League expansion news and rumors pop up regularly and it is hard to keep track of who said what, where and when. Midfield Press has created the News & Rumor Tracker as a monthly installment following the word on the web about possible future North American Soccer League clubs. As bonus content, we also provide rumors on United Soccer League expansion, Major League Soccer expansion and the proposed Canadian Premier League since much of that information comes up during our research. You can find the league expansion rumors below in that order, with the logos indicating the start of that league’s section.
The Major League Soccer all-star game halftime show came and went without a new MLS expansion announcement, but word is that fans in Minnesota won’t have to wait much longer for confirmation of their club debuting in MLS in 2017, albeit under a different name. It was a bad news month for NASL, with the report on the Orange County group led by Joe Sumner pulling out of an expansion bid and the embarrassing shake-up at Rayo OKC dominating the news. In a small bit of positive buzz for NASL fans, we have a new Los Angeles rumor in the NASL section below. USL’s D2 initiative took the forefront as reports suggest that their Orange County team, the OC Blues, will get new financial backers while the small market Wilmington Hammerheads prepare to take 2017 off as ownership looks to move the club to a larger market more in-line with the league’s ambitions.
The most interesting update on the league’s status last month came from Bill Peterson’s interview with the Cosmos Country Podcast. It was a very well done interview touching on a variety of topics from expansion, to promotion and relegation, to D1 status, to clubs leaving the league for MLS or the Canadian Premier League. It is highly recommended listening. Below I’ve transcribed some of the highlights related to expansion:
Peterson on whether the league is expanding too fast:
“We shy away from setting any hard deadlines. That is one of the things we do to help protect ourselves from getting into bad situations. When we find the right owners in the right cities and they’ve checked all the boxes off, and our owners are very comfortable with the situation, then we’ll bring it in for a vote to see if they get admitted to the league.
“The interest has never been higher. If we were to close every advanced discussion we are in today, we would be at 20 teams. That’s not going to happen. Most likely it is not going to happen. People start the process for a number of reasons, and sometimes they leave the process for a number of reasons too, once they see how much work is involved, and the effort it takes to be successful. So, for us, we feel like we’re on track. We continue to expand. We expect to make some announcements this year about further expansion. The question about expanding too fast is one that we’ve always been cognizant of and careful.
“I’ve talked to Clive [Toye] on a number of occasions about it. His comment to me I think was very important, ‘It’s not that we expanded too fast, we didn’t expand very smart. We brought owners in that couldn’t sustain the level of investment it would take to grow, and when the dominoes started to fall, they all fell.’
“What we’re trying to do is be as diligent as we possibly can, about the communities, about the ownership groups, and get people in who share the vision and want to be here long term. Having said that, there are no guarantees, and we will continue to have some ups and downs at times. It’s part of any growing league in any sport.”
Peterson on West Coast expansion and other areas where we might see expansion, and Chicago NASL:
“NASL Chicago is one of the groups. There are a number of western state groups that are interested right now, which is good for us. We are glad that has developed because we were pretty east coast heavy. But we have groups in the Midwest, including Chicago. We have groups on the east coast. So, as usual, we’re not going to share any details, until they have been admitted because as I said earlier things can happen and it can go away and people in those cities will be disappointed in me. But the interest is throughout. We do not have very advanced discussions going on outside of the country. Right now it is continental U.S.
Peterson on the criteria for ownership in the NASL:
“I don’t think we have ever had a preferred ownership structure. We have looked at all of them individually. Personally I think the single owner model is probably the strongest, because it is the easiest to deal with internally, but by no means does that exclude having partners and we have seen a lot of them that are very successful that do. For us, it can be either, we don’t have a preference. We just want to make sure that it is strong. ”
Announced NASL Teams
San Francisco Deltas
Summary: Led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Brian Andres Helmick, the San Francisco Deltas will debut in the 2017 Spring Season, playing out of Kezar Stadium. The club will invest several hundreds of thousands of dollars to make improvements at stadium. The Deltas have started to collect season ticket deposits on their web site. Brian Andres Helmick spoke to the Huffington Post about the San Francisco Deltas project, and provided a status update on the club’s search for a head coach. “We are aiming to have a head coach in place by September 2016. Once a head coach is in place we will share further details about tryouts – we expect tryouts to be held beginning in October.”
August 2016 Update: Brian Andres Helmick gave an interview to Sport Techie that provided insight on some of ways the club will use technology to enhance the fan experience. “We recognize that we are bringing the most global sport to the technology capital of the world,” he said. “There is so much opportunity to enhance this experience that our biggest challenge will be to focus on the few, key features that truly elevate the fan experience We don’t want to overwhelm fans with the possibilities.”
Public NASL Efforts
Summary: Peter Wilt is leading a group including Club9 Sports set on bringing a NASL team to Chicago. Chicago NASL has identified Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field as its ideal places to play. The team solicited fan suggestions for its official name and colors on its web site, and they will narrow down the finalists and allow fans to vote on the name. The classic NASL moniker Chicago Sting is likely to be one of the options, having received a plurality of votes in the initial survey. Other fan suggestions included Chicago City SC, Municipal Chicago and Wild Onion FC.
Peter Wilt provided a status update in June to fans on the Big Soccer forums. When a poster stated that things were not looking likely for 2017 at this rate, Wilt replied, “Yeah….not for Spring season….and i’d prefer not going with a Fall launch if possible, which means Spring, 2018 is more likely. Lack of a venue agreement is causing the delay.”
August 2016 Update: Peter Wilt has confirmed to Midfield Press that the group is focused on a 2018 start date at this point due to its venue search.
Bill Peterson referenced Chicago NASL in his comments to the Cosmos Country Podcast, mentioning that there are Midwest “groups” including Chicago NASL. So there is the possibility that Chicago could be joined by another Midwest city in expansion.
Summary: Jonathan Tannenwald broke the story that the owner of the American Soccer League’s Philadelphia Fury, which plays in the South Jersey suburb Glassboro, is looking to partner with investors including a La Liga club to bring a NASL team to the Philadelphia market. The Philadelphia Fury is a classic NASL brand. Their potential investor group reported includes members from the Dubai and Las Vegas. SD Eibar’s friendly against the Fury at Rowan University was said to be related to these efforts. While Rowan University may not be an ideal location for a Philadelphia market team, it is one that the Fury are comfortable with.
Empire of Soccer added that Fury owner Matt Driver has not yet secured the investment necessary to move to NASL and that as of their report had not been in touch with the league office about their plans.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new, although the Rayo OKC issues make the prospect of another NASL club with a foreign team as majority owner less desirable. Housekeeping note: Should there not be an update on the Philadelphia Fury’s efforts to get funding to join NASL in the next month, we will move this down to the section for lower league clubs with pro ambitions.
More on the Philadelphia Fury: http://www.furyasl.com/
NASL Rumors With Multiple Sources and/or League Commentary
Summary: Nashville is the subject of pro soccer efforts by both USL and NASL groups. USL has announced Nashville FC as a 2018 expansion team. The NASL group is being led by former Tennessee Economic and Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty. “Nashville has reached the point as a sports market where it is ready to support a high-level professional soccer team,” Hagerty said. “We are engaged in discussions to create an ownership group to bring top-tier professional soccer to Nashville. I look forward to an ongoing discussion about what is best for Nashville and its professional sports future.”
NASL has officially come out in support of expansion to Nashville. “We absolutely believe Nashville would be a great fit for the NASL,” NASL spokesman Neal Malone said. “It’s home to a robust soccer community and it has a reputation for being an excellent sports city. We feel that there would be a lot of support, and you see that already with Nashville FC.”
Ultimately who wins the USL-NASL battle for Nashville may come down to who the city supports in terms of stadium funding. “The mayor supports the growth of soccer in Nashville and is supportive of all groups that want to bring a team here,” Mayor Barry spokesman Sean Braisted told the Tennessean. “It will ultimately be up to the private sector to bring their proposals to Metro. The United Soccer League is clearly moving in that direction, and we’ll see over time if there are others interested in coming to Nashville.” USL requires a soccer-specific stadium, while NASL does not, which may allow a NASL team to beat a USL team to market.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Summary: Bill Peterson confirmed in a Big Apple Soccer report that the league is in discussions with two groups in Atlanta, despite the recent demise of the NASL Silverbacks and the impending launch of MLS’s Atlanta United FC. “We have two groups interested in Atlanta,” said Peterson. “They are trying to develop a game plan and build on what occurred the last several years.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a NASL team may be coming to DeKalb County, just east of Atlanta. A group is looking at building a soccer complex that would host both a NWSL team, referred to as the Atlanta Vibe, and a NASL team, referred to as the Atlanta Chiefs. While the Chiefs brand is from the classic NASL era, its use is inadvisable in a contemporary context.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Empire of Soccer reported in their January 21, 2016 piece on Bill Peterson that several sources are telling them that Las Vegas is one of the markets that NASL is discussing with interested potential ownership groups. A later EoS article dated January 27, 2016 includes a comment from Bill Peterson that an attempt to move the Scorpions brand to Las Vegas this past offseason was rejected by the NASL Board of Governors: “All the pieces weren’t in place,” he said. Since these comment appears to be from the same interview, it would seem Las Vegas is still in play but the Scorpions brand there may or may not be. Cosmos Country Podcast previously reported that a Las Vegas investor group was at the Board of Governors meeting in New York prior to the Soccer Bowl. Recent rumors on Big Soccer from an in the know poster suggest that USL may also be trying to bring a team to Vegas.
The most recent NASL related activity in Las Vegas was the New York Cosmos friendly versus SD Eibar of Spain in Sam Boyd Stadium. The friendly was sparsely attended, which might call into question the suitability of Sam Boyd as a NASL venue.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Single Source NASL Rumors
San Diego is one of the markets that NASL is discussing with interested potential ownership groups, according to Empire of Soccer’s January 21, 2016 article on Bill Peterson. San Diego is also the subject of MLS expansion rumors, with former San Diego Padres owner John Moores, and current owner Peter Seidler, separately linked with MLS bids. San Diego has also been the subject of USL rumors, with NBC San Diego reporting that a group is close to securing a USL team for 2017 to play out of Torero Stadium.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Midfield Press has been in contact with a representative from a Los Angeles group that is in the NASL expansion process, after following a tip from an independent source. We are not reporting their identity at this time out of respect of the process involved. Per league policy, NASL would neither confirm nor deny that the group was in the process when approached by Midfield Press. Depending on how the process advances, the group could see debuting as early as Spring/Fall 2017. We hope to share more when the LA group is ready to come forward.
NASL Rumors On Life Support
Summary: British tabloid The Sun reported that Celtic FC looked at putting a team in NASL. Boston, Detroit and Hartford were cities Celtic FC considered according to an in-the-know Big Soccer poster. Boston may be blocked due to a marketing agreement between Celtic FC and the Boston Celtics. Celtic Underground recently reported the club executive Peter Lawwell will be traveling back to the USA this summer to re-engage NASL talks. Celtic Underground’s @celticrumours twitter account mentioned hearing talk of Philadelphia and the West Coast as locations the club was eyeing.
August 2016 Update: While there has yet to be a Celtic-to-NASL update for the post-Brexit world, I think it is fair to say that the odds of this happening don’t look great. The value of the pound sterling against the dollar has declined due to Brexit, making the costs more expensive to Celtic. The Rayo OKC debacle surely must give the league pause in having another colony club in its ranks.
After Rayo was relegated but before the recent front office meltdown resulting in Alen Marcina and Sold Out Strategies walking from the club, Bill Peterson provided the league’s view on the Rayo experience up to that point and its position on similar expansion in the future. “We’re not opposed to it, but at the same time I wouldn’t say we were surprised [by Rayo] because we talked about all the things on the front end. But I think it reinforces the fact that we want committed owners that are committed to our clubs first and foremost. And that doesn’t rule certain clubs around the world out. There could be some advantages to having some of those clubs involved. But they have to be involved for the right reasons. They have to be involved to bring a competitive team to the field, to entertain fans in their city, first and foremost, and then if there are other benefits to them that is great. So it is something that, like a lot of issues, we move forward very carefully and we will continue to move forward very carefully on this issue.”
I think it is fair to say that most NASL fans would prefer not to see the league entertain any more colony-style expansion clubs. The track record of Crystal Palace Baltimore, Chivas USA and Rayo OKC shows that foreign clubs cannot be counted as reliable long term owners.
Detroit has come into focus as a target of MLS, with Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert teaming on a bid. In September 2015, a Detroit expansion group presented at the NASL Board of Governors meeting alongside San Francisco and OKC, according to reporter Sulaiman Folarin. Neither group was connected to Detroit City FC.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new, although Bill Peterson mentioned that there is a Midwest group in play other than Chicago NASL. Detroit would be the most recent Midwest city linked to the league, although it was almost a year ago.
Summary: Empire of Soccer reported in their January 21, 2016 piece on Bill Peterson that several sources are telling them that Orange County was one of the markets that NASL is discussing with interested potential ownership groups. NASL Orange County rumors circulated prior to that report suggesting the musician Sting was involved with the bid, first reported on Big Soccer by a poster known to get scoops and then backed by reporter Evan Ream. However Bill Peterson denied Sting’s involvement with a NASL bid on a podcast interview with Neil Morris on WRAL.
August 2016 Update: Scratching the Pitch’s report that a group led by Joe Sumner, Sting’s son, pulled out of a bid to bring a NASL team to Southern California due to fears over the costs of NASL’s potential lawsuit against USSF for D1 status. Sumner did not respond to a tweet requesting confirmation of the story. It was a bittersweet update, mostly bitter because we lost out on another potential NASL team, but sweet in that we finally saw the truth behind the seemingly fantastical rumors that the musician Sting was involved in a bid to bring a NASL team to Orange County.
No Longer Appearing On The NASL Rumors List
- Graduated: Miami FC. Rayo OKC. Puerto Rico FC.
- Transferred: Hamilton, Ontario (to CanPL).
- Flunked Out: Orange County, Hartford City FC*. New York United FC. LA Aztecs.
*It is worth noting that Hartford City FC has a new owner with intentions of launching the team. Midfield Press reached out with a request for clarification on the club’s intentions, but did not hear back.
The United Soccer League’s second division ambitions topped the news of the last month. We’re hoping to hear in the next few weeks,” Edwards told WVXU. “They’re wrapping up their due diligence. They’re sending folks out to our teams now; they’re inspecting some of our clubs. They’re spending time with our owners. They’ve got a few more weeks of due diligence to go and then we’re hoping to hear in the next month or so.” You can read more about that in our article on the subject.
As far as individual teams go, there were no new expansion announcements, however there were updates on change pending for several clubs. The Austin Aztex are confirmed as sitting out 2017 as well as 2016, and things are not looking up in the capital of Texas. More positive news involved the Orange County Blues potentially getting new investors, which may or may not be Los Angeles FC. Finally the Wilmington Hammerheads will also be taking 2017 off as the club’s owners plan to find a new home in a bigger market. The Hammerheads may live on as a PDL club.
Scratching the Pitch reports that USL expects to have 30 teams competing in 2017, which means that another club will be announced for next season if that report is correct. Previously the local NBC affiliate reported that a San Diego USL team may start play in 2017.
Announced USL Teams
Summary: Reno 1868 will start play in 2017. The club is owned by billionaire Herb Simon, who also owns the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. Sacramento Republic FC recently played a friendly in Reno against the Liverpool FC U-21s before a crowd of 6,287 at 1868’s future home of Greater Nevada Field.
Reno signed a two-year affiliation agreement with the San Jose Earthquakes. San Jose will run all aspects of Reno’s soccer operations, making the partnership look more like Houston Dynamo’s arrangement with Rio Grande Valley than a traditional MLS-USL affiliation. Reno will still handle the business side of its operation.
August 2016 Update: Former Atlanta Silverbacks GM Andy Smith was hired to run Reno’s soccer operations.
More on Reno 1868.
Summary: Technically not an expansion team, the Austin Aztex are on-hiatus from USL for 2016 due to flood damage to House Park. They now appear to be set to take 2017 off, with no return in sight.
August 2016 Update: The Aztex will sit out the 2017 season after sitting out 2016, and the club does not seem to have made much progress towards getting back on the field.
“There is no suitable stadium. Until there is, the Aztex won’t field a team,” Bobby Epstein, chairman of Circuit of the Americas and a majority investor in the Aztex, told the Austin American-Statesman.
Club owner Rene van de Zande told the Statesman, “Nothing is formally confirmed, but taking the suitable soccer venue needs into consideration, 2018 has become a more realistic target.”
“I want Austin to have pro soccer,” Epstein said. “If there was a stadium, the Aztex would be playing now.” The Statesman reports that the club found University of Texas’ Myers Stadium too expensive, while they have also ruled out playing in high school football stadiums because they wouldn’t be able to generate revenues from alcohol sales. The paper reports that there has not been progress on the offer extended by the Austin Huns rugby club to share a stadium with the Aztex.
“I’m probably out of the stadium-building business,” Epstein said. “We’ll keep looking for long-term solutions.”
More on the Austin Aztex.
Summary: DMD Soccer has been awarded a USL franchise for 2018 contingent on acquiring a soccer-specific stadium. The DMD group includes investors with ties to health care companies including Marcus Whitney, chairman of Nashville FC, David Dell president and COO of LifePoint Health and Christopher Redhage, co-founder of ProviderTrust. A NASL group is also looking at placing a team in Nashville (see NASL Nashville entry above).
The Nashville USL group acquired the brand of NPSL team Nashville FC in exchange for a 1% stake in the club and a seat on the club’s board. Chris Jones will serve as the GM of the Nashville FC USL club.
August 2016 Update: Nashville FC has surpassed 1500 season ticket deposits.
More on Nashville FC.
Rumored USL Teams
Baltimore: The Wilmington Hammerheads supporters group the Port City Firm reported on their Twitter account that Baltimore is the top relocation target for the Hammerheads ownership group. Finding a good venue in the Baltimore area could be a challenge. Possibilities include Homewood Field (Johns Hopkins University’s lacrosse stadium) and Ridley Athletic Complex (Loyola University).
Birmingham: Scratching The Pitch reported Birmingham, Alabama as a potential USL city along with their own rumors on Nashville and San Diego USL teams. The site reported that a link between the Birmingham Hammers NPSL team and the USL bid is not evident.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Boise: Boise could be the home of a USL team soon, either an independent club or a Portland Timbers affiliate. T2 and Swope Park Rangers played a match in Meridian, Idaho, near Boise, to test the market.
Idaho is considered Timbers “territory” in MLS terms, and the club already has partnerships with youth programs in the state. Portland executive Gavin Wilkerson shared the club’s plans to develop the Idaho market further with USLsoccer.com: “We want to look at a way to eventually have more games in Boise and in Idaho and then eventually will the league, will USL, allow us to have another team there? Is it a viable business decision? These are questions that we’ll be asking ourselves. This is definitely a trial match. It has many, many purposes and we’re very happy with the initial response.”
“We’re at the exploratory phase of going down this path,” Wilkinson said. “There’s conversations with the USL. There’s conversations about how we could be involved if we weren’t able to run the USL team in Idaho. What we’re looking at, in all honesty, is we’re exploring all avenues and all options.”
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Cleveland: Message board rumors should always be taken with a grain of salt, but Cleveland could follow on Cincinnati’s heels in USL, if rumblings from two local area posters (1, 2) on Big Soccer are to be believed.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new. Unrelated, Cleveland experienced some soccer glory with AFC Cleveland’s NPSL national championship victory.
FC Dallas 2: FC Dallas has been rumored to be interested in starting its own USL squad for a while. Jason Davis reports that Dallas’s reserve squad may debut in either 2017 or 2018. Will Parchman reports that Dallas has preliminary plans to put a team in USL in 2018.
El Paso: MountainStar Sports Group is reportedly working to bring a USL team to El Paso. MountainStar owns the El Paso Chihuahuas AAA baseball team as well as FC Juarez across the Mexican border.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Fresno: “I really think Fresno is ready for professional soccer,” said Scott Alcorn, former coach of PDL Fresno Fuego told the Fresno Bee in July 2015. “It’s something that has never been done in the Valley. Pro soccer would be something that’s totally new, and I think we’re ready for that.”
“The USL has asked us for the last eight years if we want to move up to the next level, but it hasn’t been in our best interest given the economic challenges of 2008 through 2012,” Fuego GM Jeremy Schultz told the Bee. “It wasn’t time for us to make that move. But over the last couple years the Fuego has been profitable, which is a great accomplishment.”
“You look at some of the cities where soccer is flourishing, and I really believe Fresno has the fabric of a soccer town,” Schultz said.
“It’s ingrained in us. We kind of grow up with a little chip on our shoulder how we’re viewed in this state, and I think that mentality is perfectly suited for soccer.”
The article stated that the hold up over a potential move to USL is the club’s ownership structure.
August 2016 Update: Another group with its eyes on USL ownership may have emerged in Fresno. According to a report from Evan Ream, the Fresno Fuego are being pressured to pay the USL’s expansion fee within six months or the other group will get the rights.
Las Vegas: The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March that the USL was interested in bringing a team to Cashman Field in Vegas. USL spokesperson Brett Lashbrook told the Review-Journal that there was a precedent of minor league baseball and USL sharing a stadium. The Las Vegas 51s AAA team is looking to move out of Cashman into a new stadium.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
LAFC2: Scratching The Pitch suggested the Orange County Blues might turn into LAFC2. LAFC2 was also reported by an in-the-know Big Soccer poster. Whether they are a new team or a rebranding of the OC Blues, LAFC2 could start next year, ahead of the parent club’s debut in MLS.
August 2016 Update: The Orange County Register reports that the club is looking at building a complex in Tustin, California, which would include a 5,000-8,000 seat stadium, a suitable size for LAFC2’s USL squad.
San Diego: NBC San Diego reports that USL is close to awarding a San Diego franchise to start in 2017 playing out of Torero Stadium. Scratching the Pitch and an in-the-know Big Soccer poster previously reported recent USL’s interest in San Diego.
The idea of a USL team in San Diego received a vote of confidence from Landon Donovan. “If I can be a part of that, it would be tremendous,” he said to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I would love to see this area have a USL (United Soccer League) team or MLS team. This is a crazy soccer market.”
Donovan was previously linked to an ownership role in a San Diego USL team, but then denied those rumors on Twitter. Donovan recently acknowledged discussions with groups that want to bring MLS to San Diego. The US soccer legend recently acquired a small ownership stake in EPL club Swansea City.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Tacoma: The Seattle Sounders are exploring the possibility of moving Sounders 2’s home to Tacoma. The club is working with the AAA baseball Tacoma Rainiers on a plan that would see the B side relocate from Starfire Soccer Complex to a new stadium.
“There’s a group of individuals working on a soccer complex and possibly a soccer stadium,” Hanauer told Sounder at Heart. “The team is a separate issue. We’ve been working with the Rainiers, with whom we would theoretically have some sort of partnership. We haven’t talked about how equity would work. Notionally, we like the Major League Baseball model where we’d run and pay for the technical side and they’d run and pay for the business.”
“We were very curious about what would happen to the soccer market there,” said Hanauer, noting the advantages of getting a little farther away from Seattle. “We did that game down there and I remained in contact with the folks from the Rainiers. We check in every six months or so. I think we concluded at that time that Cheney [Stadium] wasn’t a good long term location, but if there was ever a possibility for a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma that it would be very interesting.”
The Sounders seem focused on Tacoma, but have also considered moving their 2 side to Boise, Everett and Spokane, according to the Sounder at Heart report.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Tucson: “We believe the time is right for the Tucson market to move up to the USL,” FC Tucson managing partner Greg Foster told the Arizona Daily Star. “We have a huge head start because our venue, Kino Stadium, is already in place.”
Foster told the publication that FC Tucson’s ownership has formed a steering committee to find investors to back the move to USL. “We’ve been running our PDL team like a USL team,” said Foster. “We believe we can significantly increase our footprint.”
“A USL team often has as many as four or five MLS players at a given time,” said Foster. “If we get a wholly owned affiliation, it would be a merger of our brand with an MLS franchise.”
Previously Midfield Press spoke with Rick Schantz, who signaled FC Tucson’s future intent on pro soccer.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
Lower League Teams Looking To Move Up To The Pros (NASL/USL)
FC Buffalo: In an interview with Midfield Press, FC Buffalo indicated that they are actively pursuing investors to help them take a step up to professional soccer, though they did not indicate whether they were interested in USL or NASL.
Albuquerque Sol FC: In an interview with Midfield Press, Albuquerque Sol FC set a target of 2018 for a move up to professional soccer. Albuquerque is more likely to go to USL than NASL due to their status as a PDL team, a league which is owned by USL. However they would not rule NASL out.
Lansdowne Bhoys: Celtic-affiliated Lansdowne Bhoys of the Bronx/Yonkers area of New York indicated an intention to go pro by 2018 amidst their US Open Cup run.
San Francisco City FC: San Francisco City FC has new investors that intend to take the team to a professional league by next year or 2018, reports Evan Ream. That league would likely be USL.
Detroit City FC and Nashville FC were covered above.
The price tag of an MLS franchise just got more expensive and the number of people who can afford to pay it just got smaller. Bloomberg reports that MLS will be seeking over $200 million for a franchise in the league moving forward.
Driving this price increase is Major League Soccer’s official line is that it will continue to expand until it reaches 28 teams. We suspect MLS will top out somewhere between 28 and 32, putting it in line with the other major US sports leagues, but if that is the case, expect franchises 29-32 to cost even more.
Atlanta is set to join in 2017, with Minnesota likely accompanying them. An official announcement on Minnesota is expected on August 19th. Los Angeles FC will debut in 2018, with Miami potentially arriving at the same time. Should the Miami Beckham United group’s series of unfortunate events continue, MLS may look at have another bid replace them for 2018. Sacramento Republic FC would seem to be the most ready. This would buy Beckham two more years, as Garber has identified 2020 as the year for another round of teams.
According to the Associated Press, Garber offered a priority ranking of MLS expansion efforts. St. Louis and Sacramento lead the hunt for the 2020 pair of berths, with Detroit, San Diego, San Antonio, Austin and Cincinnati following in that order. One would think that San Antonio and Austin would be mutually exclusive.
Announced MLS Teams
Atlanta United FC
Summary: Set to debut in 2017, Atlanta United FC is owned by Home Depot founder Arthur Blank and will share Mercedes-Benz Stadium with Blank’s NFL Atlanta Falcons. They have already signed several players including former Atlanta Silverback Junior Burgos, who is on loan to the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Atlanta has setup an affiliation with the Charleston Battery of USL.
More on Atlanta United FC.
Minnesota United FC
Minnesota United will switch from the NASL to MLS, almost certainly in 2017. The club may have to change its name in deference to DC United and Atlanta United FC. The team is working on plans for a soccer-specific stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota, aimed to be ready in 2018, though the project has been delayed due to issues around tax breaks the team is seeking. Minnesota may play at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for a season in the likelihood it joins MLS in 2017.
August 2016 Update: Reports suggest the official announcement that the Minnesota MLS team will debut in 2017 is expected on August 19th. The Pioneer Press reports that MLS filed a trademark for Minnesota FC, which may be the team’s name in MLS.
More on Minnesota United FC.
Los Angeles FC
Set to debut in 2018, Los Angeles FC’s ownership is led by venture capitalist Henry Nguyen, entrepreneur Peter Guber and NBA exec Tom Penn, and includes famous names such as Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra, Will Ferrell and Tony Robbins among its investors. The club is building its stadium in downtown Los Angeles, on the site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. A venue it controls in a location away from the Carson-based Galaxy will give LAFC a distinct advantage that Chivas USA never had as the second MLS team in the LA market.
August 2016 Update: As mentioned in the LAFC 2 blurb, the Orange County Register reports that the club is looking at building a complex in Tustin, California.
More on LAFC.
David Beckham’s star crossed saga to bring Major League Soccer to Miami may have had a breakthrough. Beckham’s investment group includes media mogul Simon Fuller and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. The Beckham group identified a piece of land in the Overtown section of Miami, but have balked at demands from Miami-Dade County. Previous talks with the Qatari owners of Paris Saint Germain reportedly broke down, but it appears that new investors have emerged to help Beckham achieve his long delayed goal of bringing MLS to Miami.
Sprint CEO and Miami MLS co-owner Marcelo Claure assured fans on Twitter that the Miami MLS team is getting close: “It’s coming. Final stretch. We have waited so long that now we are ironing final details.”
Don Garber also sounded positive on Miami’s chances of entering MLS in 2018 when speaking with Rob Stone on Fox Sports 1. “This is the never-ending Miami saga, Rob. But hey, as you probably read, a new investor has been engaging with David Beckham and his partners,” said Garber. “They have secured land. I think, morose than ever before, Miami is really looking like it’s going to be in our league, playing in 2018. We’ve been feeling good about it for a while, and now we’re feeling better about it than ever before.”
August 2016 Update: When Miami MLS finally gets off the ground, David Beckham’s relationships across the game could help convince some of the game’s biggest stars to take their talents to South Beach. One of the biggest of all, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, shared with Sports Illustrated that his friend Beckham asked him to play for Miami. Zlatan said he would consider MLS in the future.
Sacramento Republic FC
Sacramento is the MLS bid that has it all. They have a strong fan base in USL, support of the local government, a downtown stadium plan and an investor group that includes NFL (49ers) and NBA (Kings) owners. Sacramento is the odds-on favorite for the 25th MLS expansion spot, and could debut earlier than Miami if Beckham’s group cannot get their stadium situation nailed down.
The San Jose Earthquakes’ decision to partner with Reno 1868 as its USL affiliate moving forward is seen as a prelude to Sacramento’s ascension to Major League Soccer. Sacramento would have preferred to keep the partnership going until its MLS debut, but team president Warren Smith says that they understand the move by San Jose. “I would have loved for it to continue,” Smith said. “But they’ve got needs of their own, and we’ve got to be respectful of that. They want to grow a USL team in their own way.”
Smith told the Sacramento Bee that the Republic may look to field its own USL team once it joins MLS. “Everything is contingent upon when we come into the league, if we are that fortunate,” Smith said. “Then we will evaluate at that point.”
“Ideally the best for us is to have the USL team play in a place where we could sell out the new facility (in the downtown railyards) and hopefully sell out the facility for the USL. Does that mean in the market? Does that mean in a different market? Or does that mean an affiliation?
“Right now we own an asset (Bonney Field) that doesn’t make sense for us to dispose of. So we’ll want to see how we use this to our best advantage.”
August 2016 Update: The Sacramento Bee reported that MLS has assured Warren Smith that Sacramento will be admitted to the league if the team stays the course. “The MLS All-Star game is in San Jose this year and the board of governors will meet and perhaps we’ll have a timetable then,” Smith told the fans. “They resolved the Miami issue, so maybe we’re next.”
More on Sacramento Republic FC.
Saint Louis FC
When the NFL Rams departed St. Louis for Los Angeles, Major League Soccer perked up about the opportunity to bring MLS to St. Louis. The city has long been a target of MLS, dating back to when the Philadelphia Union beat out a Jeff Cooper-led St. Louis expansion bid. The MLS2STL group exploring a potential MLS bid includes the Jim Kavanaugh of the USL Saint Louis FC club, former Anheuser Busch president Dave Peacock and St. Louis Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III.
The MLS2STL group has identified what they consider to be a strong ownership candidate who is currently in due diligence on starting up an MLS franchise. “I wouldn’t take the lack of fireworks to be misunderstood as a lack of activity,” said Jim Woodcock, global sports co-lead and senior vice president at FleishmanHillard, who is a member and spokesman for MLS2STL. “We’ve had a lot of discussions, a lot of progress. There’s a long, long way to go but the arrows are pointing positively. We hope that will continue in the short term.”
Woodcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the potential owner “very strong, viable candidate. That doesn’t discount the potential of other candidates coming forward or groups coming back stronger.”
“This particular ownership candidate is still in a period of due diligence,” Woodcock said. “There’s no timetable for this candidate or any candidate. … This particular ownership candidate is very financially viable, has a strong personal and professional interest. One thing that’s fair to say is this particular candidate has connections with other league owners in Major League Soccer and has some professional sports experience.
“We’re keeping the league up to date. Everything to this point is very encouraging. It wouldn’t be the wisest move to prematurely, for this candidate or anyone, get something out for keeping pace with other cities.”
August 2016 Update: While the majority owner for the St. Louis MLS team has yet to be identified, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that ex-Rams players Chris Long and Aeneas Williams have discussed becoming minority investors in the project.
More on Saint Louis FC.
Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert are teaming up on a bid to bring MLS to the Motor City. The fact that Detroit is one of the largest US markets MLS is not in today and its impressive investor group means it joins Sacramento, St. Louis and San Antonio as MLS expansion frontrunners.
August 2016 Update: Tom Gores told the Detroit Free Press that, while the group prefers the Wayne County jail site for its stadium, it is open to other ideas. “Dan [Gilbert] is working on it. We’re not married to (the jail site). What we’re married to is getting another sports team in Detroit.
“We think a soccer franchise in Detroit could be really good. And I think we’re going to get it there, one way or another.”
Like St. Louis, San Diego becomes a very appealing opportunity for MLS should the Chargers leave San Diego for LA, despite MLS already having two teams in Southern California.
Former San Diego Padres owner John Moores showed interest in bring MLS to San Diego. Moores was recently involved in a bid for Everton FC. in a separate group from Moores, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler is partnering with retired Qualcomm executive Steve Altman and private equity investor Mike Stone on an MLS bid.
“My interest flows from the fact that I have a lot of respect for Mike Stone because of his approach and his leadership qualities and his analytical view of things, and because we look at the sports world from a similar perspective,” Seidler said.
“It’s a public-private partnership and owners have an obligation to the fans and the community. There’s a civic component that I believe in and Mike shares and an effort to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to San Diego I think if done right could be great for the city.”
US Soccer legend Landon Donovan, who recently purchased a minority stake in EPL club Swansea acknowledged discussions with investors interested in bringing pro soccer to San Diego. “If I can be a part of that, it would be tremendous,” he said to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I would love to see this area have a USL (United Soccer League) team or MLS team. This is a crazy soccer market.”
In terms of where the team would play, there is talk of partnering with San Diego State University on a stadium in Mission Valley.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
San Antonio FC
Spurs Sports & Entertainment launched the USL San Antonio FC with the express intent of bringing the team to MLS. San Antonio FC essentially replaced the San Antonio Scorpions of NASL when the county bought the rights to Toyota Field from Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman. As part of the deal SS&E made with the city and county, it will have to pay them a penalty if the team is not in MLS after six years.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
More on San Antonio FC.
Aztex owner Rene van de Zande and Bobby Epstein, CEO of the Circuit of the Americas, have been working to bring a MLS team to Austin. Austin’s inclusion in Don Garber’s recent list of MLS expansion candidates is somewhat surprising, since the city is located so close to San Antonio. Austin has struggled to keep their USL team afloat while San Antonio has a strong track record of success dating back to the Scorpions in NASL.
August 2016 Update: The idea that Austin is competing with San Antonio for a final Texas MLS berth became more curious with the news from the Austin American-Statesman that van de Zande and Epstein’s Austin Aztex will forego the 2017 USL season after sitting out 2016.
Successful new USL franchise FC Cincinnati reached out to MLS to inquire about expansion, but was told it may take a few years. Their impressive box-office success has forced Cincinnati into the conversation for the 24-28th MLS franchise berths.
FC Cincinnati remains focused on being the best USL club they can be while they wait on MLS. “We’re respectful of their process,” Cincinnati general manager Jeff Berding told WCPO. “We wanted to state our ambitions as we launched and let it be known what our goals are, but every day since, we’ve been focusing on being the strongest USL franchise we can be. We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves, but we believe if we do everything we can to be the best USL team we can, in that process, we will have established ourselves as worthy of consideration during expansion talks.”
August 2016 Update: FC Cincinnati will not be deterred by the Bloomberg report that the price for a new MLS franchise may be over $200 million. “The USL is an aspirational league, and we hope to follow Orlando, Portland and others in making a future jump to the MLS,” Jeff Berding told Cincinnati.com. “We are following MLS expansion closely, and there is nothing that we have learned from MLS that discourages us from our goals.”
More on FC Cincinnati.
David Beckham turned up in Las Vegas to speak in support of a Las Vegas stadium to lure the NFL Oakland Raiders. “I’m excited about what we’re doing in Miami,” Beckham said. “It’s something that I’m very committed to, something that as an ambassador of the league now, as an owner of a franchise that is going to be very special for the people of Miami, I’m excited. I’m excited for the chance of an MLS team to be able to come to Vegas, it’s special.”
Las Vegas Sands Group board member Jason N. Ader is interested in investing in a Las Vegas MLS team. MLS rejected Las Vegas bid supported by Mayor Goodman and Findlay Sports and Entertainment previously. It may be telling that Las Vegas did not appear on Garber’s prioritized list of expansion locations reported by the AP.
However, since that time the National Hockey League awarded Las Vegas a new franchise to start in the 2017-2018 season. The significance of this move for MLS is that the NHL has become the first league to make the leap to Vegas. With the unspoken taboo broken, other leagues may follow. The Oakland Raiders NFL team is seriously flirting with Vegas, and mayor Carolyn Goodman is confident the city will have three “major league” teams within 10 years, according to Fox Sports.
August 2016 Update: Nothing new.
The Rest of the Field: Louisville City FC’s stadium study confirmed the team’s need for a 10,000 seat soccer specific home of its own in order to continue the club’s growth. The report also contains information on a larger scale stadium that would be needed for MLS … Local reporters have connected the Carolina Railhawks and Tampa Bay Rowdies to MLS moves as part of articles on their stadium efforts…. The Charlotte Independence have expressed interest in a move to MLS, and the CEO of Charlotte’s Chamber of Commerce echoed hopes that the Queen City could become home to a MLS team, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Canadian Premier League
“Basically it will be a CFL-NHL mix of ownership,” John McGrane, a minority partner in the prospective Hamilton soccer team, told The Hamilton Spectator of the potential Canadian Premier League. The League is expected to start play in 2018.
Duane Rollins reports the CanPL will likely look like the Canadian Football League minus Edmonton. The CFL has teams in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg, Regina and Hamilton in addition to Edmonton. Rollins also reported that the Ottawa Fury is expected to defect to this league, while FC Edmonton plans to stay with NASL.
CFL.ca writer Carlos Verde reported on Twitter: “Source: Canadian Premier League wants “Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Hamilton, (GTA), Ottawa, Quebec, (Maritimes)” as founding eight.” In follow up tweets, Verde said his source told him the CanPL will “laregly steer clear of MLS markets” and seemed more optimistic about Edmonton joining the CanPL than Rollins, despite the Fath’s ownership stake in NASL.
August 2016 Update: In one of the more tangible signs of life for the Canadian Premier League in a while, the Hamilton club issued a survey to fans about its potential soccer team.
Meanwhile, NASL commissioner Bill Peterson commented to the Cosmos Country Podcast on the idea that teams could be interested in leaving his league to join MLS or the CanPL. “As far as Canada, there’s been murmurs for at least three or four years of a potential league there. Again, we would wish the CSA all the success in the world in whatever they think is best for soccer in Canada. I’m not speaking for our teams up there. They’re committed to what we are doing right now. I haven’t heard anything differently. I haven’t heard that the league is actually going to start. But we would look at, how could we help you start? We’ve just gone through this in recent times. There might be some way of linking the two up somehow. Make some interesting competition. I don’t know. We’re open to helping them, because what we want is the growth of professional soccer to continue. And we want what is best for our cities and teams and clubs and owners. We told the CSA that, and I haven’t heard anything recently that seems like its imminent so we’ll just have to wait and watch that story and see. It’s not easy to start a league. Very hard.”