Garber says Charlotte next MLS expansion frontrunner, fee to be part of money-losing league now up to $300m

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.

Boise votes to require vote on soccer stadium funding, Charlotte votes for council set to okay soccer stadium funding

It was an oddly slow Election Day for sports-related votes — the big Oklahoma City vote on the latest MAPS sales-tax surcharge that would provide public money for a USL soccer stadium isn’t until December 10 — but there were a couple of notable items:

  • Boise, Idaho residents, facing a demand for a $50 million soccer stadium to lure a USL franchise, voted to require a public vote before the city can participate in any sports stadium project that costs more than $5 million in public or private money. (They also voted for a similar requirement for any library project costing more than $25 million.) That sounds like it should be airtight enough to avoid the legal pitfalls that befell Seattle’s similar Initiative 91 when it turned out to be unclear what a public “investment” meant — tax breaks? only direct cash? — but then again, since I-91 did its job fine in terms of preventing major sports giveaways, maybe it’s the spirit of the thing that counts.
  • The mayor of Charlotte and all the city council incumbents up for re-election got re-elected, and since the current city council has been largely willing to listen to Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper’s ask for $100-200 million in stadium improvement to bring an MLS team to town, that’s probably good news for that project. Or bad news for anyone who thinks that $200 million (or more!) to upgrade an existing football stadium for soccer is kinda crazy.

 

Charlotte council considers $100-200m subsidy for stadium upgrades for MLS, or whole new MLS stadium, they won’t tell anyone exactly

Speaking of cities that don’t actually have MLS franchises yet but are hoping to, the Charlotte city council met in closed session on Monday night, according to WSOC-TV, to discuss spending $100 million to $200 million on upgrades to the Carolina Panthers‘ stadium to make it more attractive to soccer:

Sources said a dome is not under consideration at this point, but changes to Bank of America Stadium could include a middle entrance to the field for the soccer players and adding two locker rooms.

Okay, sure, those are things that a soccer team might like, but $100-200 million?!? The entire stadium only cost $248 million to build, which, sure, was in 1996 dollars, but still that seems a bit on the pricey side to add two locker rooms and a walkway.

Over at WBTV, meanwhile, the news is somewhat different, with Panthers owner (and wannabe MLB owner) David Tepper asking for $100-200 million for an entirely new stadium:

During the meeting, those presenting the pitch outlined a request for between roughly $100 million and $200 million in city funds for the facility, which would host a future soccer team and not also share a space with the Carolina Panthers.

Or maybe not!

Unlike the first two sources that WBTV spoke with, the third source clarified the city funds would be used to upfit Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers currently play, to convert it to a soccer stadium.

Try to get your story straight before hitting Publish, guys!

Let’s see what the Charlotte Observer has to say:

Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper may ask the City of Charlotte for up to $215 million toward Bank of America Stadium renovations and other costs associated with acquiring a new Major League Soccer franchise.

Not actually helping to clarify things! Also, $215 million is not in the $100-200 million range!

Assuming this is actually stadium upgrades and not a new stadium, WSOC-TV reporter Joe Bruno added this on Twitter:

The entire Charlotte city council and the city’s mayor are all up for election in November, so we’re looking here at a $100-million-plus subsidy proposal being discussed by the council in secret, then voted on just weeks before the lame duck officials leave office. I for one applaud Charlotte city officials for knowing how to get things done, without all this mucking about with messy democracy.

Friday roundup: Another Islanders arena delay, Wisconsin to wrap up Brewers stadium spending but not really, Italy wins (?) 2026 Olympics

My endorsement of Hmm Daily last month was so successful that this week the site announced it’s shutting down. I am now officially afraid to tell you people to give money to any other particular site, lest I bestow the kiss of death on them as well, but you should give money to someone you like, because journalism is in bad shape, with dire effects on, among other things, the public’s ability to hold elected officials accountable.

Speaking of which, here’s this week’s news about elected officials doing unaccountable things, and the rich dudes who want to keep it that way:

UPDATE: Just realized I forgot to link to my Deadspin article yesterday on Stuart Sternberg’s Tampontreal Ex-Rays threat, Richard Nixon, Kinder eggs, and bird evolution. And now I have done so, so go read it!

Friday roundup: More MLS expansion drum beating, more wasteful non-sports subsidies, more bonkers Tottenham stadium delay stories

Getting a late start this morning after being out last night seeing Neko Case, so let’s get to this:

Charlotte won’t get county money for MLS stadium, expansion race now bigger mess than ever

The Mecklenburg County commission voted 5-3 on Wednesday to hand over the site of 83-year-old Memorial Stadium to the city of Charlotte for a new soccer stadium for a potential MLS team — but no money for building it, which is what the ownership group had been hoping for. Commissioners said they wanted to see a soccer stadium built, but, you know, by the city, not them:

“They manage stadiums and they have a division in the city that deals with pro sports teams,” [Commissioner Jim] Puckett said. “They have a dedicated tax revenue stream that’s for entertainment and can be used for pro sports. They have the expertise and funding stream to deal with that.”

The team’s original plan was for a $175 million stadium where $101.25 million of the costs would be paid off by the county, with the team repaying the public via $4.25 million a year in rent payments. (Note to readers who can do math: No, $4.25 million a year is not enough to repay $101.25 million in bonds unless you get a 1.5% interest rate, which I know they’re low but get serious.) Now they’ll instead have to try to hit up the city of Charlotte alone, which has already indicated that its maximum contribution is $30 million.

That would leave the team to shoulder $145 million of the cost, plus MLS’s nutso $150 million expansion fee, which is a hefty chunk of change. On the other hand, the team wouldn’t have to make those rent payments, so maybe it could just go to a bank and borrow the cash, and make mortgage payments instead? Or maybe the rich NASCAR track heir who wants to launch the MLS team would rather have somebody else on the hook for loan payments if his team, or MLS as a whole, went belly-up at some point as a result of its pyramid-scam spree of handing out expansion franchises like candy to anyone who wants to pay $150 million for candy? Yeah, probably that.

If you’re keeping score, the MLS expansion candidates are now:

That’s a whole mishmash of stuff indeed, and I don’t envy the job of the MLS officials tasked with having to pick two winners this fall (and two more next fall, because they can’t cash those $150 million expansion-fee checks fast enough). You have to wonder if commissioner Don Garber doesn’t think to himself sometimes, maybe it’d be easier just to stick the expansion franchises on eBay and take the highest bids. It would mean giving up on the pretense that they’re actually selecting the best soccer cities or something, but get real, nobody believes that anyway.

Charlotte could balk at spending $100m on MLS stadium, offer only $87m instead

When we checked in last week on would-be Charlotte MLS expansion franchise owner Bruton Smith’s demand for $100 million in public money for a new stadium, it wasn’t going too well, with Mecklenburg County commissioners saying they weren’t going to put up their $56.5 million share (counting free land) until the city of Charlotte agreed to put up its half. Now the Charlotte city council has set a July 20 date for committee hearings on the stadium plan, and they’re drawing a hard line in the sand:

Former interim city manager Ron Kimble says the city will not fund the full $43 million request and will instead potentially fund around $30 million.

Okay, so: Ron Kimble is no longer in public office, having retired after 16 years to take a part-time job with an insurance company. Still, if there’s any truth to this … seriously? This is what you’re going to fight over, $13 million? I mean, sure, money adds up, but this seems akin to responding to a bank robber by saying, “Fine, but leave me a couple of sacks of cash, okay?”

I’m willing to give Charlotte council members the benefit of the doubt for now, though Charlotte Business Journal’s report that “privately, some supporters say the council committee hearing a proposal signals a willingness to reconsider tourism-tax investment” isn’t encouraging, either. (Though, “some supporters” say? Of course they’re going to say that. Why are you giving them cover by granting the anonymity to say stuff that gives momentum to the line they’re trying to push, Charlotte Business Journal?) Tune in on July 20 and see if our worst fears are realized, as they usually are.

County officials on Charlotte MLS stadium: If city won’t spend money, maybe we won’t either!

When last we checked in with billionaire racetrack owner Bruton Smith’s demands for $100 million in stadium subsidies and free land for a new soccer stadium in Charlotte, the county had approved its half, but the city council was balking at the deal, so everything was on hold. And now … pretty much still the same thing, actually:

In a setback for Major League Soccer in Charlotte, the Mecklenburg County commissioners pushed back a decision on spending $120 million for a new soccer stadium until August – and some commissioners don’t want to invest unless the city also contributes…

Monday, Democrat Dumont Clarke said that he also wants the city to agree to spend $43.5 million before he votes for the county to spend anything.

“Why are we budgeting for this when our key partner isn’t willing to endorse it?” Clarke said in an interview Monday. “This gives the city a deadline to see what they will do.”

Okay, technically maybe this is a change of direction, from “we’ll approve our share of the money, but nothing is going to happen until the city approves its share” to “until the city approves its share, we’re not going to approve ours either,” but the upshot is the same: no stadium for now because the rich guy who wants it is demanding that more than half the cost be paid by taxpayers, and city officials aren’t crazy about that idea. Maybe that will change after city elections this fall, maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t sound like Charlotte will be a contender in the round of MLS expansion set to be announced later this year, but since MLS expands pretty much every Tuesday, that’s probably not a big deal — and certainly not a reason to accede to demands for $100 million in cash, if anybody on the Charlotte council was thinking that.

Every concentration of humans on earth now bidding to build MLS stadiums

Nashville is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and Indianapolis is looking to build a new MLS stadium, and San Diego is looking to get a new MLS stadium, and Detroit is considering providing free land for an MLS stadium, and St. Louis is still looking to build an MLS stadium after rejecting it once, and a guy in Charlotte is still looking to have an MLS stadium built for him, and Tampa is looking to get an MLS franchise but already has a stadium.

These are mostly terrible ideas, notes the Guardian, at least where they involve public money. And if the newspaper slightly overstates the case that there’s growing pushback on MLS subsidies (truth is, they’ve never been an especially easy sell as sports subsidies go, mostly because MLS isn’t as popular yet as the Big Four sports), it does contain a classic defense of them from Peter Wilt, the Chicago Fire founder who now heads later headed the Indy Eleven NASL team and wannabe expansion franchise:

“It is about image and plays into making a city cool to live in, a good experience for young professionals, and reducing the brain drain on a community. Things like that are sometimes not taken order ativan online overnight into account. If Oakland loses the A’s and the Raiders, which is a possibility, then no one will hear about Oakland in any positive terms for the foreseeable future.”

Things like that actually are taken into account in economic studies of teams and stadiums, which overwhelmingly find that if sports teams make cities “cool,” it doesn’t show up in things like per-capita income or jobs or economic activity or tax receipts. Plus you’d then have to explain how a city like Portland, for example, which until recently had only basketball as a major-league sport and famously turned down a domed stadium in the 1960s that would have brought an NFL team, nonetheless became one of the hippest cities in America. (It has MLS now, but the hipness predated that.)

Anyway, with MLS set to announce four more expansion franchises in the next year or so, the league can probably count on some cities stepping up to throw money at new stadiums, so long as they’re not too picky about which ones. (Cincinnati, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, and San Antonio are also in the mix.) Bulk-mailing extortion notes is kind of a strange business model, but hey, whatever works.

Charlotte’s $100m MLS subsidy wins county approval, but city kills it

One day ahead of a scheduled Charlotte city council vote on $43.75 million in subsidies to billionaire racetrack owner Bruton Smith for a proposed $175 million MLS stadium, Mecklenburg County approved kicking in its own $43.75 million plus $13 million in free land — only to have the city immediately cancel its own vote, apparently because stadium supporters had determined the proposal wouldn’t pass:

City Council’s cancellation after the county vote on the $175 million stadium threw the deal into limbo. A council majority had been expected to oppose the deal. A “no” decision by the city would have killed the deal.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts said in a statement that “while this (proposal) is very promising, it is clear that we are not prepared to move forward at this time on the current soccer proposal.”

Since the mayor, you’ll recall, had said she didn’t have time to have her staff testify before a council hearing on the stadium plan, the only council hearing was scheduled for today before the vote, and that’s canceled now as well, so we can’t really say what councilmembers’ objections were (one announced she didn’t approve of “the location in addition to the other things,” which doesn’t really help), or whether they could be swayed by a revamped deal. County manager Dena Diorio said yesterday that “we don’t have a city partnership right now, so I need to go back and talk to the team ownership to see what they want to do at this point in time.” All those who think the answer is “reach for their wallets and pull out a spare $43.75-million bill,” raise your hands!