Garber: MLS to keep adding teams like there’s no tomorrow

During halftime of last night’s MLS All-Star Game — in which the league’s best players were trounced by a club team that finished 7th in the Italian league last season — MLS commissioner Don Garber announced that the league will expand by another four teams, to 24, by the year 2020.

That would just continue the crazy pace that MLS has been on since 2005, when it had only ten teams; NYC F.C. is set to become the league’s 20th team in 2015, meaning the league will keep on adding one team a year (with one year off, maybe) through the end of the decade. Possible expansion targets could include Miami, Atlanta, Sacramento, Orlando, Detroit, Minneapolis, and probably a few others that the AP and I are both forgetting.

This is likely to mean more attempts at stadium deals, which are already burbling under the surface in many of those cities (Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson declared his renewed support for a soccer stadium there earlier this week). On the one hand, the pre-announcement of so much expansion should actually give more leverage to city mayors to drive a harder bargain on stadium deals, since if MLS needs to come up with sites for four more teams, they’re going to have to take pretty much whatever stadiums they can get. On the other hand, city mayors don’t really seem to understand leverage, so it probably won’t matter.


22 comments on “Garber: MLS to keep adding teams like there’s no tomorrow

  1. Orlando City and the city of Orlando (ha) are still trying to hammer out an agreement over their new stadium. Word is that it all comes down to using $20 million worth of tourist tax dollars, which hoteliers like Charles Rosen (http://www.scoringthird.com/2013/07/rosens-letter-to-mayor-jacobs.html) have already spoken out against. Of course, it’s also in the best interests of Rosen and co. for that money to go into the convention center instead, because WOOOO TOURISTS!!!

    Orlando and Orange County is gonna get the shaft either way. Par for the course for Mouseville, though.

  2. No, because they can’t expand the schedule any further, or else FIFA will come down on their asses:

    http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2010/08/20100816/This-Weeks-News/MLS-Expansion-Plans-Extend-Beyond-Fifas-20-Team-Guideline.aspx

  3. Interesting that you should mention FIFA’s authority. There are many in the U.S. who would like to defy FIFA in general, and Sepp Blatter in particular, and this announced expansion is something of an opening salvo.

    It also suggests that MLS (unsurprisingly) prefers to follow the U.S. closed-shop league model than open itself up to a promotion-and-relegation arrangement with other leagues.

  4. To rich people: “You want to pay $100M for a team? Great, we’ll take 10 more of them.”

    To players: “You want us to have a salary cap greater than $3M? Sorry, we don’t make enough money for that.”

    And Kei, looks like I was wrong. I guess expansion is coming. Garber was basically, oh, lying when he said they were stopping at 20. Although I’ll add that expansion beyond 20 is stupid. (And a friend of mine who was at some pre-All Star activities said Garber even threw out the number 30 when talking about eventual league size).

  5. Hey, it worked for the new ABA. Sort of:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/sports/basketball/the-new-aba-is-a-quirky-chaotic-league.html

  6. @Michael: Totally agree. 20 teams in a top-flight league is enough, even in a country as big as ours. 24 would be overkill, basically plopping up teams for the sake of collecting expansion fees and revenues from new soccer stadiums.

    Expanding to 30 would industrial-strength stupid.

  7. Instead of commenting on MLS expanding, a better story would have been the news that Wall Street is sticking it to Glendale for accepting the NHL deal. Hey but it’s your blog. Perhaps a good point would have been that there are investors lining up to get into MLS, Lets remember all corporate welfare is bad but the avg MLS give away pales in comparison to even minor league baseball deals “el paso” and spring training baseball deals.

  8. Kei: What’s odd is that last bit about new soccer stadiums. Two of the markets that are being tossed around as likely (Atlanta and Minneapolis) would almost certainly be in the new NFL stadiums being built in those cities.

    That goes against everything Garber has been pushing for in terms of soccer-specific stadiums. Maybe he sees the writing on the wall with what happened in South Florida and is thinking that the limitless faucet of public funds might not flow forever.

    Ah ha ha ha ha ha. I almost believed that as I was typing it. Silly me.

  9. Steven: You mean the story I wrote three weeks ago?

    http://www.fieldofschemes.com/2013/07/10/5464/coyotes-sign-sweetheart-arena-lease-arena-bondholders-run-screaming/

  10. Given the issues with the MLS summer schedule (works great from a weather standpoint, but does put the league’s schedule in opposition to most of the rest of the soccer world) and FIFA’s desire to have ‘international’ tournaments during their off season, it seems unlikely that the schedule can be expanded significantly, Ben.

    For a good part of each summer, many MLS teams are without some of their best international players because of national team callups. It’s hard enough to sell tickets during the summer to MLS games, never mind when the only two guys most of your fans have actually heard of are not playing.

    If there are any more teams added (and I’m skeptical that any more than two could possibly be added in the next ten years), it will almost certainly mean an end to “everbody plays everybody home and away” (ok, almost everybody plays everbody home and away…), with MLS descending into more of an NFL style divisional round robin with a few interlocking games to fill out the sked. I’m sure NY and LA will play often enough to keep the media interested… but I’m not so sure the Columbus-Chivas fixtures will help either club.

    I hope this is just Garber sabre rattling for new investment by cities that presently host teams. The talent is thin enough as it is and, even though the world is full of good players (there’s a TFC joke in here somewhere…), MLS salary structure isn’t flexible enough to attract them to NA.

  11. Steven: While the numbers MLS extorts are generally smaller than what top leagues get, I’m not so sure I’d agree that the money pales into comparison with NFL or MLB. See the problems Bridgeview, Ill and Glendale, Arz are having these days. At least with NFL and MLB, if the stadium model works, the cities can (sometimes) cover their expenses and make money on the deal. It’s rare. But it has happened. When subsidies are directed to less popular sports, the rate of return (if any) is often dramatically lower.

    An argument can certainly be made that subsidy for minor league sport (which organized baseball at most levels really is not, IMO, nor is MLS) is “enabling” funding. Simply put, you don’t have an independent baseball league team or semi pro football team if you don’t build a place for them to play.

    The same is not true of professional clubs. The business there is considerably better, and the owners could build modest stadia on their own without taxpayer subsidy. They just don’t want to be the only one to do it (see Crew Stadium or the former PHP in Frisco to find out why) in a league where everyone else gets handouts.

  12. I realize the SBD article is almost three years old, but simple fact checking would have revealed that both the top flights in England and Spain had 22 teams during the 90’s. It would have also realized that FIFA’s ‘guideline” was little more than a suggestion and that it was actually about keeping the number of league games down to 34 or an 18-team league (since many leagues don’t do unbalanced schedules). The major leagues on the continent told FIFA to go Eff themselves and Italy actually added two more clubs to get back to 20 in 2004. So, no, despite your giddy desires Neil, FIFA is not coming down on MLS’ ass for pretty much anything.

    Also, the same league’s All-Stars knocked off then UEFA CL defending champs Chelsea in 2012, so it maybe it doesn’t suck as much as you think…

  13. Eric: that’s a summer training match for Chelsea. So don’t over sell it. They also got pasted 9-2 aggregate over the previous two All Star Games against United; and they got beat this year rather easily by a Roma side that finished 6th in Serie A last season. So take out the Chelsea match and that’s 3 losses at a combined 12-3. Oof.

    Nice that MLS does sometimes beat the Euro team they face and are often competitive in the match, but it’s not like any MLS side could walk into the Champions League and expect to finish anything but bottom of their group (unless maybe they draw a group with Celtic). Yes, it’s better players are being seen as bargains in Europe leagues now (good enough to maybe make it, but cheap enough to take a chance on), but MLS teams as a whole are still way, way behind top flight Europe clubs. An MLS side would probably struggle to finish in the top half of the Colaship or nPowership or Whateversponship the 2nd division in England is this year.

  14. I’m an MLS fan but, yeah, what Michael said.

    As for FIFA and MLS asses, all I said was that they wouldn’t lengthen the schedule way beyond 34 games, as Ben Miller implied they would. If Garber wants to add teams till the cows come home – as apparently he does – I don’t expect anyone will get in his way.

  15. But I thought FIFA would come down on their asses? Make up your mind, will FIFA keep the Stupid Americans in line or is Mr NFL going to get his way?

    @Michael: Over-sell it? I said they don’t suck as much as you or Neil think, I’d hardly call that overselling. Not to mention that the sixth best Italian club is still going to be pretty good and getting whacked by ManYoo is a common occurrence in Europe too…

  16. As I said originally, “they can’t expand the schedule any further, or else FIFA will come down on their asses.”

  17. Michael also brings up another good point — any potential teams in Atlanta, Minny, and probably Miami, will likely play in an NFL stadium, or at the very least, start their first few MLS seasons there. Meanwhile, Orlando is set to build a soccer-specific stadium (using tax dollars, of course), while at renovating the Citrus Bowl, where OC currently plays, also with taxpayer money. Yet somehow, the Citrus Bowl is a non-starter when it comes to hosting the MLS.

    I mean, we all get that the Citrus Bowl is a giant cesspit, and might even stay that after the reno, but isn’t Garber being inconsistent there? I haven’t heard any grumblings about a new SSS in any of the cities I listed above.

  18. “getting whacked by ManYoo is a common occurrence in Europe too…”

    Are you using ‘Europe’ in the shorthand manner to refer to the pan-European competitions (the CL and the Europa League)? Because in its last two Champions League campaigns United hasn’t had a single match in the group stage where they beat anyone by more than 2 goals (in fact they failed to make it out of the groups stage in 11-12). Even a garbage side like Otelul Galati (picked up zero points in the group) only ended up -4 on GD over two matches.

    And like with Chelsea, United at the MLS ASG was a training match. So I’m sticking with don’t over-sell it. The MLS All Star game isn’t a good measuring stick for how much the league does or does not suck.

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