In an announcement that seems to boost Sacramento’s chances, Major League Soccer’s commissioner said Thursday the league will announce its next two expansion cities as early as the summer of 2017 and that cities have until the end of January to submit their bids.
Speaking to reporters via conference call following a meeting of the league owners in New York, Commissioner Don Garber said the next two cities to land expansion spots will begin play in the MLS by 2020. The league expects to eventually add four teams to its current crop of 24 franchises, although the timeline for the second group of expansion spots has not been determined.
The application deadline gives cities less than seven weeks to put together detailed applications that include stadium plans, lists of owners and corporate sponsorships. That tight timeline likely provides a boost to Sacramento, which is considered farther along in its bid process than the other cities that have expressed interest.
“The path to MLS just became crystal clear,” Republic FC managing partner Kevin Nagle said in a statement. “For over two years, Sacramento has methodically built our case as an MLS-caliber city. We’ve proven the strength of our market. We’ve delivered a truly shovel-ready MLS stadium plan. And we’ve assembled a world-class ownership group. At last, all of that hard work will bear fruit. We look forward to the MLS application process and to demonstrating once and for all that Sacramento is ready for MLS.”
Garber said that he has “spent a lot of time with Kevin Nagle and his group and I have come away being impressed with what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
“We probably speak to them more than any other expansion prospect,” Garber said.
The commissioner said he was encouraged by the corporate support that Republic FC has assembled for its bid. The team also has the city’s approval on a new stadium in the downtown railyard and a deep-pocketed ownership team.
Despite that – and despite Garber’s statements in April during a trip here that Sacramento had “been able to check the boxes that are required” – the commissioner said Sacramento would still have go through the same formal application process as other cities interested in joining MLS.
“We can’t look at any one market outside of a formal process,” he said. “It’s got to be part of a more formalized plan.”
Garber said 10 markets have expressed interest in joining MLS: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, N.C., Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and the Tampa Bay area. It’s not clear how many will submit formal applications for expansion teams.
The league has considered Sacramento a top contender for an expansion spot for months. In the meantime, the expansion fee has risen from Los Angeles FC’s recent payment of $110 million to the $150 million now required by the next two clubs. The competition has also grown fiercer; Garber said earlier this year that six cities were vying for spots.
Still, Garber said Sacramento had not been used as leverage to allow other cities to enter the race or strengthen their bids.
“In no way have we used any market to leverage any other,” he said.
To land an expansion spot, bidding clubs and cities must prove they have a solid ownership group, a detailed stadium plan with support from public officials and support from local corporate and soccer communities.