The deadline for MLS expansion candidates to formally make their bids came and went, and now the ball is in the league’s court.
From spectacularly entertaining to straight-forward to surprising, the 12 bids that were submitted came in all shapes and sizes on Tuesday. MLS now has to weigh each of the applications before choosing which markets are granted a first-division franchise. Only time will tell, of course, but it is crystal clear that the competition for expansion is as intense as it has ever been.
Here’s a closer look at the official bids:
INDIANAPOLIS (INDY ELEVEN, JEFF BELSKUS)
While not a surprise, per se, Indianapolis has been on the back-burner of the expansion discussion for some time with the local Indy Eleven seemingly content to remain in the NASL rather than transition to become a closer MLS affiliate in the USL.
The president of the club, Jeff Belskus, confirmed that the team had indeed delivered its expansion bid to the league office ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, making it the 12th reported city to do so, according to Sports Illustrated. While the Indy Eleven has previously been in discussions with MLS as early as 2013, the ownership group ran into difficulties with its stadium plan and talks stalled. Now, with a stadium plan back on track and good success on the field and in the box office, Indy seems set to take aim at MLS.
TAMPA BAY/ST. PETERSBURG (TAMPA BAY ROWDIES, BILL EDWARDS)
With its intentions long declared, the Tampa Bay Rowdies formally submitted their bid in a unique fashion.
The Rowdies owner, Bill Edwards, and an entourage of supporters marched into MLS offices in New York on Monday to deliver their formal bid, along with a uniquely decorated box containing their application materials. The dramatic move comes as no surprise from the now-USL team, as they declared their intent to bid in early December after transitioning away from the NASL. Whether the bid package, containing a bound book of over 200 letters of support, along with an iPad containing promotional videos, and a crate of Florida oranges left in the cafeteria, will be enough remains to be seen, but it certainly made an impression.
SAN DIEGO (NO AFFILIATED TEAM, FS INVESTORS)
After the departure of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles, southern California seemed ripe for an MLS team.
A group of investors known as FS Investors is banking on just that appeal, as they made a formal bid to convert the Qualcomm Stadium site into a sports-entertainment district that would host a 30,000 seat stadium for an MLS team and San Diego State’s football program. Commissioner Don Garber was on hand for the official bid, which he himself accepted.
“It seems like we have something very special here in San Diego,” Garber said. “This is a young city that is representing this new America that is driving the growth of our sport. That is something that is of great interest to us.”
“The league has always been intrigued by a closer proximity and a closer relationship with Mexico,” Garber continued. “One of things that is very positive here is that thousands of people are going south of the border to attend games in Tijuana. We think we could have an unbelievable rivalry with that team. That connection to Tijuana is something that we are excited about.”
RALEIGH-DURHAM-CHAPEL HILL (NORTH CAROLINA FC, STEPHEN MALIK)
Another bid long expected, North Carolina FC, formerly the Carolina RailHawks, have stated they will meet the Tuesday deadline for their official bid.
North Carolina FC’s expansion bid began during the chaos surrounding the fates of the NASL and USL, in which the group re-branded with a more modern feel ahead of an anticipated future bid. While choosing to remain in the NASL, the team and owner Stephen Malik made no secret their ambitions for MLS ownership. While not official yet, the bid is expected to arrive before the deadline according to a statement from the team.
What makes North Carolina’s situation unique is the potential for two competing bids, as the Triangle could find themselves opposed by a group in the Charlotte area.
DETROIT (NO AFFILIATED TEAM, TOM GORES/DAN GILBERT)
Though Detroit already has a successful lower-division team in Detroit City FC, the official expansion bid expected to arrive from the area comes from an unrelated ownership group.
Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Quicken Loans, Inc. founder and owner of the Cleveland Caveliers Dan Gilbert announced in April 2016 their intent to bid for an MLS franchise. While the team was hopeful that a proposed $1 billion bid to convert a stalled jail site into a mixed-use stadium complex, the county has announced the bid will not be accepted and the jail will be finished. Gores and Gilbert must have a ‘B’ plan, however, as they’ve stated their bid will come through ahead of the deadline as planned.
CINCINNATI (FC CINCINNATI, CARL LINDNER)
By far the most commercially successful USL franchise ever launched, and certainly the most prominent in the lower divisions currently, FC Cincinnati has been making its mark since its inception with massive attendance figures, outdrawing several MLS teams, and a playoff appearance in year one. The city also hosted commissioner Don Garber several months ago, launching their intentions to earn a place at the MLS table. While no plan for a new stadium has been made public, the team will certainly need to upgrade to meet MLS standards.
SACRAMENTO (UNKNOWN, MEG WHITMAN/KEVIN NAGLE/JED YORK)
USL club Sacramento Republic’s entrance into MLS has long been seen as a foregone conclusion. A matter of when and not if.
Now, however, things have become unclear.
The application submitted by the three business people that form the potential MLS franchise’s ownership group did not include Sacramento Republic. It turns out that Kevin Nagle, who is the lead investor for Sacramento’s MLS efforts, is working to try and obtain the rights for the popular Republic brand, but has not yet officially obtained them from team founder Warren Smith.
Nagle apparently prefers to keep Sacramento Republic as the name, but the club was not exactly thrilled by his decision to submit an application without its inclusion.
“If the bid submitted yesterday by Mr. Nagle did not include Sacramento Republic FC, it was in violation of our agreements and without our authorization; and we will take this up with the appropriate parties immediately,” said a statement released by Republic FC spokeswoman Erika Bjork.
With or without Sacramento Republic, a downtown stadium plan for a 20,000-seat venue has already allegedly been cleared should the city land an MLS franchise.
SAN ANTONIO (SAN ANTONIO FC, SPURS SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT)
San Antonio is officially on the expansion bid list, as San Antonio FC has announced their bid has been delivered.
Shortly after Mayor Ivy R. Taylor tweeted out that a bid had been signed off and submitted, and that she planned on meeting with MLS soon, the team confirmed that their ownership group had submitted their application materials just over an hour before Tuesday’s deadline. The team currently plays in the USL, having finished their debut season in 2016, finishing 10th in their conference and 17th overall, and has been part of a bigger plan to bring MLS to San Antonio by their ownership group.
“Spurs Sports & Entertainment has submitted its application to Major League Soccer’s expansion process.” the statement read. “We want to thank Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, our corporate partners and all of our supporters for their collaboration. We are a unified community and remain convinced an MLS franchise would be a huge asset to San Antonio and great addition to the league.”
ST. LOUIS (NO AFFILIATED TEAM, SC STL)
With very little time remaining before Tuesday’s 5:00 p.m. deadline, SC STL put itself back in contention after filing its bid.
The rumored bid from SC STL has been a long time coming. The groups original stadium funding plan was shot down by the state, but a reworked version appears to be in contention and the group has beaten the deadline to bid for expansion with their plan. Along with the bid, they delivered a snazzy rendering of their proposed stadium in downtown St. Louis.
NASHVILLE (NO AFFILIATED TEAM, JOHN INGRAM)
With just minutes to go before the league’s deadline, Nashville has officially joined the fray with its official bid.
Alongside Mayor Megan Barry, lead investor John Ingram and his co-investors met with MLS President Mark Abbott to deliver the group’s bid in person on Tuesday afternoon. The bid has been in the works for sometime, and with the financial firepower and influence of local John Ingram, the potential is high for the Nashville group to get a stadium proposal done quickly and make a strong case for selection.
“Nashville has a brand unlike any other market competing for a team,” Ingram said. “We have a young, passionate soccer audience in a city that is trending upward in all the right ways. We are a perfect fit for Major League Soccer in terms of fans, our economy and our geography.”
“We want to thank MLS President Mark Abbott and the MLS staff for meeting with us today.” Ingram added. “We appreciate the opportunity to submit a bid to bring an MLS team to Nashville and to prove our city is worthy of joining this great league.”
PHOENIX (Phoenix Rising FC, Berke Bakay)
After only recently announcing its intentions to push for an MLS franchise, Phoenix made it official on Tuesday.
USL club Phoenix Rising FC submitted an expansion application bid that features support from 45 political and business leaders. It also includes a plan to construct a privately-funded, climate-controlled stadium, which would be accessible through the local light-rail.
Of the 12 expansion markets, Phoenix has the largest population. The ownership group is led by Berke Bakay, who bought Arizona United in 2016 before renaming it Phoenix Rising and announcing intentions to try to make the jump to MLS.
“Phoenix, Arizona, is ready for Major League Soccer and we’re excited to officially submit our bid today,” said Bakay on Tuesday. “Phoenix is the largest expansion market in the United States. We offer MLS the largest population of Millennial and Hispanic soccer fans, and the most TV households. Phoenix is also the only expansion market without an existing MLS team within 300 miles. It’s time for the MLS to come to the southwest and rise with our fans in Phoenix.”
CHARLOTTE (no affiliated team, Marcus Smith)
The Raleigh-Durham bid is not the only one from North Carolina.
Sports entrepreneur Marcus Smith submitted a bid for Charlotte on Tuesday. Smith, who is CEO of Speedway Motorsports, did so without the city’s backing but has had initial talks with officials that have been deemed encouraging.
The plan for Charlotte includes demolishing Memorial Stadium and building an MLS venue in its place. It would cost an estimated $175 million to do that, but Smith is seeking almost $44 million from the city.
Smith intends to educate the citizens of Charlotte about his proposed funding idea in the weeks ahead, but there is currently no schedule for a vote or for city leaders to meet.