Major League Soccer (MLS) has unveiled plans to expand its league to 30 clubs in the next few years.
In the announcement, it was revealed that discussions are in place with both St. Louis and Sacramento.
Ownership groups representing those two markets will make formal presentations to the MLS leadership and the league’s expansion committee – expected in the second quarter of 2019.
Commissioner of the MLS Don Garber stated: “Professional soccer at all levels is thriving in the United States and Canada and we believe there are many markets that could support a successful MLS club.
“Expansion during the last 15 years has been enormously successful and a key driver behind the league’s continued rise, and we are pleased that some of the top business and community leaders representing great markets in North America are aggressively pursuing MLS expansion clubs.”
Garber revealed a $200 Million expansion fee set for the two new teams who are to join the league.
The MLS board will address the following key factors in each bid: a final stadium plan, commitments of corporate support, composition of ownership group, detailed economics on funding, strategic plans for fan development, commitments on player development and details on community programmes.
Following those presentations, a decision on the next two expansion clubs will take place in the coming months. The board deferred the decision regarding expansion fee and timeline for the league’s 30th club to a later date.
Growth of soccer in US
Overall, the MLS has added 17 clubs since the beginning of the 2005 season and it is now the largest professional first division league in world football.
FC Cincinnati joined the MLS this season as the 24th team and David Beckham‘s Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC will debut in next year – followed by Austin FC in 2021.
CIES Football Observatory showcased the rapid growth of the sport in America in a recent report in which they found league attendances between 2013-2018 increased by 34% in comparison to 2003-2008.
Sacramento first expressed its interest in an MLS expansion team in 2014 and the league commended the level of fan support with the USL’s Sacramento Republic FC – often playing in front of capacity crowds.
Backed by co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins Ron Burkle and Hollywood film producer Matt Alvarez, Garber said the league “look forward to continuing discussions” about adding Sacramento to the league.
Garber commented: “Sacramento has persistently told us for nearly five years that they are built for MLS. We know Sacramento has a transformational stadium plan and strong engagement from government leaders.
“Since Ron and Matt recently became controlling partners in the ownership group, our expansion committee wanted to meet with them and learn more about their plans for the club.”
If St. Louis were to secure one of the expansion slots, the team would be the league’s first female majority-owned team.
“St. Louis has a terrific ownership group and a long history of supporting the beautiful game,” Garber said. “During our visit to St. Louis last month, we came away very impressed with the corporate community’s support for a potential expansion team, and we believe the downtown site is the ideal location for a soccer stadium.
“We know there is still important work that needs to be completed to secure the stadium site before an expansion team could be awarded to St. Louis, and our expansion committee looks forward to meeting with the ownership group.”
In addition to Sacramento and St. Louis, MLS said that it remains in discussion with several other ownership groups and markets regarding future expansion.