MLS rejects Vegas expansion bid, $122m stadium subsidy plan promptly evaporates

Looks like Bob Beers can drop that lawsuit over the rejection of his petition drive to repeal Las Vegas’s $122 million MLS stadium subsidy: There will be no subsidy, because there will be no stadium, because there will be no Las Vegas MLS team, by decree of league commissioner Don Garber.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber told Las Vegas officials Thursday the city’s bid for an MLS franchise in 2017 or 2018 was unsuccessful. Sacramento, Calif. and Minneapolis remain in the competition for the 24th MLS franchise.

“Given the timing of our expansion rollout and the uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward in Las Vegas, we are no longer considering Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018,” Garber wrote to Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

No one quite seems to know what that “uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward” line meant, but really, it doesn’t matter — Garber’s the boss, so he can approve or reject expansion candidates for any reason or no reason at all if he wants.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman still wants to try to get a major-league sports team of some kind, but it apparently won’t be with the Cordish-Findlay development group, which spoke of its stadium in the conditional perfect tense yesterday. So, R.I.P., crazy-expensive soccer stadium that only got approved at all because the developers tricked the city council into giving them more lobbying time to pick off one swing vote. You will not be mourned, but we’ll still be a little sad to no longer have reasons to write about you.

19 comments on “MLS rejects Vegas expansion bid, $122m stadium subsidy plan promptly evaporates

  1. One down. Now the NHL just needs to come to its senses and drop the idea of an expansion franchise in Vegas.

  2. Sounds to me like it’s farewell but not goodbye… Garber has only said they won’t be willing to accept Vegas money until “after” 2018, not that they categorically refuse to accept it at all.

    And, should LV say “to hell with them, we’ll build it anyway”, well, they wouldn’t be the first city to make that particular mistake would they? (Not that I am suggesting they will do that…)

  3. John, I agree that MLS may be saying “not right now, but maybe later.” Any Commissioner or Owner knows never to say no, to always leave the door open for future possibilities, like the NFL in LA. And it makes plenty of sense for MLS to remain on good terms with as many cities as possible because the league and many of its clubs are so young that franchise shifting could hanppen in the near future, much like the more established leagues did in their early days.

    I just fear that MLS is expanding way too fast, trying to grab as much short term money as they can while sacrificing long term quality.

  4. I get that soccer is increasing in popularity and that many attribute that to a mix of an expanding Hispanic population and hipsters being hipsters but I have doubts it’s going to become a sport with widespread popularity. Seems foolish that so many cities are dishing out cash for an unproven product. No more foolish than any of the other stadium funding going on but if MLS fails or even the local franchise folds, that’s quite a bit more obvious than if the local NFL team doesn’t produce the level of economic impact they claim. Of course the politicians involved will likely have retired or moved on to higher office by then.

  5. I’ve been to enough MLS games now to believe that the league is on decent footing to at least transcend the major-minor-league status that it’s been stuck in. Maybe consider it a poor man’s hockey, and you’re pretty close. It has potential to go beyond that, but it’s going to take a long time even if it does, especially given that it’s a long, long way from ever being able to attract top talent like the European leagues do.

    Just because I don’t think MLS will go out of business, though, doesn’t mean that some teams won’t. Right now the league is very much making money only by constantly expanding — once it runs out of people willing to pay top dollar for the 40th franchise or whatever, it’s going to need to come up with another business model, and fast.

  6. MLS never had any intention of adding their 23rd and 24th teams in 2017 or 2018. Garber is spinning this hard, he’s stated numerous times that they wanted to get to 24 around/by 2020. Atlanta #21 and LA part2 #22 will join the league in 2017. Beckham’s Miami franchise #23, which he gets at a huge discount as part of his galaxy contract, is in stadium limbo and isn’t going to be ready by 2017 or 2018. They’ve already expanded way too fast, and the level of play is suffering. This is a repeat of the NASL from 40 years ago, except now there multiple games of better soccer on live TV every week, back then it was Bundesliga repeats on PBS.

    Garber’s a pretty nice commissioner if he is actually telling cities they have no chance of getting a team. Doesn’t he know the company line is build it and we will come, maybe?

  7. Well, how many teams do they need? Anything over 20 is too many in my opinion. Haven’t they pretty much already reached saturation levels? If I were commish, I wouldn’t expand until the league was at least as good as the Mexican League. I’ve been to a couple of Rapids games. If given the option, I would rather go to a high school football game. It just didn’t feel like a professional sporting event to me. If I were in Germany or England and watched a game, I bet it would.

  8. Why can’t they play in (American) football stadiums? Isn’t there a facility called Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas? Why doesn’t someone stand up to these MLS shakedown scheme? They do NOT need soccer only stadiums. Its ridiculous.

  9. @John Andrews

    There is a real issue of field width especially in college football stadiums where the seats are closer to the sidelines. The ideal world cup regulation field width is 70 to 80 yards wide. American football fields are 53.3 yards wide. It just doesn’t work.

  10. @Mike

    The original owners have lost a lot of money and they’re clawing some of it back the only way they can, from expansion fees, and the quality of play suffers.

  11. “The ideal world cup regulation field width is 70 to 80 yards wide. American football fields are 53.3 yards wide. It just doesn’t work.”

    Once you eliminate one football sideline area and a sizable portion of the other, a lot of that difference disappears.

    These days the primary reason for wanting their own stadium seems to be a strange aversion to empty seats. “It’s too big” is an odd stadium complaint. Doesn’t matter.

  12. In most cases playing soccer in a football stadium means paying rent to the owner of the football team. The owner of the soccer team will almost certainly miss out on lots of ancillary income like concessions and parking. Controlling a stadium is what makes money. In cases where the football and soccer teams are both owned by the same person, there’s reason to share. That’s what is happening in Atlanta with the new NFL stadium that will be shared by the expansion MLS team.

    David is probably right. Too many teams are going to dilute the talent pool and the quality of play will suffer. Once the novelty of having a team wears off, don’t be surprised is many of the new teams collapse due to lack of interest. The old team owners however will already have their share of the expansion fees and are in the best position to weather the storm when the effects of over expansion take place.

  13. Jason: It’s extremely unlikely that that kind of ancillary income would be enough to pay off the construction costs on a stadium. I would amend your statement to “Controlling a stadium without being stuck with the debt is what makes money.”

    Also, while I don’t doubt that it’s possible this whole pyramid scheme collapses at some point, the single-entity ownership structure could make it interesting in terms of who ends up with whatever cash is left. If teams are losing money, do they just fold and give up their operating rights and MLS isn’t on the hook for anything?

  14. Neil: My guess (and it is that…) would be that MLS franchise holders (or owner/operators as they like to call them) agree to something similar to the franchise surrender rules that other (larger) leagues have.

    While the semi independent entity leagues (which is really what they are, none of them exist as standalone businesses in the truest sense) do have franchise owners that actually own their clubs outright, most do have language in their agreements in which the owners can be forced out (IE: for non payment of club debts etc). It is not easy, but it can be done. When Jerry Moyes put his hockey club into bankruptcy, Bettman and Daly were on a plane to Phoenix to ‘talk to him’. They were alleged to be carrying a letter advising him that his franchise agreement had been terminated by the league as permitted in that agreement.

    In practice, what most often happens is what happened to Sterling, McCourt and Marge Schott amongst others. They get forced out but are very, very well paid for their inconvenience.

    MLS’ case is different because of the owner/operator model. It may even be easier for unwanted owners to be pushed out. However, if the collapse you envision is bad enough it is not hard to see a scenario developing in which the owners offer potential buyers (or the league) money to take their franchises back. This has happened in the NHL recently, let’s not forget.

    MLS has already contracted franchises several times. In the cases of Tampa, Miami and Chivas, no SSS facilities had been built expressly for them. I’m sure suppliers and lease/contract holders had to be paid out, but that isn’t a great deal of money in the grander scheme of things.

  15. Chris/Mike:

    The league is already suffering from talent dilution, that much is obvious to anyone watching play. That isn’t just because of expansion, however. There are, as Garbo likes to remind us, hundreds of leagues in the world producing players for the world’s game.

    The problem is that MLS’ expansion has not been accompanied by an increase of any signficance in the league’s salary cap, so we continue to have teams paying millions to bring in a couple of marquee names while filling out rosters with college level (or lower) talent.

    If Garber really wants his league to thrive, he needs to boost the salary cap to at least $7-8m per team. He can keep his newsmaking DP’s if he wants, but it’s the increase in quality of the general roster player that will improve this league as a whole.

    I agree they are following the NASL model. They are doing it a little smarter than the expansion crazed sports leagues of the 1970s and 80s did, but they are doing the same thing. How many of the league’s 22 franchises will still be around (or in the same place) in 2050?

  16. John Bladen, As the MLS CBA is currently being renegotiated, both increasing the cap and the minimum salary are likely up for discussion and could help keep more players in this country. It’s sad when some of the better players MLS has produced have decided to leave for mediocre leagues and mediocre clubs in Scandanavia or Belgium or even Cyprus because mid-level clubs in those leagues can pay more money and offer shorter-term contracts, another thing MLS does not offer. I understand getting your foot in the door anywhere in Europe can make it easier to be noticed by, and signed by, a bigger Euro club in a bigger league, but there have been a fair number of American players that left MLS knowing they’re never going to thosee big leagues – they just wanted more money and are willing to take it wherever it may be.

  17. Competition from overseas leagues is something that second-tier U.S. sports league owners are really going to have to wrap their brains around. Diana Taurasi, arguably the best player in the WNBA, is skipping this next season so she can rest up for the Russian league season, which pays her far more — if that’s not a warning shot across the U.S.’s bow, I don’t know what is.

  18. “It’s sad when some of the better players MLS has produced have decided to leave for mediocre leagues…”

    Sad for whom? Honest question. If I’m Sacha Kljestan, Belgium might be better all around. Win a couple league titles, play Champions League and Europa League football (and they played pretty well in the group stages of the former this season). Week in and week out you are probably facing equal to better talent with the odd European game against some of the world’s best.

    If, as a fan, you’re sad to see them go, that makes sense, but like Neil intimated, competition for soccer players is global.

    And yes, I know, Kljestan is back in MLS as of the January window.

  19. I think Chris A.’s point was that MLS teams should at least be able to compete for players with second-division European clubs. Which they probably could if they paid more than $35,000 a year or whatever the current MLS minimum is. They’re demanding a huge hometown discount.