It Seems To Me. . .
With success of recent expansion, MLS keeps growing beyond original goal.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, August 13, 2014) -- Recent expansion has been good for Major League Soccer, so much so that the league continues to grow by more teams than originally planned.
MLS blew past its self-imposed limit of 16 teams by admitting the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, bringing the total to 19 clubs. Already, the league has announced the addition of New York City FC and Orlando City SC to begin play next season.
MLS has long investigated placing a second team in the New York metropolitan area -- and first in New York state -- and NYCFC fills the bill. The team will play in Yankee Stadium until it can build its own venue. Orlando will allow MLS to move into Florida, which has been without top-flight soccer since the Tampa Bay Rowdies and expansion Miami Fusion folded in 2002.
This in no way has staunched the appetite for new franchises. Already announced is a franchise for Atlanta and possibly one for Miami. MLS is demanding of new owners is a franchise fee of $100 million and a firm plan with the requisite governmental assistance to construct a soccer-specific stadium with about 20,000 seats. This means any new owners must have deep pockets and municipal backing to enter the league, which will celebrate its 20th season in 2005.
Tapped for Atlanta is Arthur M. Blank, the Home Depot co-founder, who not coincidentally also owns the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League. Through one of his companies, he is building a new state-of-the-art retractable roof stadium for the Falcons, set to open in 2017. The plan now is for the 65,000-seat stadium is to have a reduced capacity of 29,000 for soccer, with some sections retractable to allow proper sight lines for soccer fans. Blank has also promised "there will never be an MLS game in Atlanta where NFL lines are shown on the field."
The Miami situation is much more complicated. When David Beckham signed with MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy in January 2007, his contract contained a clause giving him the right to buy an expansion franchise for $25 million after he retired. This is quite a substantial discount from the $100 million other new franchise buyers are paying.
So it might not come as a shock that MLS began to place a few obstacles in Beckham's way as he set out to place that new franchise in Miami.
Firstly, MLS demanded that Beckham have backers with deeper pockets than his own. Beckham solved that problem by drawing Bolivian telecommunications billionaire Marcelo Claure -- possibly the richest man in South America -- into his proposed ownership group.
Then, MLS threw Beckham another curve. He knew he would have to build a stadium and already had drawings for an impressive venue. MLS counterpunched by saying the venue would have to be built in downtown Miami, apparently with a lovely water view.
So far, Beckham has been unable to find such a downtown location. There are other areas in the greater Miami area where he could go, but MLS seems adamant that the new franchise play within sight of Biscayne Bay.
A rumor has started that Beckham might like to buy league-owned Chivas USA, taking Claure with him. They would build a new stadium for the team somewhere in the Los Angeles area or perhaps move the team south to San Diego. Right now this is only rumor and Beckham continues to work to find a stadium location in Miami.
Commissioner Don Garber is already on record saying MLS intends to be at 24 teams by 2020. Atlanta, which will start play in 2017 (and possibly 2016 if a temporary stadium can be found) will be franchise No. 22. Miami will make it 23 or, if Beckham makes a deal with the league for Chivas, then two franchises will still be available.
Any new franchise will have to expand the MLS's current footprint to make it more acceptable to television. I will talk about the prospects, and there are a number, in my next column.