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After Charlotte, Will MLS Expansion Continue?

8 Jan, 2020

By: Michael Popke

Major League Soccer has officially made Charlotte, N.C., its 30th team, and there’s still talk of boosting the league’s roster of teams — even though MLS Commissioner Don Garber told ESPN.com in December that Charlotte “is likely the last expansion team.”

That statement contradicts what some MLS team representatives say. “At one point, I thought we were going to go to 32. I guarantee we aren’t stopping there. We’re gonna go to 40,” Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes said in February 2019. “That’s not me having any insight or whatever. I just think that there are so many different owners that are lining up to be involved.”

He may be right, as expansion has proven prosperous for the league, which was founded in 1996, and some of the most successful teams were established within the past decade.

“This isn’t meant to suggest that a 40- or even 50-team MLS is an ideal situation from a competitive standpoint,” cautioned Forbes.com contributor Ian Quillen among all the speculation. “But it’s doable, especially if there continue to be attractive and interested investors willing to invest in facilities and hefty expansion fees, currently reported north of $300 million.”

The Charlotte franchise, which had not been given an official name as of mid-December, will begin league play in 2021 at Bank of America Stadium — home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. “Built in 1996, it’s one of the oldest NFL stadiums, but the city of Charlotte pledged $110 million toward the MLS bid, and some of that money will go toward stadium upgrades,” according to ProSoccerUSA.com. “Among planned improvements are a center tunnel, outfitting for soccer camera angles and new locker rooms.

Las Vegas and Phoenix were the other two markets under consideration most recently, Garber said.

Charlotte’s MLS entry brings the number of expansion teams announced in 2019 to four (Austin, Texas; Sacramento, Calif., and St. Louis).

According to the Charlotte Business Journal, Panthers owner David Tepper, who paid a record $2.275 billion to buy the NFL team in 2018, is will pay an MLS entry fee of reportedly $325 million. For the past decade, soccer events at Bank of America Stadium have drawn crowds of more than 60,000, reported WCSC-TV in Charleston, S.C.

Garber has previously pointed that the Carolinas are prime states for soccer, with strong youth and professional women’s programs.

In 2009, MLS was comprised of 15 teams, and a December 2015 press release from the league noted that then-current expansion plans called for 24 teams by 2020. MLS has added 20 teams since 2005.

That said, Travis Yoesting of the soccer news site The18.com, speculated that too much MLS expansion could have a detrimental effect. “First, the league risks diluting the talent pool by increasing the number of teams,” he wrote. “Second, there’s a fear the league is expanding too quickly, forgetting the troubles the league faced at its start that resulted in contraction of two teams. Third, there are complaints MLS is only interested in expansion as a money-making process more than as a means to grow the league or other ways to improve. To be fair, the negatives are mostly conjecture at this point.”

Yoesting also noted that MLS brought in $725 million in expansion fees in 2019, and he doesn’t think the league will stop at 30 teams: “Garber’s statement, if anything, is just upping the ante for the next expansion fee,” he wrote.

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