Yesterday, twelve prospective ownership groups submitted their bids in competition for the 25th-28th franchises of Major League Soccer. The 12 cities involved will be judged over the upcoming months with regards to the feasibility, sustainability, and community support behind their bids, with the 25th and 26th franchises set to be unveiled sometime later this year.
Yesterday there was some turmoil in the bidding process with regards to the frontrunner, Sacramento. According to numerous sources which have been somewhat validated today from this official club press release, the city’s immensely popular USL (second division) club, Sacramento Republic FC, has been omitted from Sacramento’s expansion bid. The cause of this omission is evidently a dispute between the main investor behind the bid, Kevin Nagle, and the existing ownership group of SRFC. The move has led many Republic supporters to take up the cry of “#NoRepublicNoParty” on Twitter, and the story has since been taken up by leading sports news sites like Deadspin and Goal.
Before yesterday, I would have thought Sacramento to be two shoes in for the 25th slot, but now I’m not so sure. I think Sacramento will likely still get into MLS during this round of expansion due to their stadium plan and high levels of support within the city, but I say this under the assumption that MLS commissioner Don Garber will be able to successfully moderate a solution between Republic and Nagle. We’ll give them the 25th slot still despite the mix-up yesterday.
The second city I’d look at is Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati set records in their inaugural season last year for the highest single-game and season total USL attendances ever, and they’ve already amassed the sort of fanbase that you’d expect to see out of a ten-year-old club. Although the club has not yet released a stadium plan associated with their bid to the public, the wealthy Lindner family which owns the team should have the capital and connections to privately finance any stadium they desire. I’m thinking Cincy will be the 26th expansion team.
The third city I believe will get a bid would also become the third city in Texas to host an MLS team, San Antonio. San Antonio FC is a second-year USL franchise playing at Toyota Field, formerly the home of the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions.Their current stadium was built to be expandable, so they already have that in place. They are also owned by the same group which owns the San Antonio Spurs, so I would expect them to piggy-back off the Spurs’ brand and market themselves well within the city. San Antonio is also home to many Hispanic Americans, a demographic which MLS sees as valuable. I expect San Antonio to grab the 27th spot in the expansion round.
The final slot, I think, is a bit more uncertain than the others which I admittedly feel are in strong positions. With that in mind, I’m predicting that Major League Soccer will select Phoenix to be included in this round of expansion. While Phoenix and its current USL club, Phoenix Rising FC (formerly Arizona United SC), may not currently possess the wealth of support you already see in competing bidders such as Indy Eleven, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and North Carolina FC, Phoenix Rising FC does possess one important asset which MLS will likely value over all others: location, location, location. As of now, Phoenix represents the largest market in the United States and Canada without a Major League Soccer franchise. Indy and Detroit are in an increasingly saturated Midwest, and Tampa would be (presumably) the third team in Florida. Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh (NCFC), St. Louis, and San Diego also bid, but their markets aren’t in as valuable of locations as Phoenix. Additionally, Phoenix Rising’s stacked ownership group ought to have enough funds to come up with a proper stadium, and the rendering they released yesterday look pretty nice. Phoenix gets the 28th spot.