with a 20,000-seat, $175 million venue.
Overview: The stadium is often the trickiest hurdle to clear for expansion candidates, and such is the case in Charlotte. The city council declined to vote on a $43.75 million funding package after Mecklenburg County approved a similar measure, though Smith has said he intends to press on. Charlotte's market size is in the middle compared to its competitors, and when combined with the stadium issues, breaking away from the pack during the evaluation could be difficult. Some positives are the area's growth and that MLS is eager to fill a geographic gap in the South.
Ownership: Carl H. Lindner III, co-CEO of American Financial Group, owner, chairman and CEO of FC Cincinnati
Stadium: The team currently plays at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium but has plans to build its own venue and is currently narrowing its list of potential sites.
Overview: FC Cincinnati has been a huge success story at USL level, drawing crowds of more than 17,000 on average last season. But the club knows it can't stay at Nippert Stadium forever, and details are still sparse in terms of potential sites. Cincinnati's market is also the smallest of the candidates. That said, it's a bid that has generated significant momentum in the past year, and the Lindner family's net worth of more than $2 billion is more than enough to satisfy the financial requirements of MLS.
Ownership: Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, Inc.; Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, founder, chairman and CEO of Platinum Equity.
Stadium: Gilbert and Gores are proposing a $1 billion development at the Wayne County Jail site that will include a 23,000-seat stadium at a cost of $250 million.
Overview: For all the talk about expanding the league into the southeastern corner of the U.S., there are still some pockets in the Midwest that the league would like to move into, and Detroit is one of them. Among the expansion candidates, only Phoenix has a larger metropolitan area. Gores and Gilbert, owners of the NBA's Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively, bring deep pockets and knowledge of running a sports team.
Ownership: Ersal Ozdemir, founder and CEO, Keystone Realty Group, owner of NASL side Indy Eleven; Mickey Maurer, chairman of the board, National Bank of Indianapolis and IBJ Corp; Jeff Laborsky, president and CEO of Heritage; Mark Elwood, CEO of Elwood Staffing; Andy Mohr, founder and owner of Mohr Auto Group.
Stadium: There is a proposal to build a $100 million stadium downtown. The site is still to be determined, but the preferred site is near Lucas Oil Stadium.
Overview: Indy Eleven have been a success both on and off the field in the NASL -- no small feat, given the league's difficulties in 2016. Concerns have been raised about the ownership group's financial heft, but additional investors are being recruited. One big question is if the city and state will help pay for the stadium. The city sounds reluctant, but the fact that this is an MLS project and not an NASL project gives the bid hope that the state will be more helpful.
Ownership: John Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries, Inc. board of directors; Bill Hagerty, former commissioner of Economic Development for Tennessee.
Stadium: The current plan is light on details, though Mayor Megan Barry has proposed a site near the Nashville Fairgrounds. Ingram hopes to build a 25,000-seat stadium downtown.
Overview: The ownership group might not be big, but the net worth of Ingram's family is more than $4 billion, so that isn't a concern. Nashville has historically supported national team games well. But Ingram will need to provide more details on his stadium plan and convince MLS that he can make the smallest market among the expansion candidates work. The location in the South certainly doesn't hurt, nor does the level of support received by the NFL's Titans and the NHL's Predators.
Ownership: Berke Bakay, governor, Phoenix Rising FC, CEO, Kona Grill; Brett Johnson, co-chairman Phoenix Rising FC, CEO, Benevolent Capital; Mark Detmer, board member, Phoenix Rising FC, managing director, JLL; Tim Riester, board member, Phoenix Rising FC, CEO, RIESTER; David Rappaport, board member, Phoenix Rising FC, partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP.
Stadium: The owners have plans for a climate-controlled stadium on a 45-acre site that is already under contract.
Overview: Among the expansion candidates, Phoenix is the largest city in the U.S. without an MLS team, and the fact that its stadium site has been secured is a big plus. The site plans include housing the club's academy and access to light rail. That the ownership group has USL experience is a plus, though the team didn't draw well last season.
Ownership: Steve Malik, chairman and owner of North Carolina FC.
Stadium: Malik has identified three potential sites in hopes of building a 20,000-seat stadium, though he hopes to narrow that down in the next few weeks.
Overview: The area has some roots in the game, including youth, college and an NASL side that has been around since 2006. Similar to Charlotte, the area's location would also give MLS more geographic diversity. Malik purchased North Carolina FC (formerly known as the Carolina RailHawks) in 2016. But Malik, who made his money in the healthcare sector, will need to bulk up his ownership group. There's also a question of whether the market is big enough to support another professional sports team, in addition to the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes.
Ownership: Kevin Nagle, chairman and CEO, Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, and minority owner of Sacramento Kings; Meg Whitman, investor, Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings, and CEO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise; Jed York, owner and CEO of San Francisco 49ers.
Stadium: The plan for a downtown stadium has already been approved by the city council.
Overview: Having existed as USL team Sacramento Republic since 2012 and with a stadium plan in place, Sacramento appears to have ticked all the boxes. But friction between SRFC and Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings (the entity that made the bid) is threatening to spill into the open. SS&EH is trying to acquire SRFC, but the two sides have yet to agree on a price. With San Diego making a strong push, Sacramento will need to get everyone pulling in the same direction to pull this off.
Ownership: Paul Edgerley, senior advisor at Bain Capital, managing director at VantEdge Partners, part owner of Boston Celtics; Terry Matlack, managing director of Tortoise Capital, partner at VantEdge Partners; Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, founder of Saint Louis FC; Dave Peacock, former president of Anheuser-Busch Inc., chairman of St. Louis Sports Commission.
Stadium: Ownership is currently trying to push through a plan to build a 20,000-seat stadium near Union Station.
Overview: Given the long history of support for the game, St. Louis has all the makings of an ideal MLS city. The departure of the NFL's Rams to Los Angeles would appear to create a sporting vacuum that the prospective ownership group would love to exploit. The presence of Dave Peacock, who worked closely with Don Garber when the former was at Anhaeuser-Busch, doesn't hurt, either. But there are still questions about how the stadium construction will be financed. The state of Missouri has already said no, and the ownership has had to make up a $20 million decrease in funding at city level. It now looks like the city's funding proposal will get on the April ballot. The success or failure of the project will likely hinge on that vote.
Ownership: Spurs Sports & Entertainment
Stadium: The team already plays at 8,000-capacity Toyota Field, and the infrastructure is such that it could be expanded to 18,000.
Overview: The San Antonio bid is blessed with an owner with vast experience in running a sports business and one that has built up considerable goodwill through the years, thanks to the success of the NBA's Spurs. An existing, expandable stadium would appear to be a plus, but it sits 12 miles outside the "urban core" that MLS touts. That said, the stadium location on the north side of the city puts it that much closer to another coveted market: Austin. The demographics that include a large Hispanic population are such that there is a base of support for the game, but there are questions as to whether MLS wants a third team in Texas.
Ownership: Mike Stone, founder and managing partner of FS Investors; Peter Seidler, managing partner of the San Diego Padres; Massih and Masood Tayebi, co-founders of the Bridgewest Group; Steve Altman, former vice chairman and president of Qualcomm; Juan Carlos Rodriguez, media executive and entrepreneur.
Stadium: Ownership is proposing a 30,000-seat stadium to be shared with San Diego State University, where Qualcomm Stadium currently sits.
Overview: Garber has been quietly advocating for San Diego since he reached out to Mike Stone two years ago, and as is the case in St. Louis, the departure of the NFL's Charges to L.A. has left a void in the city's sporting landscape. The stadium plan seems to have strong political support, and the market seems primed for more soccer, despite the proximity to Liga MX side Club Tijuana just over the border. MLS loves its rivalries, but Southern California will have two MLS teams starting in 2018, when LAFC comes on board to join the LA Galaxy. Does it need another?
Ownership: Bill Edwards, owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies (USL).
Stadium: The plan is to invest $80 million in expanding Al Lang Stadium from 7,200 seats to 18,000.
Overview: The Tampa/St. Pete area is the largest media market without an MLS team, and its stadium plan is solid, which is something not every bid can say. Edwards is very outspoken and didn't hold back in his criticism of the NASL when he left that league for the USL at the conclusion of the MLS season. But he has experience running a professional soccer team, which is always a plus. One question is whether Tampa's proximity to existing MLS side Orlando City is a help or a hindrance.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.