MLS – Let's Unreasonably Dismiss Some Expansion Candidates

Sorry – I've been sick. And therefore unable to produce the high-quality soccer analysis to which you have become used.

And, also I was unable to respond timely to the fluffernutter over Sacramento Republic and their, shall we say, inelegant entrance into the MLS expansion race. For those of you who missed the story – how did you miss the story? It was awesome. Kevin Nagle, who also owns the successor entity of the Rochester Royals basketball team, had almost but not quite bought Republic FC before making a separate "Sacramento MLS" bid.

In retrospect, the whole thing was probably a negotiating ploy by Nagle in order to get better terms out of the previous ownership. In any case, either Nagle or the Republic folded, and, in a surprisingly under-reported story of the past week, everybody involved kissed and made up. See, look how happy everyone is:

Per Capital Public Radio, the City of Sacramento itself provided this heartwarming pic of current Republic boss Warren Smith, Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg, and Nagel having a celebratory drink over not having pissed away the clear MLS expansion favorite. I can't read the label, but I want to believe Steinberg is enjoying a refreshing beverage from Hydra Breweries.

Barring any other conference room silliness spilling into the hallway, that puts Sacramento back at status quo ante – stadium, fans, ownership, and public support. None of the other eleven bids boast that kind of peppermint quite yet. The only question is whether Sacramento is team 24, or team 25.

I don't know how else to do the math. Back in December, Don Garber publicly questioned whether Miami was going to join MLS on schedule. We have heard naught since then, except for literally twelve other bids literally further ahead of any progress made in Miami since December. Sacramento destroyed and rebuilt their bid in two weeks, but Miami's been in limbo for months. The stars just are not aligning for them right now. I think there are five, and not four, spots open for the twelve bids.

Full disclosure – I'm still the nut that thinks MLS growth can handle well above forty. I think the days when the rest of the country would just passively watch New York vs. Opponent in pro sports is long gone. I think we're still coming to grips with the fragmentation of the media universe and the vast array of entertainment choices open to everyone from Ada to Zwingli. I think the NCAA division 1 model in basketball is extremely tempting, if we're trying to balance local and national interest.

I also think anyone who believes MLS will stop at 28 is a majority stockholder in Arizona Beachfront Amalgamated. MLS will continue to expand as long as new markets bring in more new consumers than would cannibalize from existing teams. This is true for the other North American pro sports, it's just that their expenses and revenues are large enough that there are comparatively few markets that would enlarge the pie enough to justify splitting it among more people.

But for the moment, let's pretend that 28 will last as long in MLS as it did in the NFL (1976-1994), and that the next few teams are going to be it for a decade or more. Who should it be?

22. Minnesota United. Hey, until they take the field in a real game, they're technically not in yet. What if the meteor hits?
23. Los Angeles FC. You know, people thinking Los Angeles has to have two of everything is what brought us the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The NFL will fall on its face sooner and more loudly than MLS will here, but eventually LAFC and the Galaxy will realize this town ain't big enough for the two of them. The Clippers is the ceiling of a second team in LA, not the floor. Chivas USA might not even be the floor, if MLS isn't careful. But this won't affect expansion in the near term, so let's press on.
24. Sacramento Republic. Give me one good reason Miami is coming in before team 29.

So I'm thinking teams 25 and 26 in 2020, and teams 27 and 28 in 2022 or later. How do the 11 not-Sacramento bids shape up?

PHOENIX: The bid talks about building a stadium that would initially hold 8,000, which San Antonio has already. Gee, that was easy. They're not coming in before 2022.

DETROIT: I think I hate this bid. Someone should ask LeBron James how much Dan Gilbert adds to a group dynamic. The stadium is vapor, and dependent on a government that seems much more focused on building a shiny new jail. Right city, wrong owner, wrong time. On the plus side, you'd have some instant rivalries, and based on the Lions, fans with an unlimited tolerance for crap.

CHARLOTTE AND/OR RALEIGH: Well, I said I'd take them both, in theory. After all, North Carolina can support national prominence for two college basketball programs, and I think Duke and Chapel Hill pay comparable to USL salaries at the very least. They're also farther apart than Yankees like me realize, so they really shouldn't be subsumed into a "North Carolina" market. But that's exactly what's going to happen. I also don't like Charlotte's NASCAR owner asking for public money while the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a money pit. Depending on how you fudge numbers, Raleigh – or "the Triangle" – compares favorably enough as far as metro area size. A lot of this depends on Steven Malik and how NCFC and the Courage combo will be set up. This David Boraks article is helpful in comparing the two bids, but I don't like how he dismisses Malik's lack of deep pockets – "He said as the Raleigh/Durham bid develops, he's looking for additional investors." Yuck. We may miss the train on this one.

SAN DIEGO: If the owners keep their promise to avoid public funding, San Diego joins MLS. If not, not. I wish everything in life were this simple, don't you? The uncertainty in getting that accomplished, though, tells me this is going to be a 2022+ addition. They also might want to plan their stadium to be a size or two bigger than planned, for when the Chargers come crawling back.

ST. LOUIS: Like San Diego, this seems to want to take advantage of jilted-by-NFL feelings. All depends on an April vote for public money. Field of Schemes is no friendly critic on this issue, but they estimate a 2-1 against in early polling. Stop me if I've told you this, but I just don't see public money for soccer stadiums happening anymore. I've read how St. Louis is a "heavy favorite," and I just can't get there.

ST. PETERSBURG: They won't be able to compete with Zenit, and their travel budget will be larger than most teams' payrolls. I kid, I kid. One of a only a couple of bids with actual factual stadiums, so that's nice. I think the voters aren't talking about paying for Al Lang Stadium updates, just permission for Bill Edwards to do so. Edwards is even paying for said special election. I think the Rowdies will be the big beneficiary of Beckham's failure to secure a Miami beachhead. Look for the Rowdies in 2020.

INDIANAPOLIS: Another NASL refugee. It may seem like I'm dismissing every bid that involves asking the public for more than a road map and an exit sign. Which is what I actually am doing. You can decide for yourself whether you think Indy Eleven is avoiding this – the plans described by Brian Straus are opaque and jargon-ridden to my tired old eyes. Ersdal Ozdemir, the Eleven owner, swears a new stadium would be funded by user taxes only. I see an ownership group too fragmented and a stadium plan too dependent on bureaucratic thaumaturgy. I certainly wouldn't mind being wrong, because Indy would make a nice little regional rival to Chicago and Columbus.

NASHVILLE: I'd be madly in love with this bid if they seemed to have any idea where the stadium is going to be. They have local and state government on board, lots of money, and presumably could win over the region's existing MLS fans who are tiring of the commute to Washington or Columbus. This bid yells out 2022 to me, but I've been shocked before.

SAN ANTONIO: How long have these guys been in line. The current Spursy bid is about a year old now, which means they have had an eternity's head start on everyone except Sacramento. Negatives seem to center around having to expand Toyota Field, and not the headache of having three Toyota Stadiums/Fields/Parks/whatevers in one league. But at least they have a stadium to expand. The cooperation – nay, bankroll – of the local NBA team is another little sparkle here. Also like Sacramento. There are whispers that the city would have to kick in some money to expand the stadium, which would be a good way to kill a sure thing. I'll be optimistic and say they're in for 2022 at worst.

CINCINNATI: If team and league are willing to play indefinitely in a re-remodeled Nippert Stadium (home of YOUR Cincinnati Bearcats!), then they could come in next year instead of LAFC. My fantasies aside, this city's love affair with FCC will die a pig's death the minute public money is mentioned. There's more than enough money in ownership to avoid this, short of demolishing Paul Brown Stadium and throwing the Bengals out of town. They'll open March 2020 if Nippert is good enough for medium-term temp work; several years later otherwise.

So, my guesses:

25. St. Petersburg
26. San Antonio
27. San Diego
28. Nashville
29. Cincinnati
30. North Carolina (prolly Raleigh)
31. Phoenix
32. Indy
33. Detroit
34. St. Louis
100. Miami (aka Cincinnati II, located by the Miami River)
101. Miami (FL)

In other news, we can apparently look forward to a Hope Solo reality series. As if we haven't been living in a Hope Solo reality series all along.

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