MLS commissioner Don Garber was back on the expansion-franchise hustings this weekend in advance of the MLS Cup final, and had a bunch of newish stuff to let slip:
- In the race for the 30th and final announced MLS franchise, Garber said, “It’s fair to say that Charlotte has done a lot of work to move their bid really to the front of the line.”
- He also mentioned Las Vegas and Phoenix as cities that “our expansion committee has been engaging,” which certainly seems to hint that those cities will be first in line for franchises 31 and 32, once those are inevitably announced.
- According to the minimum-wage-paying content farm currently bearing the name Sports Illustrated (the article is actually by one of SI’s remaining actual staff journalists, Grant Wahl), “The 30th team is expected to pay a $300 million expansion fee.”
- An official announcement for the 30th team will be made in the “next number of months,” which definitely narrows it down to sometime in, um, the future.
The key number there is clearly “$300 million,” which is crazy in that Forbes estimates most of the existing teams in bigger markets aren’t even worth that much, but less crazy if you see this as MLS trying to take advantage of too many billionaires with too much money burning holes in their pockets and a bad case of tulipomania. If people are willing to keep paying increasing amounts of money for smaller and smaller slices of the MLS pie — which is mostly a whole lot of money-losing MLS teams plus a money-making Soccer United Marketing enterprise, and SUM doesn’t get any more lucrative just because you add more owners — then of course he should be grabbing their cash with both hands.
What happens when and if the world runs out of soccer-loving billionaires, of course, is another story, but MLS will happily cross that bridge when they come to it. Or runs out of cities willing to help underwrite stadium costs so that owners can better afford those crazy expansion fees — Charlotte’s jump to the front of the line almost certainly has less to do with its charms as a city or a soccer hotbed and more to do with the fact it just re-elected a city council eager to give Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper $100-200 million for stadium upgrades so he can host an MLS team at his NFL stadium. The endgame is likely going to be ugly unless MLS can increase its popularity in a hurry, but success in the grifting economy is less about a happy endgame than cashing out before the chickens come home to roost.