Mark Abbott

Q&A: Is Major League Soccer franchise in Sacramento future?

Published: Thursday, Jul. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5C
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 19, 2013 - 12:22 pm

With Sacramento Soccer Day at Raley Field tonight, what better time to find out more about USL Pro, Major League Soccer and the prospects for an MLS team in Sacramento. MLS president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, the league's lead executive regarding expansion, answered questions from The Bee via email.

Are you aware of Sacramento Soccer Day, an event put on by Sacramento Pro Soccer, the group headed by Warren Smith that will launch a USL Pro team in April 2014? And give us your thoughts on Norwich City playing in an exhibition.

I am aware of Sacramento Soccer Day and am pleased to see the great support … in the community. Norwich City and Dorados de Sinaloa should provide an entertaining evening for soccer fans, and we are also pleased to have the San Jose Earthquakes' reserve squad competing in the first match of the doubleheader.

Can you explain what the USL Pro league is and its relationship with MLS, and how important is proving support for a team in the USL Pro league to landing an MLS team?

MLS and USL Pro entered into a partnership earlier this year that … includes interleague play between USL Pro and MLS reserve teams, and the establishment of several USL Pro/MLS team affiliations.

Where does MLS rank in the world compared to, say, the Premier League, and where does the USL Pro league rank in the United States?

Major League Soccer's goal is to become one of the top soccer leagues in the world by 2022, and we are making great progress. In fact, World Soccer magazine recently ranked MLS as the seventh-best league in the world, ahead of the top leagues in France, Argentina and the Netherlands. The Premier League in England was ranked second in that study (behind Germany's Bundesliga).

USL Pro is the Division III professional soccer league in the United States and provides a tremendous opportunity for players to compete at a high level. (The North American Soccer League is Division II).

Do you see Sacramento being an area that could support MLS?

We are aware of recent community interest in securing a future MLS expansion club for Sacramento. This serves as yet another strong indicator of the league's continued growth and overall fan interest in our sport.

Sacramento has always had strong support for soccer at all levels, and we will certainly monitor the USL Pro team and the plans to build a soccer stadium.

Would it help the Sacramento region's bid for an MLS team if the two competing efforts – in Sacramento and Elk Grove – combined efforts?

We are pleased to see the interest in professional soccer in Sacramento, but it would be premature for us to comment on a potential MLS team in the market.

MLS has grown to 20 teams with the announcement in May of a second franchise in New York. What timeline do you see for expansion, especially as it relates to the potential for a second team in Northern California (along with the Earthquakes in San Jose), and how much growth do you envision in, say, the next 10 years?

The league is now evaluating future expansion plans.

The franchise awarded to New York reportedly came with a $100 million expansion fee. Is that the going rate now for future expansion teams; is that what a group in Sacramento should expect to pay?

It would be premature to comment on what the future expansion fee will be as that figure has not been set.

Many of the new MLS franchises also have new soccer-first stadiums. Is that a requirement of MLS for new franchises?

Yes. Expansion is conducted very strategically as the league's goal is to secure a committed local ownership group with the appropriate financial resources; a comprehensive stadium plan where the ownership controls the venue; and a market that is attractive to sponsors, TV partners and has a history of strong fan support for soccer matches and other sporting events. Our owners are committed to providing a great fan experience for our supporters and soccer stadiums provide the appropriate environment to enjoy the game. Nearly every MLS club plays in a stadium that was built for soccer.

Speaking of stadiums, can you describe what the MLS is looking for in stadiums for future MLS teams regarding seating capacity, parking, access to public transportation, modern amenities such as wireless Internet (with the ability to purchase tickets and concessions from seats) – and approximately how much would a new stadium cost?

Our newest stadium will debut in San Jose next spring when the Earthquakes open their new soccer-specific stadium (18,000 seats). Most MLS soccer stadiums have a seating capacity of 20,000 to 25,000 and feature the same amenities that sports fans are familiar with when attending other major professional sports events throughout North America.

Call The Bee's Tom Couzens, (916) 321-1097. Follow him on Twitter @tomcouzens.

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