MLS Expansion - Next Steps

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By William Wood, (Old Dominion University)

Major League Soccer (MLS) recently expanded their league size to include 22 teams for the 2017/2018 season. The MLS has shown a commitment to growth with an increasing amount of cities being considered for franchise. With the number of franchises growing, what exactly is the process to own a franchise in Major League Soccer?

The Process

To be considered for an MLS expansion spot, a formal written plan must be submitted. This plan must include three main features: ownership, stadium, and financial/corporate/soccer support. The MLS league website details these three requirements quite nicely:

1. A committed, local ownership group that has a passion for the sport, a deep belief in Major league soccer and the resources to invest in the infrastructure to build the sport in their respective market.

2. A market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events, is located in a desirable geographic location and is attractive to corporate sponsors and television partners.

3. A comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the club will have a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.

Generally, the most difficult of the three requirements is finding a stadium or securing funding to build a stadium. Teams like Atlanta United have the blessing of co-ownership with the Atlanta Falcons, who have recently built a new multi-purpose stadium.

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Two cities that have been recently approved for expansion are LA and Miami, bringing the total MLS team count to 24 teams. For those other cities who believe they meet the franchise requirements, an application must have been submitted by January 31st. 11 other locations have been invited to submit plans for the next round of expansion with the plan to bring the league to 28 teams.

Where Will the Next Four Teams Be?

Originally, the league had only invited 10 cities to apply for possible expansion. These cities included; Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego, and Tampa/ St. Petersburgh. Additionally, Phoenix, who recently had their USL team purchased by a new ownership group, has also been invited to submit a bid.

MLS Growth

Since its inception in 1993, the MLS has shown a commitment to growth. As soccer becomes ever more popular in the United States, we expect popularity around the league to also grow. We’ve seen this amongst highly popular, recent franchises: Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Chicago Fire, and San Jose Earthquakes. With this commitment to growth, the league is still searching to find its optimal size. Because of this, only time will tell of the success had by the next few franchise entrants. If they are anything like the Timbers or Sounders, expansion for the MLS will only make the league better.

William Wood is a junior at Old Dominion University currently majoring in Sports Management. He is looking for roles within student-athlete development or professional sports and is very interested in opportunities with MLS clubs.

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