While the Major League Soccer clock continues to tick on David Beckham’s quest to put a 24th team in Miami, league commissioner Don Garber announced on Thursday the blueprint for expanding to 26 teams by 2020 and 28 eventually — with or without Miami.
Atlanta United and Minnesota United join the league in 2017, bringing the total number of teams to 22.
Plans were for Los Angeles FC and the Miami team to take the field in 2018, but it is looking more and more like L.A. will enter on its own, and the league will operate temporarily with an odd number of teams in the hopes Miami could join soon thereafter.
Miami has been allotted spot No. 24, and Garber said he is “more optimistic” than he was a year ago about the Beckham group’s ability to get the deal closed. However, he added, “I’ve also learned, having done this a long time, that not everything you want to do gets done. Sometimes you have to take a step back, and if you can’t get it done, you move on.”
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According to two sources with knowledge of the negotiations, the Beckham group has made significant progress and is getting close to finalizing a deal.
Asked whether there is a contingency plan in place for the 24th team, in case the Miami project falls through, Garber replied: “If we can’t close a deal with Miami, we’ll figure out who will be our 24th team, but we’re trying to get a deal done in Miami.”
The MLS Board of Governors met Thursday in New York City and came up with an expansion time line that will continue to grow the league over the next several years. The 10 prospective markets are Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Louis and Tampa-St. Petersburg.
Ownership groups in those markets have until Jan. 31, 2017, to submit a formal application to the league. The entry fee is $150 million, and Garber estimated it would cost another $150 million if stadium construction is needed. Beckham, as part of his MLS contract, got a deeply discounted price of $25 million on his proposed team.
Sacramento and St. Louis are considered front-runners for teams 25 and 26 because their bids have been in the works for quite some time. Sacramento has a popular minor-league USL team called the Republic that drew an average attendance of 11,514, so they would not be starting from scratch to build a fan base.
Sacramento Republic owner Kevin Nagle said in a statement Thursday: “For over two years, Sacramento has methodically built our case as an MLS-caliber city. We’ve proven the strength of our market. We’ve delivered a truly shovel-ready MLS stadium plan. And we’ve assembled a world-class ownership group. At last, all of that hard work will bear fruit. We look forward to the MLS application process and to demonstrating once and for all that Sacramento is ready for MLS.”
The St. Louis ownership group includes former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock, investor Paul Edgerley and Jim Kavanaugh, owner of St. Louis FC, a USL team. They have proposed a stadium close to Busch Stadium and will find out in April if they get up to $80 million in public funding for the project.
Another USL market that should be strongly considered is Cincinnati, where it led the league in attendance with 17,296 per game.
Owners of the San Antonio Spurs and the Charlotte International Speedway are involved in the MLS bids in those cities. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, a Detroit native, hopes to get an MLS team as part of a project to revitalize a section of downtown Detroit.
By the second half of 2017, the expansion picture should become more clear. Garber has said that the league and Beckham’s group have an agreed-upon deadline, though nobody has revealed it publicly.
“Everybody needs to understand, including David and his partners, that we’ve worked hard, and it’s time for us to reach a conclusion,” Garber said.
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