MLS commissioner Don Garber has issued his latest missive on the league’s never-ending campaign to create an endless carpet of soccer teams across the United States (and an endless carpet of expansion fees), and it has several points:
- St. Louis and Sacramento are the frontrunners to become the league’s 28th team, with a verdict to be handed down by the end of this year. And the price of admission is clear: While a stadium subsidy package got preliminary approval from St. Louis in December, “It would really help their bid if they had stadium naming rights and a jersey sponsor in place,” Garber told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So there is a specific level of financial corporate support.”
- Other cities, of which the commissioner specifically named Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Phoenix, will have to await the next round of expansion, which league officials have previously indicated could be completed by 2026.
- Detroit is apparently out of the running for now, with Garber saying, “I’ve been in regular conversations with them. And we still struggle with their stadium plan. … We think that in order for us to be successful in that city, we need a soccer-specific stadium. And the options that we’re presented with today are only at Ford Field.”
This is all in keeping with MLS’s long-established business model: Keep handing out new teams every year or two, at a pace geared to ensure a steady flow of expansion fees while still keeping enough cities interested that the league can levy demands — namely, for new publicly subsidized soccer-only stadiums — in exchange for granting franchises. (Lucrative naming rights deals, apparently, will be the new tiebreaker.) At least, except when it’s presented with owners it craves enough to be worth waiving that rule, which was the case with NYC F.C. and Atlanta United but not with Detroit for some reason.
If anything, the main advance made by Garber is that he pretty much just straight-up admits the game he’s playing now:
Garber called the competition good for the league.
“Life is good when you have options,” he said. “I believe that there are many cities in our country today that can support an MLS team. We’ve got to get this last one over the finish line and then sit down and figure out what happens to those cities that were not part of the 28 that we set out to finalize a couple of years ago.”
“Life is good when you have options.” That one really needs to go alongside Jerry Reinsdorf’s “A savvy negotiator creates leverage” in the sports shakedown Hall of Fame.