NASL, USL, MLS & CanPL Expansion News & Rumors Tracker – November 2016 Edition

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 Expansion 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.

October saw the official announcements of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury moving from NASL to USL.  The timing was a bit of a surprise as the teams did not extend the courtesy of waiting for the end of the NASL season as expected.  However, no one who has been reading this expansion update would have been surprised by the moves themselves.  The larger question is, what happens next.

For the USL, the moves continue their expansion into larger markets as the league pushes for second division sanctioning, potentially at the expense of smaller ones that have loyally supported USL for decades such as Wilmington and reportedly Harrisburg.  It also continues the trend of adding groups that look at the league as a temporary stop on the way to a prize bigger than USL.

For Tampa Bay’s part, the USL move appears to be directed at an attempt to get into Major League Soccer.  Literally the day after the Rowdies USL announcement, Don Garber appears at a scheduled talk at USF and praises the Tampa Bay market with Bill Edwards in attendance.  Add Tampa Bay to the already long list of markets and investors vying for officially four (but we really think eight) remaining MLS spots.  

For Ottawa, the move to USL may also be a short term one.  The Canadian Soccer Association reportedly needs to approve the move, and may only do so under the condition that the Fury be allowed to move to the Canadian Premier League when it is ready.  That could mean Ottawa is in USL for as little as one season.

For NASL, Tampa Bay and Ottawa leaving was a black eye but the league must go forward and consolidate around a strong core group of owners committed to a shared vision as was the purpose of the league summit in September.  The core ownership groups are thought to be the New York Cosmos, Miami FC, Indy Eleven, FC Edmonton and the San Francisco Deltas.  The Chicago NASL group led by Peter Wilt would likely join that list once formally admitted. Among the remaining clubs, the Carolina Railhawks would be the most important group to retain, with Jacksonville and Puerto Rico following after.  

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers have struggled to meet payroll several times this year, and have been the subject of multiple ownership bids, from a rejected bid by Tampa Bay owner Bill Edwards to a reported bid by PSG Miami who are rumored to have wanted to move the team to USL to a bid from former manager Gunter Kronsteiner partnered with Canadian-Austrian billionaire Frank Stronach.  Of the Strikers bidders, the Kronsteiner-Stronach group holds the most promise for giving the club a bright future in NASL.  Despite their financial troubles, it is unclear that the Strikers’ current owners want to sell.  

Resolving the issues with the Strikers and with Rayo OKC, who are rumored to be taking a year off while examining relocation, possibly to either Omaha or Las Vegas, is an important part of projecting a stable image for the league going forward.  There remain a number of expansion groups interested in investing in the NASL model, but the league must demonstrate to those groups that it is stable and in it for the long haul.

One of the next big headlines we can expect to see is USSF’s decision on USL’s application to be sanctioned as a second division league.  Sunil Gulati tweeted on November 3rd that he “had very productive meetings in last 24 hours with NASL and USL leadership re: future of the professional game in the United States.”

A decision is expected before Christmas.  Nipun Chopra of the Indy Eleven Championship Podcast reported on Twitter that USSF will conduct an audit of NASL and USL clubs to check on their compliance with D2 standards.

North_American_Soccer_League_(NASL).svg

Echoing comments by Brian Andres Helmick of the San Francisco Deltas and Peter Wilt of Chicago NASL, Sean Flynn, CEO of Miami FC, told the Inverted Triangle Podcast that in addition to the core group of owners committed to the NASL vision, there are a number of expansion groups interested in joining up.  “There may some changes in what the league make up looks like heading 2017, but we are extremely committed to moving forward.  And there are some other groups out there that share that same commitment and there will be a core group of strong owners that lead the NASL into ‘17 and beyond.  As you mentioned Peter [Wilt] talked about expansion, there is a list of folks that are interested in exploring opportunities with the league, some folks both domestically and internationally, in multiple markets in North America that are really excited about the opportunity and are waiting until things settle out and then to put their foot back in the waters.”

Asked by Morris what the shared vision of the core group of NASL owners is, Flynn answered, “We’re still in the process of finalizing that.  But it is along the lines of … this league allows teams to control their own destiny.  This league allows teams to go out and grow their brands globally.  This league allows teams to control their own player situations.  So when you talk about a shared vision, those allow for certain things that other leagues don’t.  And if that’s a push certainly to grow and expand it beyond this current number into 20 or more, and then push for elevation potentially to another division, or other things that may be exciting, whatever that may be.  I know there’s talk of promotion and relegation but some of those type of situations are part of discussions.  So that vision has not been finalized but we are starting to circle specific areas that this core group of owners share in terms of what they see this league being and what makes them excited to be part of this league.”

Peter Wilt told the Indianapolis Business Journal, “I think the league will have some announcements in November.  I think you’re going to see some positive growth.”   We checked in with Peter Wilt and he clarified that we should not expect Chicago to be one of these announcements, as the venue issue needs to be resolved first.  He also clarified that the end of November would be the earliest for these other announcements, and December/January is more likely.

 

Announced NASL Teams

San Francisco Deltas

sfdeltas-fb

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.  

Marc Dos Santos, who led the Ottawa Fury to the Soccer Bowl last year, will be their first head coach. Dos Santos is an exciting choice not only because he had success with Ottawa, but because he has the experience of building that club from the ground up in 2014, and taking them to the title game the following season.  

“It’s not always easy to build a team from scratch when you don’t have one player on your list. There is no history of the club. There is nothing; you’re starting from zero,” Dos Santos told SF Gate, describing plans for San Francisco’s playing style to be aggressive, fast in transition, and quick going to goal. “You only recruit well if you have a very clear idea on the style you want to play and then it becomes easier. It’s important to mix the players you want to develop with experience. You don’t develop good players if they are not around experienced players that could help them.”

The Deltas demonstrated remarkable fan engagement with their contest to let season ticket holders vote on the club’s first home kit.  In keeping with their promise to use technology in ways that improve the fan experience, the Deltas announced a ticketing partnership with Eventbrite that will offer some unique ways for fans to select their seats.  One of these options will be to sit with others that share your interests.   The Deltas’ Director of Product Management, Bryant Harrison, told SFgate, “I believe flexible seating will create a fun experience for fans that will change from game to game. For example, for one game, a fan could sit with fellow supporters of their favorite European soccer club, and at another match, a family could sit amongst other families of fans with children of similar ages.”

November 2016 Update:  October 14th marked the first anniversary of the San Francisco Deltas’ admission into the North American Soccer  League.  Club CEO Brian Andres Helmick wrote a recap of the lessons learned in year one of his organization.

More on the San Francisco Deltas:  http://sfdeltas.com/ and Midfield Press’ interview with Helmick.

 

Public NASL Efforts

Chicago

chicago-nasl

Summary: Peter Wilt and Club 9 Sports are working to bring an 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.  

According to the Chicago NASL Twitter account, we won’t know more on its venue progress until November.  Hanson Park can be ruled out as a potential venue to rival the club’s first choices of Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and US Cellular Park, as the Chicago NASL account replied to a fan suggestion of Hanson that it is not a fit: “Board of Education facility, can not sell beer. Lacks amenities and professionalism.”

Peter Wilt shed light on Chicago NASL’s progress in a great interview with the Flakoglost Podcast.  Wilt said, “We have got the investors lined up.  We are in a holding pattern on the venue situation.  There’s a few venues in town that meet the criteria we’ve established, which are essentially major league facilities that can hold five figures plus.  That limits you to three venues: where the White Sox, Cubs and Bears play.  And those aren’t the easiest venues to secure.  We have not given up, which means there is opportunity with one or more of them.  I can’t really go into specifics about it.  We believe that come November, we will be reengaged in some of those talks, and on course for a 2018 launch.”

Wilt also provided an updated the club’s planned supporters trust, which was previously mentioned to potentially own up to 10% of the club: “We have the legal work all done.  We have a supporters trust board of directors in place, 5 persons.  They have met regularly, about once a month. We give them updates.  We are very transparent with them.  The concept is to sell eventually 3000 shares at $500 a piece plus a season ticket.  Those folks would get a vote in who [the supporters trust’s] five board representatives are, and one of those five will be a representative on the team’s board, and they’d have a full vote on everything we do.  They would have transparency into our business and they would have actually more than 1/7th vote on certain issues that are critical to fans.  For example, maybe changing the team colors or changing the team’s name… something like that would have to be approved by the supporters trust board. So it’s exciting.  I love that idea, because it engages the fans.  Not only those 3000 shareholders that become vested in the team, but really all fans of the team become vested because they’ll have a sense that this is the people’s team and it belongs to the community.”

Peter Wilt told Neil Morris on the Inverted Triangle Podcast that if none of the major league Chicago venues work out after talks reopen in November, then the group will look at building a modular stadium in the city.

November 2016 Update:  Peter Wilt told the Indianapolis Business Journal, “I think the league will have some announcements in November.  I think you’re going to see some positive growth.”   We checked in with Peter Wilt and he clarified that we should not expect Chicago to be one of these announcements, as the venue issue needs to be resolved first.  He also clarified that the end of November would be the earliest for these other announcements, and December/January is more likely.

More on Chicago NASL:  http://www.chicagonasl.com/, Peter Wilt’s February 2016 AMA and Midfield Press’ interview with Peter Wilt.

 

Detroit City FC

detroit-city-fc-crest

Summary: Detroit City co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.  Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term.  We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that.  In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”

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.  The group was reportedly not connected to Detroit City FC.  

Bill Peterson told the Cosmos Country Podcast in July that there was a Midwest expansion group other than Chicago in the mix.  Detroit is the only other Midwest city to date with any tangible NASL link.

 

Philadelphia Fury

fury_high_res_logo

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 to bring a NASL team to the Philadelphia market.   The Philadelphia Fury is a classic NASL brand. Tannenwald reported that potential investors could include a La Liga club as well as parties from Dubai and Las Vegas.  

Midfield Press connected with Philadelphia Fury owner Matt Driver in September for an interview updating the status of the club’s NASL ambitions.  Driver continues to work on getting investors for a NASL move but there is currently not investment in place.  He is working with Jack Cummins and Club 9 Sports, of the Chicago NASL bid, as consultants to help him with his NASL plan.  

Driver understands that playing in a stadium in Philadelphia or close to the city, such as Campbell’s Field in Camden, would be critical to the success of a Philadelphia NASL team.  In terms  of his own role in the NASL club, Driver sees himself as a potential Sporting Director while leaving the business operations to other partners.  He sees the American Soccer League, which he runs today, as a potential talent feeder for the Philadelphia Fury.

November 2016 Update:  Nothing new.

More on Philadelphia Fury:  http://furyasl.com/  

 

NASL Rumors With Multiple Sources and/or League Commentary

San Diego  

San Diego's three historic NASL teams

San Diego’s three historic NASL teams

Midfield Press connected in September with a group looking to bring a NASL franchise to San Diego for the Spring 2018 season.  This is the same group that was reported by NBC earlier this year as aiming to join USL in 2017.   

November 2016 Update:  Nipun Chopra of the Indy Eleven Championship Podcast reported on Twitter that, the “2018 [NASL] season will feature a Chicago team and a team in the ‘San Diego area’, but maybe not in SD itself. Vegas is not in play anymore.”

 

Atlanta

atlanta-chiefs

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.

November 2016 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Las Vegas

NASL 1.0 featured the Las Vegas Quicksilvers

NASL 1.0 featured the Las Vegas Quicksilvers

November 2016 Update: Midfield Press learned that the Las Vegas Football Club group is working to bring professional soccer to Vegas.  The investor group consists of local business leaders committed to bringing pro soccer to the area, and they are sufficiently capitalized for either a NASL or USL bid. It is not clear whether the group will choose NASL or USL, and a suitable venue is the main hurdle in the group’s way at this point.  In addition Las Vegas FC, the group also has registered the classic Las Vegas Quicksilvers name.

Nipun Chopra of the Indy Eleven Championship Podcast reported on Twitter that, the “2018 [NASL] season will feature a Chicago team and a team in the ‘San Diego area’, but maybe not in SD itself. Vegas is not in play anymore.”  Chopra also suggested that Rayo OKC could be looking at relocation to either Omaha or Las Vegas after going on hiatus for a year.

Midfield Press checked with our contacts familiar with the Las Vegas group’s plans who assured us that nothing had changed since our October article on the Vegas expansion group looking at NASL and USL.

 

Orange County

The Surf played in Anaheim in the classic NASL

The Surf played in Anaheim in the classic NASL

Summary:  After months of rumors that the musician Sting was looking to bring NASL to Orange County, it turned out that Joe Sumner, Sting’s son, is part of a group exploring putting a NASL team in Orange County.  Scratching the Pitch reported that Sumner ended his NASL bid in part due to costs associated with a potential lawsuit with USSF, which has since been discontinued. Midfield Press was able to get in touch with Joe Sumner, who described his NASL interest as “purely exploratory at the present moment.”  This indicates that the project is not dead, but also not close to happening.

November 2016 Update: Nothing new.

 

Single Source NASL Rumors

Los Angeles

Los_Angeles_Skyline

Summary: 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.

November 2016 Update:  Our contacts close to the Los Angeles group tell us that a Fall 2017 or Spring 2018 start is looking more likely at this point.

 

Baltimore

Crystal Palace Baltimore was supposed to join NASL in 2011

Crystal Palace Baltimore was supposed to join NASL in 2011

Summary: In an otherwise grim article about NASL, Sports Illustrated reported that one of the expansion groups looking to join the league is based in Baltimore.

The city has long been on the NASL radar. Baltimore was expected to be part of the new NASL when it began in 2011, but former USL franchise Crystal Palace Baltimore failed after the 2010 season in USSF D2 before it could join the league.  

The league’s sponsorship deal with Baltimore-based Under Armour earlier this year led to speculation that UA founder Kevin Plank might launch a team.  This speculation was fanned by reports of Under Armour’s plans for a new 50-acre campus include a 7,000 seat waterfront stadium.

A Baltimore NASL bid would find itself in a race to market against the potential relocation of the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads to the metro area.

November 2016 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Omaha

Downtown Omaha's Morrison Stadium would be a good venue

Downtown Omaha’s Morrison Stadium would be a good NASL venue

Summary: Nipun Chopra of the Indy Eleven Championship Podcast reported on Twitter that Rayo OKC could be looking at relocation to either Omaha or Las Vegas after going on hiatus for a year.  This comes on the heels of Omaha being singled out as a high potential market by Peter Wilt in his expansion market analysis article.  We also pointed out the benefits of Omaha – a growing market of just under a million population with little pro sports competition – in our piece in September that speculated on where the franchise may relocate to.

 

NASL Rumors On Life Support

Celtic USA

Celtic USA rumors are running out of steam

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.  

In the wake of the Rayo OKC trouble, many NASL fans would be happy to see the league pass on another colony club expansion.

November 2016 Update:  Nothing new.

NASL's Rumored Footprint For Spring 2017

NASL’s Rumored Footprint For Spring 2017

usl

With the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury officially in the fold, USL Commissioner Jake Edwards told the Inverted Triangle Podcast that the league will have 30 teams next season.  This number confirms an earlier report by Scratching the Pitch saying the league would have 30 teams.  It also means that another team is likely to leave USL before the start of the season.  The USL had 29 teams in 2016, and will add Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Reno.  Wilmington is already moving down to PDL, but that would put USL at 31.  Rumors point to Harrisburg as the team that may leave to take the 2017 number down to 30.

USL Commissioner Jake Edwards told NBC Sports that the league continues to have strong expansion interest. “Without disclosing specifics, we are in conversations with markets in all time zones at the moment. I would say there are upwards of eight very active discussions right now across the country. There remains a strong interest in USL but we are of a size now where we only want to bring in markets that we think are really good strategic fit in terms of building those regional rivalries and having derby games that we think will help sustain professional soccer and have a good support base,” Edwards said. “It’s all about: do we have that quality ownership group that is well capitalized, local and committed to building a long-term club for the community? Is there a stadium plan in place? No team is allowed to come into the league now without a road map to build a soccer specific stadium of 8-10,000 seats.

“We now have very active conversations for teams to come into the league in 2019 and 2020 and we are pushing them back because they have to build stadiums and they are committed to doing that. We are working with those local governments and those private investors to get those stadiums up and running and off the ground. Expansion will continue for a little longer. We are in discussions with eight really good markets now. In terms of where we are looking to expand, we have a lot of good clubs on the East Coast but we are looking in the South East and certainly the South West as the two areas we need to prioritize to start connecting some of those cities together. We are in a number of advanced conversations so there will be some more announcements on expansion coming probably in the early part of next year.”

One Southeast rumor that picked up steam this past month is Birmingham, which was previously reported by Scratching the Pitch as a potential USL market.  Local reports suggest the announcement of a Birmingham USL team may be close (see below USL rumors on Birmingham).

USL’s division two designs got a project name from Forbes: “Destination 2020.”  Forbes describes the plan “to establish a financially sustainable, globally recognized and admired second division soccer league that inspires and rewards owners, players, fans and partners.”

Edwards provided Business of Soccer an update on the league’s Division Two ambitions:  “We’ve been going through the process with U.S. Soccer for some time. They’re in the final stages of their due diligence now, and they’re going through our application with a fine-tooth comb, as they should do. We’ve put forward what I believe is an extremely strong proposal. All of that will be fully finished and we’ll be given a date for an announcement that we’re hopeful we should get this side of Christmas. Obviously we’re hopeful that we get all of this sorted out ahead of next season so that we go into it with everything ironed out prior to the first kick-off.”

Even if USL’s request for D2 sanctioning is denied, Edwards remains bullish about the league’s prospects: “We’re pleased with where we are at the moment. We’re executing upon the plan that we put into place and there are a number of things that we need to continue to work on. We haven’t arrived yet. We’ve got a long way to go, but I think there are some recent successes that we can see over the last few years that hopefully are just a sign of things to come so we’re very excited about the next few years.”

Edwards further told Business of Soccer that we could see more MLS teams follow the lead of Philadelphia, Houston and San Jose by putting their reserve teams in other markets (Bethlehem, Rio Grande Valley and Reno, respectively). “I think where we are now and where we are in a couple years may look a little different. For some teams in some areas to have a second team in your market is a challenge. If you’re having a challenge selling your first team then you’re definitely going to struggle to sell your second team in the same market amongst the same fan base. Soccer fans can only consume so many games, so you can’t just give them 50 matches to go and watch. So there’s a challenge there. Ultimately it’s about growing the game and improving players and improving the quality of the matches and building a very competitive league. We have to look at it holistically and address it as needed, but I think overall we’re very happy with it and I think so is MLS, but I do think it will evolve a little bit going forward and we’ll experiment with some different affiliation models where we need to and where it makes sense,” Edwards said.

Edwards further commented on the MLS reserve sides versus independent USL teams to Sports Illustrated.  “The addition of the MLS second teams has helped raise the level of competition. I think our competition gets harder and harder every season, and that’s despite having more players and more teams. The level of quality coming into the league goes up each year,” Edwards told SI.com. “We’ve taken some really positive steps forward and are learning what has worked and maybe what wasn’t working, and we’re at the stage now, after three seasons of doing this, where some of the things we weren’t concerned with or didn’t think of have appeared as potential opportunities to explore further.”

“It’s a conversation more and more now with the business offices of those clubs and not always completely driven by the technical staff, where it started. It’s not a much more robust conversation with the ownership levels of those clubs,” he said. “These players need to play in a professional environment. You can’t go on the road and play in front of 20,000 at Cincinnati and then come home and play in front of a few hundred. If that’s how the clubs want to approach it, that’s not the model for us. That scenario can’t continue because ultimately, it’s a disservice to those players and to the independent teams that are putting millions of dollars into their stadiums and their programs.”

 

Announced USL Teams

Tampa Bay Rowdies  

TBRowdiesLogo 2 yellowstar green

The Tampa Bay Rowdies officially announced their switch from the NASL to USL on October 25th, two hours before the Ottawa Fury announced the same.  “We are excited to join the United Soccer League in 2017,” said Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards. “I have said from the day I acquired controlling interest in this club that I wanted to make it one of the most successful teams in North America. The USL is a vibrant league, and this move is a necessary and positive step toward reaching the long-term goals and objectives of the club.”

Those long-term goals are thought to include a move to MLS.  The very next day after the Rowdies USL announcement, Don Garber spoke at USF with Bill Edwards reportedly in attendance.  Garber spoke about the great progress in the Tampa Bay market.

Previously, Sports Illustrated reported that the Tampa Bay Rowdies were looking to move to USL after the 2016 season.  Midfield Press provided insight into what led up to this move, which is essentially disagreements between Bill Edwards and other NASL owners.

 

Ottawa Fury

Ottawa Fury

The Ottawa Fury officially announced their switch from the NASL to USL on October 25th, two hours after the Tampa Bay Rowdies announced the same. “We’re excited to be joining the fastest-growing soccer league in the world,” said Fury FC President, John Pugh. “The USL’s goal is to be the top second division in the world and we are thrilled to be part of it.  Our growing and loyal fan base deserves and can expect a very high caliber of play and tremendous competition.  Go Fury Go!”

The Fury’s move to USL may complicate the picture for the reported Canadian Premier League that is in the works.  Duane Rollins reports that “the CSA will not approve the Fury application to move to USL unless the USL waives the 3 year requirement & allows move to CanPL when ready.”

Previously,  Midfield Press provided insight into what led up to this move.

 

Reno 1868

reno1868

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 1868 has surpassed 1000 season tickets sold.

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.   Former Atlanta Silverbacks GM Andy Smith was hired to run Reno’s soccer operations.

November 2016 Update: The Carson Valley Times reports that 8 players from the local Reno area are among the 13 overall players that made the cut from September’s tryouts.  These players will advance to another round of tryouts in January.  “I’m excited about the inclusion of local talent at the invitational,” said Andy Smith, general manager of Reno 1868 FC. “We hope to add more local players from our second open tryouts as well.”

More on Reno 1868.

 

Austin Aztex

Austin_Aztex_logo

Summary: Technically not an expansion team, the Austin Aztex are on-hiatus from USL for 2016 due to flood damage to House Park.  Now, 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.”

November 2016 Update:  In the most significant sign of life for the Austin Aztex recently, USL president Jake Edwards told MLSsoccer.com that the club is working on getting a stadium built in Austin.  This runs counter to prior comments from Bobby Epstein that he is “out of the stadium-building business.”

More on the Austin Aztex.

 

Nashville SC

Nashville USL's new logo

Nashville USL’s new logo

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, former chairman of Nashville FC of NPSL, David Dell president and COO of LifePoint Health and Christopher Redhage, co-founder of ProviderTrust.  Chris Jones will serve as the GM of the Nashville USL club.  Nashville SC has surpassed 1500 season ticket deposits.

The Nashville USL group decided against using the Nashville FC brand as originally intended, opting to use a new name and logo, Nashville SC.  Previously it was reported that they 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.  However, since there could be a potential trademark conflict with a local youth soccer organization that also uses the Nashville FC name, the USL group chose this other direction.  

DMD intends to create a similar investment model for members of the NPSL Nashville FC club.  “During the August 29 meeting DMD reiterated its desire to provide for formal supporter investment in the USL franchise on the same terms as previously proposed to NFC. In light of the foregoing, the Board of NFC agrees that the most appropriate manner of accomplishing this is through a new nonprofit corporation,” the board of Nashville FC wrote to its members, according to the Nashville Pitch.

Meanwhile, Nashville SC will enter a PDL club next year rather than an NPSL club, which makes sense as PDL is part of the USL system.  The team will be known as Nashville SC U23.

A potential soccer war for Nashville was over before it ever really began, with Bill Hagerty, the former head of the Nashville NASL group, re-focusing his efforts on bringing Major League Soccer to the Music City.

November 2016 Update:  Nashville SC hired Soccer United Marketing executive Court Jeske as their first CEO.  Jeske told The Tennessean that his “No. 1 goal is to get the word out, make sure that people in Nashville and Middle Tennessee understand what we are doing and be a part of the community.”

More on Nashville SC.

USL's Rumored 30 Team Footprint For 2017

USL’s Potential 30 Team Footprint For 2017

Rumored USL Teams

Albuquerque:   In an interview with Midfield Press earlier this year, 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.

The Albuquerque Sol hired a consultant to do a feasibility analysis on a 5,000 to 10,000 seat stadium in the city. “The goal has always been said 2018 to go what’s called USL pro, which would be the equivalent of say the Isotopes,” said General Manager for Albuquerque Sol, Larry Espinoza, told KRQE.  The club is looking for investors to help fund the stadium.

November 2016 Update: Nothing new.

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.  

Steven Goff of the Washington Post dug into the Hammerheads potential move to Baltimore.  Goff reports that the team aims to play at Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University.  Names floated for the club include such creative options as FC Baltimore and Baltimore FC.  Goff reports that the University of Maryland Baltimore County was also looked at as a potential venue for the club, but an agreement could not be reached.  That indicates this process is pretty far along.  Goff suggests the league has spoken to investors interested in expanding to Baltimore in addition the the relocation interest from Hammerheads owner George Altirs.

Sports Illustrated also reported that investors are interested in bringing a NASL club to the Charm City.

November 2016 Update: Nothing new.

 

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.

November 2016 Update: Rumors of a Birmingham USL team picked back up on Twitter from local podcaster Maddux Mullinax, suggesting there will be announcement before the end of the year.  Mullinax reported that a USL team is a done deal and is likely to play out of BBVA Compass Field at the University Alabama Birmingham, and that the team is looking for a coach with MLS experience.

 

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.”

An article on the Idaho Business Review outlined several details of how pro soccer may unfold in Boise.  Bill Taylor is leading a local group of investors who want to bring pro soccer to town.

“We will have serious talks starting in July (with government people and potential investors),” Taylor said. “The energy is legitimized. There is a return on investment now. Now you can go to people who are not necessarily soccer people. Now we just have to go to the next level with our government people.”  

The article goes on to explore several locations in the Boise area where a stadium could be built.  The mayor of Boise, David Bieter, is on board with the idea of a stadium. “Downtown needs a multi-use sports facility,” Bieter said. “I’m convinced that a public private partnership that brings minor league baseball and soccer as well as concerts and other events to downtown will pay great dividends.”

The Timbers remain interested in developing the market.  T2 may host six to eight “home” games in Boise over the 2017 season.

November 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.  

November 2016 Update:  Peter Wilt reported on Neil Morris’s Inverted Triangle Podcast that he is consulting with an investor group looking to bring professional soccer to Cleveland.  It was not specified whether the league would be USL or NASL.

 

FC Dallas 2: FC Dallas has been rumored to be interested in starting its own USL squad for a while.  Jason Davis reported that Dallas’s reserve squad may debut in either 2017 or 2018.  Will Parchman reported that Dallas has preliminary plans to put a team in USL in 2018.

November 2016 Update:  With USL looking to be set at 30 teams for 2017, FC Dallas 2 will surely wait until 2018 at the earliest.

 

Detroit: Detroit City FC co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.  Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term.  We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that.  In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”

 

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.

November 2016 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Fresno: A Fresno group other than the Fuego PDL club has its eyes on a USL franchise. According to a report from Evan Ream, the Fresno Fuego are being pressured to pay the USL’s expansion fee by the end of the year or the other group will get the rights.

The Fuego have long been interested in moving up to the pro ranks.  “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.”

November 2016 Update:  USL president Jake Edwards spoke to Soccer Nation about the league’s future plans for expansion in California. “California is a hub for premier soccer in America. The size of the state, its demographic composition and diversity provide a solid foundation and growth opportunity for owners and fans alike. It’s an added bonus that the USL harbors three teams in the Golden State. We are fortunate that this part of the country is so passionate about soccer and firmly believe that it will help expand and grow the game in all facets nationwide. Many great players, coaches and teams from youth, collegiate to the professional levels have come from California. We built our Western division first through anchor club Orange County Blues. That growth has spread north and we have had tremendous success in Sacramento. We are in discussions now with some very impressive ownership groups in several key California markets so expect to see a little more expansion in the state over the next few seasons.”

 

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.

November 2016 Update: Midfield Press learned that the Las Vegas Football Club group is working to bring professional soccer to Vegas.  The investor group consists of local business leaders committed to bringing pro soccer to the area, and they are sufficiently capitalized for either a NASL or USL bid. It is not clear whether the group will choose NASL or USL, and a suitable venue is the main hurdle in the group’s way at this point.  In addition Las Vegas FC, the group also has registered the classic Las Vegas Quicksilvers name.

 

LAFC2:  The Orange County Register reported that LAFC is looking at building a complex in Tustin, California, which would include a 5,000-8,000 seat stadium, a suitable size for a LAFC2 USL squad.

November 2016 Update:  USL president Jake Edwards confirmed that LAFC will not launch a USL team for the 2017 season.  “We have had discussions with LAFC but with the amount of work they have to do between launching the team, an academy and building its stadium it doesn’t make sense to attempt a USL club right away. The discussions we did have centered on a distinct brand for any potential second team,” Edwards told Soccer Nation.

 

San Diego:  NBC San Diego reported that USL is close to awarding a San Diego franchise to start in 2017 playing out of Torero Stadium.  Midfield Press has learned that the group NBC reported on as targeting a 2017 start in USL is now focusing on a Spring 2018 debut in NASL.  

Previously, 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 also 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.

November 2016 Update:  USL president Jake Edwards confirmed the league has held talks with groups interested in bringing USL to San Diego, though it does not sound like anything is imminent.  “San Diego is a thriving market with a millennial population, considerable interest in soccer and high participation levels. We have received numerous expressions of interest from very credible groups and will continue to explore options in the market based on our three core tenets: strong local ownership, an attractive market and plans for a soccer-specific stadium,” Edwards told Soccer Nation.

 

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.

November 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.

November 2016 Update:  Nothing new.

 

Lower League Teams Looking To Move Up To The Pros (NASL/USL)

FC Arizona:  New NPSL club FC Arizona has set a goal to join NASL within the next 2-3 years.  In an interview with the American Pyramid blog, FC Arizona founder Scott Taylor said, “Five year goal, we really hope to have been in the NASL for 2 or 3 seasons by then, keeping the NPSL team for development, etc. I decided the NPSL’s connection to the NASL was important. Never really considered the UPSL. Although I’m sure that it has it’s place in some markets, it wasn’t for us.  We do have very big plans. But, first things first. Year Number 1 must be done right.”

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.

Detroit City FC:  Detroit City FC continues to grow in NPSL, with a 48% increase in attendance in 2016 over 2015 as the club moved into its new home of Keyworth Stadium.  Supporters raised $750,000 for renovations of Keyworth, and due to the success the club was able to return $107,000 to investors in the project.  DCFC ultimately aims to return 35% of investors money in the renovations.   Detroit averaged 5,255 for its 10 home matches, a number that would put it in the upper half of attendance in both NASL and USL.

Detroit City co-founder Sean Mann shared with Midfield Press that the team is working on a move to a full season professional soccer league is and talking with both USL and NASL, as well with the MLS bid group led by Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert.  Mann said “We have been very open that we’ve been talking to investors about going up to the professional ranks in the near term.  We want to play more games, and play on a national stage. We have a fan base that deserves that.  In terms of which league, we are having those conversations with our investors and that is a focus of this offseason.”

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.  

USL president Jake Edwards spoke to Soccer Nation about the league’s future plans for expansion in California. “California is a hub for premier soccer in America. The size of the state, its demographic composition and diversity provide a solid foundation and growth opportunity for owners and fans alike. It’s an added bonus that the USL harbors three teams in the Golden State. We are fortunate that this part of the country is so passionate about soccer and firmly believe that it will help expand and grow the game in all facets nationwide. Many great players, coaches and teams from youth, collegiate to the professional levels have come from California. We built our Western division first through anchor club Orange County Blues. That growth has spread north and we have had tremendous success in Sacramento. We are in discussions now with some very impressive ownership groups in several key California markets so expect to see a little more expansion in the state over the next few seasons.”

Toledo United FC: Toledo United plays in the Premier League of America, a regional Midwestern league on roughly par with NPSL or PDL.  Team President Peter Schinkai wrote to fans on the club’s web site that the club is considering a step up to the professional ranks.  “Without commenting too much, I also want to mention one other area that is taking up a large amount of time. We have been approached by a higher league about going full-pro in 2018 or 2019. It is a very exciting opportunity to revolutionize soccer in Northwest Ohio, but it is also a time-consuming process. I promise that TUFC will clarify our position on this area as soon as we’ve fully flushed out our negotiations with this league.”

mls-primary_color

With Tampa Bay entering the USL and Don Garber praising the market’s potential the very next day, we can probably consider the expansion priority ranking reported by the Associated Press in April out of date.  Clearly Sacramento and St. Louis remain front runners for the next few expansion spots, but beyond that could be anyone’s guess. MLS will be seeking over $200 million for a franchise and it appears to be doing everything it can to attract cities to compete for what it claims are four more spots in the league.

Cincinnati’s stock is rising, with Don Garber scheduled to visit the city later this month.  The Telegraph implied that if Miami pushes back to 2019 as expected, Cincinnati could get a look as a 2018 replacement.  Nashville is another expansion bid whose stock seems to be rising.  With a USL team on the way, the leader of Nashville’s former NASL group has refocused his efforts on bringing MLS to the Music City.  Las Vegas, once dismissed by MLS, could become a serious option if the NFL Raiders move to town and a team could share their domed stadium.

With the Chargers’ downtown stadium ballot measure failing, the NFL team could leave for Los Angeles, making San Diego a very attractive MLS market.  Plans to replace Qualcomm Stadium with a new, smaller venue to be shared by San Diego State University and an MLS team could move forward.  Detroit remains the largest market in the country without a MLS team.

Austin and San Antonio continue to get mentions from Garber, while Oklahoma CityPhoenix and Charlotte have made moves to attract MLS’s attention. The only sure thing is that Major League Soccer is going to have no problem getting someone to pay its ever increasing expansion fees.

Announced MLS Teams

Atlanta United FC

atlantaunited

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 set up an affiliation with the Charleston Battery of USL.   Atlanta United made a major signing in July, in the form of Trinidad & Tobago striker Kenwyne Jones.

Atlanta has sold more than 22,000 season tickets, and seem to be doing a good job converting their massive deposit numbers into actual sales.

Atlanta United is bringing former Barcelona and Argentina national team manager Gerardo Martino as their first head coach.  “We are delighted that a manager of Gerardo’s caliber and pedigree will be leading our team into our inaugural season,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales said.  “His deep experience and success at both the club and international levels speak for itself, and his vision and approach aligns very well with our club philosophy. We’re confident in his ability to help build a winning culture both on and off the pitch.”

Meanwhile, the team will start its first season off at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium while it waits for its full time home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to be ready, rather than kick its tenure in MLS off with three months of road matches.  “With the amount of excitement we’ve seen for the club, especially over the past few months as our season ticket sales have continued to rise, it was evident that playing at home for the first part of the season was in the best interest of our fans and our players,” United president Darren Eales said.

November 2016 Update: As Atlanta United continues to construct its roster in advance of the 2017 MLS season, the club has been linked to a move for USMNT goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Grant Wahl speculates that Real Salt Lake may make Rimando, who earns the second highest salary in the league for a goalkeeper, available in the expansion draft.  Atlanta has the #1 pick in that draft, as well as priority in a few other MLS’s unique player allocation systems.

More on Atlanta United FC.

 

Minnesota United FC

Minnesota United FC

With Minnesota United FC’s 2017 debut and the continuity of their brand now confirmed, the club must now prepare for the move to MLS.   The team is working on plans for a soccer-specific stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota, aimed to be ready in 2018.  Minnesota will play at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for at least once season as it awaits the completion of its own home.  The league will hold an expansion draft that Minnesota and Atlanta can partake in, and Minnesota will be allowed to sign players from its current NASL squad that it feels are up to the challenge of MLS.

With its MLS debut date finally cemented in August, Minnesota United is off to a good start from a business perspective, with over 8,000 season ticket deposits in place.

November 2016 Update:  At the conclusion of the NASL season, Minnesota United signed two of its defensive stalwarts to MLS contracts.  Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas will be making the move to Major League Soccer, with several more Minnesota United NASL players expected to join.  Meanwhile, Minnesota landed the #1 pick in the MLS Superdraft as well as priority in a few other MLS’s unique player allocation systems.

More on Minnesota United FC.

 

Los Angeles FC

lafc

Set to debut in 2018, Los Angeles FC’s investor group includes famous names such as Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm, Nomar Garciaparra, Will Ferrell and Tony Robbins. The club kicked off the construction of its downtown stadium in August, on the site of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena.  Banc of California was revealed as the stadium’s naming rights sponsor.   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.  

The Orange County Register reported that the club is looking at building a complex in Tustin, California. MLS may not be the only league LAFC enters in 2018, with rumors that minority owner Mia Hamm will spearhead efforts for an LAFC NWSL club.

November 2016 Update: LAFC has set a goal of having 15,000 season tickets sold, which would put them ahead of the LA Galaxy’s 11,500.  The club already has over 10,000 season ticket deposits in place. “If we look back at the beginning, we spoke of making history here in the heart of L.A.,” Tom Penn, LAFC’s president, told the L.A. Times. “And now today, two years later, we have several major milestones to add to our story.  Our arena demolition is completed, stadium construction is underway, and we have over 10,000 season ticket deposits sold.”

More on LAFC.

 

Semi-Announced Teams

Miami

miami-beckham-united

David Beckham’s investment group includes media mogul Simon Fuller and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure.  They group has looked for an additional investor to provide financial backing for the team.   Fortress Investment Group’s Wesley Evans was identified as a possible candidate.

Beckham’s efforts seemed to be picking up momentum earlier this year and heading into a final stretch. 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.”

Sacramento Republic owner Warren Smith told the Sacramento Bee that the Republic’s time frame might be approaching because, “[MLS] resolved the Miami issue, so maybe we’re next.”  

Don Garber spoke in optimistic tones about Miami finally nearing resolution at Copa America, but then seemed to walk back those comments at the U.S. Open Cup final.  “As you know, it’s 28 teams for us. We’re a long way from 28, still haven’t finalized our 24th team. So that gives us five more teams to fill over the next however many years,” Garber said according to Goal.com.  The MLS commissioner’s phrasing there would imply that another group could step in Miami’s place.

November 2016 Update: It has now been more 1000 days since the picture above was taken.  Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated suggests that sources close to Beckham tell him 2019 is now looking more likely for Miami’s MLS debut than the official line of 2018.  Two agenda items are acquiring more land around the Overtown stadium site as well as “nailing down a flagship investor in the team.”

 

MLS Contenders

Sacramento Republic FC

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.”

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.”

November 2016 Update:  Should Miami not be ready to join MLS in 2018, Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated reports that there is “zero chance” Sacramento would join MLS in 2018 in their place, even though it remains one of the top candidates for franchise 25-26 alongside St. Louis.

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.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that ex-Rams players Chris Long and Aeneas Williams have discussed becoming minority investors in the project.

A second group has emerged in the effort to bring MLS to St. Louis.  Dan Cordes, an early employee at Express Scripts, is the public face of the Foundry St. Louis group.

“This is not just a bunch of guys that decided one night let’s do this,” Cordes told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We have investors both inside and outside St. Louis who have committed the necessary moneys or funding necessary for the franchise. So we’re fine. … We just want there to be more than one option for the league to look at when it comes to an ownership group in St. Louis.”

The article states that the Foundry group is looking at land north of St. Louis University’s medical center as a stadium site.  They are also open to joining forces with the MLS2STL bid.

“My thought is that generally one plus one equals three,” said Cordes. “I’d love to meet with [Dave Peacock], combine the best of our ideas with his ideas, and make this into something St. Louis would be proud of.”

November 2016 Update:  The Foundry St. Louis group unveiled its plans for a stadium on a 13 acre site owned by Saint Louis University.  The stadium would seat 22,500 at a price tag between $135 and $150 million, and most of the funding for it would be private.  The stadium would also serve as home to SLU’s soccer teams as well as a women’s pro soccer team.  “SLU feels like this could be the centerpiece of the 380 acres they are looking to develop in that area,” Foundry St. Louis’ Dan Cordes said.

More on Saint Louis FC.

 

Detroit

detroit-mls

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.

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.”

Amid an Associated Press report focusing on the negative impact an MLS team could have on Detroit City FC and the Michigan Bucks, Detroit MLS investor Arn Tellem expressed hope that they could work with the lower league clubs, “I think we want to be inclusive with DCFC and the Bucks and work with them, and we can learn a lot from them. I think the groups that are running these organizations are really smart and civic minded. They have done an incredible job, and I think we can learn a lot from them and we will. Every time I’m with them, I leave feeling more positive that we have to do this together. We can’t do this without them.”

November 2016 Update:  Detroit City FC co-founder Sean Mann addressed the NPSL team’s relationship with the MLS bid in an interview with Midfield Press.  Mann said, “We have been in regular contact with the Gores-Gilbert camp throughout their process.  There is opportunity to work with each other.  But we’re committed to the vision and culture we’ve created.  If we had a partner who wanted to take that to a higher level, we’d consider that.  We’ve had those conversations.  Maybe it is possible Detroit City becomes an MLS team.  Maybe we stay a team that plays in a smaller stadium in Hamtramck.  Our focus is continuing to grow our club.  Our goal next year is to fill out every game in our stadium.  In 2017, we want to be the D4 team that is getting 7000 people at every game.  We’re talking to those folks, but it would be quite a while before anything would come from that.  We’ve had a lot of conversations with potential investors over the years so this is no different.”

In the interim, Detroit City FC is looking at a move up to a full season professional league, and is talking to USL and NASL.

 

San Diego

SanDiego_Skyline

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.

The leading San Diego MLS group appears to be led by private equity investor Mike Stone.  The group includes San Diego Padres owner Peter Seidler and retired Qualcomm executive Steve Altman, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Separately, former San Diego Padres owner John Moores has also showed interest in bring MLS to San Diego.  Moores was recently involved in a bid for Everton FC.   

“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.

MLS fans in San Diego were positively encouraged in September when a survey was released on behalf of “a private investment group, in partnership with San Diego State University, [that] is currently assessing the potential viability of a new stadium in Mission Valley that could serve as the home of an expansion Major League Soccer team and San Diego State University football.”

November 2016 Update:  San Diego State University has a new Athletic Director, and getting a stadium built is a top priority.    “From the health of the department, from a football standpoint, we need to address the stadium situation,” Wicker said according to the Salt Lake Tribune.  With the ballot on increasing hotel taxes to support the construction of a downtown stadium for the NFL Chargers failing, the NFL team may choose to join the Rams in L.A.  If this happens, then it would be likely that Qualcomm Stadium would be demolished and replaced with a smaller stadium better suited to SDSU and an MLS team.  It is possible that the Chargers may chose to stay and partner with SDSU on a new stadium on the Qualcomm site, however that seems less likely.

 

San Antonio FC

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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 $2.5M penalties to each of them if the team is not in MLS after six years.

San Antonio FC has been in “consistent dialogue” with MLS regarding expansion, according to the San Antonio Express-News.  “If we’re going to make a compelling case to Major League Soccer that San Antonio is a MLS market, then we need to be able to put our best foot forward,” San Antonio FC managing director Tim Holt told the Express-News. “It was a good, solid first year. But the second year, for us, is the critical year in terms of getting this to the level that we know we can get it at.”

November 2016 Update:  Nothing new.

More on San Antonio FC.

 

Austin

Austin_Evening

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.  

The idea that Austin is competing with San Antonio for a what would almost certainly be 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.

November 2016 Update: Nothing new.

 

FC Cincinnati

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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 25-28th 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.”

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.”

FC Cincinnati leaders held talks with MLS officials in New York recently, according to WCPO, and MLS commissioner Don Garber is scheduled to visit the city on November 29th to meet with team leaders and the mayor.   Fox Sports reports that GM Jeff Berding intends to show the MLS commissioner “first-hand the great things happening in the city, things that enabled us to have incredible inaugural season.”

Meanwhile the club will begin working on a practice facility off site of Nippert Stadium that could be upgraded to MLS quality.

November 2016 Update:  The Telegraph suggests that FC Cincinnati is looking to impress upon Don Garber that he would need to look no further should he want an Eastern Conference team to step in 2018 if David Beckham’s Miami project is delayed again as expected. Cincinnati president Jeff Berding was in London learning about the operations of Crystal Palace FC, who Cincinnati hosted for a friendly earlier this year and has formed a relationship with.

More on FC Cincinnati.

 

Las Vegas

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A potential move by the NFL Raiders to Las Vegas heated up in August, with Las Vegas Raiders being trademarked and renderings of a potential stadium being released.  The San Jose Mercury News reports that “an unnamed Major League Soccer franchise was also interested in using the space.”  

While that phrasing implies relocation, an expansion bid is more likely especially considering one of the companies seeking to build the Raiders stadium is the Las Vegas Sands Group. 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.  

The National Hockey League awarded Las Vegas a new franchise to start in the 2017-2018 season, breaking a long standing taboo on having pro sports operate out of the nation’s gambling center.

Fox Sports reports that the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee recommended an hotel tax hike to raise $700 million to fund the construction of the potential Raiders/MLS stadium.

November 2016 Update:  Since the NHL announced its expansion to Las Vegas, more major league sports have been linked to the city.  Now add the NBA to the list.  MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren feels that football, basketball, hockey and soccer could all thrive in Vegas. Murren told KNPR, “Imagine the thought of having a professional hockey team, a professional football team, a professional soccer team, probably a professional basketball team — I’m working on that.”

 

Tampa Bay Rowdies

TBRowdiesLogo 2 yellowstar green

With their move to MLS partner league USL, the Tampa Bay Rowdies are starting to get some expansion chatter from Don Garber.  When the Rowdies announced their move to USL, taking a step towards their long term goals was mentioned as a reason.  That could mean MLS. The very next day after the Rowdies USL announcement, Don Garber spoke at USF with Bill Edwards reportedly in attendance.  Garber spoke about the great progress in the Tampa Bay market.

The Tampa Bay Mutiny were a charter member of MLS, but folded alongside the Miami Fusion after the 2001 season.  The presence of nearby Orlando City SC was thought to have ended chances of an MLS return to Tampa Bay due to the league’s territory rights policies.  Additionally, it is unclear that MLS would want three teams in Florida.  One might wonder whether the Rowdies are a threat to David Beckham’s plans in Miami, or simply leverage against Miami to work more collaboratively with Beckham at risk of losing their MLS opportunity to Tampa Bay.

 

The Rest of the Field:  The Nashville MLS group has formally brought Nashville SC into the fold as part of its efforts, with Bill Hegarty calling the USL team a “natural affiliate” to a future MLS club in the city… Arizona United SC’s new investors, a group of leading Phoenix businessmen, are interested in “growing the game to new heights” in their city… The owner of the Oklahoma City Energy acquired 37 acres of downtown land with eyes towards building a soccer specific stadium for the club that would help it push for MLS… 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 … Charlotte Independence owner Jim McPhilliamy has hired sports investment bank Accelerate Sports to help find additional investors necessary to take the club up to MLS.

 

Candian Footy Crest

“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 “largely steer clear of MLS markets” and seemed more optimistic about Edmonton joining the CanPL than Rollins, despite the Fath’s ownership stake in NASL.

In one of the more tangible signs of life for the Canadian Premier League recently, the Hamilton club issued a survey to fans about its potential soccer team.

Anthony Totera, the host of the Red Card Radio, said his sources confirmed plans for a Canadian Premier League are in the works. Totera tweeted, “Boom Sources seconds ago confirm to me that the first phase of the Canadian pro league is done target date for 2018 #CPL.”  Totera later added that the investors behind the league have deep pockets and a commitment to developing the sport in Canada.  

November 2016 Update:   The Canadian Premier League name has been trademarked, along with two potential names for the Hamilton club, the Hamilton Steelers and Hamilton United.  The Hamilton Tiger-Cats CFL club is responsible for the trademarks, consistent with previous reports that the CPL would be based out of Hamilton, according to Waking the Red.

Calgary

While not necessarily tied to the Canadian Premier League, the Calgary Foothills Soccer Club is investing $10M into a year round training facility.  The Calgary Metro reports that the team has ambitions of playing in a professional league, citing a desire to move to MLS within 10 years. “By having this facility it allows us the flexibility to train like an outdoor team but in the confines of the winter season,” said Tommy Wheeldon Jr., the club’s technical director.  The Foothills currently play the fourth tier Premier Development League.

The Calgary Sports & Entertainment Corp, which owns the NHL Flames and CFL Stampede are thought to be the likely Calgary CanPL investors.  Last year the group unveiled plans for a $890M arena and stadium complex that included a FIFA regulation soccer field.

Edmonton

FC Edmonton joining the Canadian Premier League is less likely than Ottawa Fury doing so because the owners of Edmonton, the Faths, are invested in the North American Soccer League.  By way of example, when asked if Edmonton would follow the Fury to USL, Tom Fath said to the11.ca, “There’s zero chance of our team moving to USL. We have no interest in moving to that league.”

Hamilton

Hamilton Tiger-Cats were reportedly close to placing a team in the North American Soccer League in 2015, but got cold feet around the time of the Traffic scandal.  The club shifted its sights towards a domestic Canadian league, and is one of the driving forces behind the Canadian Premier League.

Hamilton registered two potential team name trademarks, the Hamilton Steelers and Hamilton United.  The Hamilton Steelers was the name of a team that played in the Canadian National Soccer League.

Ottawa

Now that the Ottawa Fury have announced their move to USL, one has to wonder what that means for their potential inclusion in the Canadian Premier League. “We’re excited to be joining the fastest-growing soccer league in the world,” said Fury FC President, John Pugh. “The USL’s goal is to be the top second division in the world and we are thrilled to be part of it.  Our growing and loyal fan base deserves and can expect a very high caliber of play and tremendous competition.  Go Fury Go!”

The Canadian Soccer Association has not yet blessed the Fury’s move to USL, but is expected to do so with conditions on December 4th.  Duane Rollins reports that “the CSA will not approve the Fury application to move to USL unless the USL waives the 3 year requirement & allows move to CanPL when ready.”

Toronto

The Toronto Sun reports that leaders of Toronto FC have taken interest in a potential Canadian league and will meet with Canadian Soccer Association officials to discuss how TFC might get involved.

“Opportunities for more Canadian players is something Toronto FC wants to support,” team president Bill Manning told the Toronto Sun last month. “We just have to figure out how we can be involved.

“Is it the right model? Is it some kind of hybrid with the USL? We want to have those conversations and be supportive of it. If the CPL is going to go forward, we want to be involved.”

“I don’t want to create confusion in the marketplace,” Manning said. “I told [CSA president] Victor [Montagliani] we want to be involved and want to be at the table when this league or division comes about.”

Manning added: “It’s not a competitor to MLS.”

“If we can provide for our young players coming up and (TFC) can put a team in that league, we’re interested,” Manning added.