MLS picks four expansion finalists, only two (or three!) will win the prize

Major League Soccer announced four finalist cities for expansion franchises yesterday, and the results are both unsurprising and kind of intriguing, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute. The four remaining contenders:

These are the four frontrunners predicted by Soccer Stadium Digest last week, so no shockers there. It’s an interesting mix of candidates, though: two with stadium plans in place, one with strong fan support but a funding gap, and one with a prominent ownership group but only an NFL stadium to play in, which the league has said previously it would consider, but it seems kind of suboptimal if your goal is to extract as many new stadiums as possible. Only two winners will be chosen later this month (December 14 will reportedly be the vote), so one would think that this will come down to Sacramento and Nashville, with Cincinnati and Detroit getting a “thanks for your efforts, try again next year once your stadium plans are more firmed up.”

Unless MLS could actually pick three winners. Because don’t forget, David Beckham’s previously announced franchise still doesn’t have a home, and his stadium partner Tim Leiweke told the Toronto Star on Tuesday that he’s not super optimistic:

“I’m helping any way I can with David,” Leiweke told the Sun. “I hope it gets done, but it’s not done. I have my fears as to whether it’s going to get done because things like this that drag on this long that’s always tough on a process. But for David I hope he lands somewhere.”

So, Cincinnati and Detroit could be in there as fallbacks in case MLS needs a last-minute sub for Miami. Or, Leiweke could just be saying this as leverage to get the final hurdles cleared for a Miami stadium, and this really is still a four-to-get-two situation. In which case the final verdict will say a lot about MLS’s business model: If it’s Sacramento and Nashville, we know that anybody with a $150 million check and a soccer-only stadium deal will get the nod; if it’s Sacramento and Cincinnati, we know that MLS is looking to where there’s the most established fan support; and if Detroit is involved at all it’s either because of the allure of a more major media market, or the allure of some big-money owners who can increase the league’s ties to the NBA, or who knows.

A lot is likely to depend on how things play out the next two weeks in Cincinnati, where both the city council and the county commission approved $50 million in public stadium subsidies yesterday, but still nobody’s saying how that additional $25 million would be paid for. (Or even what the total stadium cost would be; the gap could end more than that.) And also in Nashville, where the group Save Our Fairgrounds filed suit yesterday to block construction of a new stadium at Fairgrounds Nashville. Maybe hedging with four finalists isn’t a bad idea, in other words, but picking a final two (or three) two weeks from now is going to be anything but an easy task — I guess asking the four bidders to throw money on the table until two have emptied their pockets would be too unseemly?


16 comments on “MLS picks four expansion finalists, only two (or three!) will win the prize

  1. I am shocked. Shocked that such a thing as Soccer Stadium Digest exists. Also it should be noted that SSD (as no one calls it) originates from Populous, a company that designs sports facilities. Not saying their editorial content is skewed to favor new construction, and they’re up front about it coming from them, which is cool. But take that into account.

  2. Rumor has it that the Cincy owner plans on asking the state to make up the gap in 2018. Although I can see a Columbus rep trying to block that from happening.

      • I believe that Cincy wants to be in position to get in if Miami not ready. Miami was scheduled for 2019. Sacramento & Nashville seem to checked every request and more. Both those teams would start play in 2020 and need time to build their stadiums.

        • Don’t believe MLS has a problem Nippert as a temporary home. But lack of TV money require teams to control & maximize other revenue streams. Don’t know what month Ohio makes it’s next budget , but figure on Berding being in Columbus.

      • Unfortunately the local government is on the hook for maintenance, which will only go up. Also I believe the Reds or at least the Bengals can demand improvements to keep up with the Jones.

  3. You make an interesting point about the NBA connection. There have been NBA minority ownership involved before , but not on these guys level. The San Antonio bid is actually the NBA Spurs. It won’t stop MLS from accepting the Detroit bid , but I suspect if they could bring the local USL team under their umbrella it would help .

  4. The “privately-financed” stadium in Sacramento comes with millions (40-50 million, if memory serves) in infrastructure improvements that the city will be paying for. The infrastructure built and being built is specific for a stadium so it would not have been done otherwise.

  5. Yeah on a minor note the Saint Paul HRA an some other sources just passed some (I think) additional funding for stromwater and other infrastructure for the “park” in the north front of the MLS stadium which will be partially covered by TIF. the team is contributing $25,000 for the maintenance of the open space, and has full use but not ownership I think?

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