Is the party over? MLS extension reaches its climax as Charlotte solidifies endpoint

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For years, the question has been how many. As the main football championship continued to evolve and get active, the debate focused on when enough would be enough. Over the last decade and a half, the league has enjoyed an unprecedented expansion period that, just a few years ago, seemed almost impossible.

This expansion brought more eyes as fans began to identify with their local clubs. This expansion was of international importance as the league continued to take steps to compete with its peers. And, perhaps most importantly, this extension brought in money. Many of these.

On Tuesday, this extension period ended, at least briefly. The 30th league team will be based in Charlotte, turning the 20th team since 2005 to compete in the MLS and the 14th new team to compete in the league since 2010. Two of those teams, Inter Miami and Nashville, will begin to compete. play in 2020. Austin in 2021 before St. Louis and Sacramento start in 2022. And then, MLS Commissioner Don Garber says, that will be it.

Garber had previously left the door open for the league to reach 32 teams, and it was easy to see why. In 2013, New York FC agreed to pay a sum of $ 100 million to join the MLS and this record is broken every time a new team is introduced. St. Louis and Sacramento saw a $ 200 million expansion fee, but that shook off the $ 300 to $ 325 million published by Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte.

Part of the reason the fee was so high was just the market value. Billionaire Joe Mansueto recently paid $ 204 million for a 51% ownership stake in the Chicago Fire, setting some kind of benchmark. The league has grown rapidly in recent years, and franchise prices show that.

The other reason? Lack of. There were many competitors for this slot machine, with Phoenix, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Raleigh included among the hopefuls and at some point someone had to win. These cities had a start, as they had been pressing for MLS for years, with Tepper’s team coming into the picture just over a year ago. However, the owner of the Carolina Panthers, worth about $ 14 billion, says he knew this was his last chance to enter the league and was willing to pay.

“You have to understand how fast this process was in Charlotte,” Tepper said. “From day one, it was important to go through this process. I was very scared that there would be only 30 teams here and I thought Charlotte was the perfect place for MLS. When you talk about the last two games, it was stage three. years. This was not a three-year process. It was 20 months ago or 18 months ago they come here saying what we are going to do and then trying to do it. “

Tepper added: “I’ll tell you, I hope the price would be lower but it wasn’t! It is what is and is good for the city and, in the long run, we hope it is a good business decision. We’ll see about that. “

Garber would not confirm the exact dollar figure, but revealed that the $ 300-325 million reported was accurate.

“I think it’s just talking about value. Our teams are becoming more valuable,” he said. “Part of that is that the sport is growing and the revenue is rising, part of which is the idea of ​​having a limited supply of professional sports teams, in general, there is a limited supply of MLS teams and David really wanted the club. That’s what goes into the deal.”

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So the question is why stop now? If billionaires are willing to continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the right to enter the league, why not continue? The much-discussed idea of ​​some kind of promotion and relegation might be a dream, but, financially, wouldn’t it make sense to continue to cash those checks as long as you can?

Not according to Garber. At this point, the Commissioner says he is comfortable with the 30-team squad and is happy to move on to preparing those 30 for the impetus that will come after the 2026 World Cup. The idea is to have a stability period now it has essentially a period of 15 years of continuous change.

“We have expanded very rapidly over the last few years. We have five teams, now six, coming from now until 2022,” Garber said. “This is a lot of onboarding and a lot of skills that we have to manage, not less than the seven new football stadiums that are coming online.

“It’s a lot of time for life. I don’t know what this size team will look like when I’m no longer a Commissioner in 10 or 5 or 20 years from now, but now we’re focused on making sure we are right at our disposal for these expansion teams. , to give them success in managing all that leads to the 2026 World Cup. “

Charlotte will be the 30th and final club on the road to the World Cup, a period expected to bring exponential growth in North American football. It’s a city that fits exactly what MLS is looking for. Charlotte’s population has almost doubled to 2.6 million people since 2000, and the introduction of North Carolina City gives MLS a presence in 19 of the nation’s 23 largest media markets.

However, there are still some obstacles. Garber says renovations should take place at Bank of America Stadium, the home of the Panthers, where the new MLS team will play. Funding for this is still under discussion, with the city investing more than $ 100 million in the project.

The stadium has hosted big games before, including Mexico, Arsenal and the US women’s national team in 2019, but Garber says changes need to be made to make the MLS stadium ready. “All of these international fights were no secret, many of which we promoted,” Garber said, adding that the championship was “quietly” testing the market, but now Charlotte is out of the test phase.

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Comparisons with Atlanta are coming quickly. Owned by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Atlanta Ean quickly left the expansion team at the power plant while playing on his own soccer field. Tepper is worth almost three times as much as Blank and, like the Atlanta owner, also looks ready to do whatever it takes to make the winner’s team.

Atlanta will be a natural opponent, just like Nashville. Orlando and Miami are also close enough, with Garber saying that even D.C. United could evolve into something. The MLS Commissioner has long said that organic regional rivalries are what make this sport special and continued growth in the Southeast has supported this.

Shortly after taking the stage, Tepper really set the mood. He talked about youth football training and his failure to lead his side to a trophy. He talked about his MLS Cup dreams and his disdain for Atlanta. “Screw this other city,” he said. Discuss the excitement, the community and all these other keywords. But, perhaps most important, he discussed a celebration.

“We’re going to have a great party,” he said, “the whole football season in Charlotte.” Every game.

Similar places will happen in Miami, Nashville, Austin, St. Louis and Sacramento in the coming years as the rapid expansion of the MLS has reached its climax. Those left, however, will be waiting for an invitation that may never come, no matter how willing they are to pay for it.

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