photo by Perry McIntyre/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Not all things are created equal. MLS’s recent expansion is a prime example of that.
Atlanta was added officially as MLS’s 22nd team on Wednesday and the club is set to begin play in 2017 in a shiny new stadium that will open that year and also house the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Announcing that as a done deal in downtown Atlanta was the culmination of several years of hard work by MLS commissioner Don Garber and Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons and the new MLS club, and the latest sign of the league and sport’s growth in the United States and Canada.
That said, the move also raised questions as to MLS’s current process for expansion. Several markets were told in recent years that they had to meet certain requirements – like having a deal for a soccer-specific stadium in place – in order to be in contention for an expansion franchise. But the past year has shown that those requirements were mere guidelines or a wish list that MLS was okay with overlooking if it felt certain markets had other selling points and plenty of potential.
From New York City FC to Orlando City to Miami to Atlanta, no two cities have had the same recipe for getting into MLS over the past 12 months. In fact, their entrances into the league have all differed a substantial amount.
Here is a closer look at MLS’s most recent expansion markets:
NEW YORK CITY FC
The league’s 20th franchise was started from scratch and announced last May despite not having a temporary or permanent stadium solution in place at the time. New York City FC are reportedly set to cross off the former task next week with the announcement that they will spend their first three seasons playing home games at Yankee Stadium, but the club still does not have a fixed plan in place for a soccer-specific stadium of their own. Finding a permanent solution was never going to be easy in cluttered New York, but the club surely hoped for things to go a little smoother in that regard since it is also attempting to build a fanbase and roster ahead of its inaugural season in 2015.
Orlando City made its way into MLS by crossing off all the requirements that MLS asked of the Central Florida club. Orlando City had their fans turn out in bunches to their USL Pro games, locked up several local corporate sponsorship deals and, after lots of political wheeling and dealing, were given permission to build a soccer-specific stadium in the downtown area ahead of their 2015 start date. Of the latest batch of expansion in MLS, Orlando City is the team that is currently most put together.
Unlike New York City FC and Orlando City, the yet-to-be-named Atlanta club does not have ideas of playing in a soccer-specific stadium anytime soon. Instead, it will reside in a state-of-the-art facility that is also being made with the NFL’s Falcons in mind. There is going to be an innovative “downsizing technology” that will help reduce the stadium’s size once MLS games get underway there in 2017, but even that has drawn its share of skepticism as have the city’s fickle sports fans.
Technically speaking, David Beckham’s Miami franchise is not guaranteed a place in the league just yet. Yes, there was a big announcement in South Florida back in February, but that was a tactical move done to rally public support in another city known for its demanding (high maintenance?) fans. Beckham’s franchise – whose targeted opening date continues to change – needs to get a soccer-specific stadium plan in place in order to officially be granted entrance into MLS and that is proving difficult right now.
What do you make of MLS’s recent expansion efforts? Worried by some of these expansion markets? Think the additions of New York, Orlando, Atlanta and possibly Miami show how strong MLS currently is?
Share your thoughts below.