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Slicing through the clutter of MLS expansion talk

Nov 27, 2012, 11:13 AM EDT

MLS map

This is as good a time as any, I suppose, to remind everyone of the harsh realities when it comes to MLS expansion.

It’s a touchy subject, because so many fans in some wonderful soccer markets – underserved by MLS, it must be said – would love to see a top flight club land in their city. Thus, they tend to be understandably emotional about it.

And I would love to have better news. But the bottom line on expansion talk is this: it’s just talk … at least until some well-heeled investor group with barrels full of currency gets into the real nittygritty with MLS brass, and a genuine stadium plan is put on the table for careful examination.

Until then, we’re all just flapping our little soccer gums in dreamy delight. We may as well be talking about free beer – because it’s just as much a fantasy.

Major League Soccer needs to be in the American southeast. We all know so. I would love to see a little more MLS in the Midwest, in St. Louis or the Twin Cities of Minnesota, for instance. Out West, San Diego would be swell.

(MORE: Further talk on MLS expansion … on Orlando specifically)

But it takes so very much more than coloring in the map.

So when fans ask about Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Phoenix and on and on … that’s wonderful. And I love that people are asking. But it takes more. Which is the precise point league commissioner Don Garber made yesterday in his annual pre-MLS Cup address. On this one, he was speaking specifically about Atlanta.

It certainly would hinge on the new stadium because otherwise there wouldn’t be a place to play. Should the public sector and private sector be able to come together and get a new facility for the Falcons, it would allow us to continue our discussions on how MLS can fit into their mutual plans.”

Garber always has to be careful here, because he doesn’t want to discourage interest in Atlanta or anywhere else.  He can’t come across looking like a fiscal hardass. But he has to balance the public discourse with spoonfuls of real-world substance, too.

By the way, I am no fan of NFL teams kicking around MLS interest when it comes to new facilities. It’s too easy to employ MLS as a tool for political leverage, and then to reduce MLS to a vehicle for filling more stadium dates.

It has worked beautifully in Seattle, but that always seems more exception than rule.

(FYI: That map you see above represents absolutely nothing official … just think of it as me doodling on the computer while thinking of MLS expansion)

  1. dfstell - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    Steve….do you think we’ll ever see promotion/relegation in MLS? I’m not saying that because it’s “how the rest of the world does it”, but for the other reasons. I really like the scramble to avoid relegation at the bottom of other leagues. I really like the meritocracy of promotion. I like how it allows smaller markets to have a dream. I like how it encourages the kind of entrepreneurship we’re seeing at Tijuana in Mexico. I also really don’t like this idea of the league playing king-maker and these vague assertions about a “team in the southeast”…..when we’re talking about a region that takes ~16-20 hours to drive across.

    I worry with all this talk of $40MM expansion fees that the system will never allow an owner to get relegated. It seems like the attitude is this is a lifetime membership. What do you think?

    • Steve Davis - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:33 PM

      I LOVE the concept, but I have serious doubts about whether promo-relegation would work here. So many modern-day issues of sponsors, TV contracts, etc., would become prohibitive. At the very least, we are 10-20 years from even talking about in MLS. I would never say never … but we’re a long way off.

    • valiantdraws - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:45 PM

      Since Pro/Rel is not ingrained int he sporting culture here, I think it would fail. You bring up smaller teams having a dream. Well, there are no small teams in MLS, theoretically. The American sportscape is fixed in that sense. The top tier of any sport is always filled with “big” teams. Besides, if a small team makes it to the top, and then falls back into obscurity, guess what? Their attendance often does as well.

      The Meritocracy you mention would mean eliminating the MLS structure which is keeping the entire league afloat. Parity helps fuel American sports. “On any given Sunday, blah blah blah”. It’s about teamwork, coaching, etc., not buying your championships.

      I think that MLS works very well in American sports culture, so why the rush to change it? Pro/Rel would cause MLS’s failure. Owners simply will not tolerate it. Americans would be alienated by it. And the traditions does not exist to support it.

      In the past, I have written about the idea of the lower leagues serving as a farm system for MLS, although that complicates things like the US Open Cup. But, overall, I think the idea makes sense. But, that’s just me.

  2. valiantdraws - Nov 27, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    And by the way, we shouldn’t rush to abandon the Americanisms that MLS fosters: single-structure, no pro/rel, summer schedule, etc. They aren’t stupid crap like sudden death or a 3 point line, and therefore do not diminish the game itself. The eagerness that some people have to emulate Europe as much as possible makes me wince.

  3. roger17k - Nov 27, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    I really think that the amount of manipulation we are submitted to, when it comes to the promotion and relegation issue is huge! The ones that support the implementation of it, usually end up trying to explain will work in America, which I think is absurd, as it should be the other way around!

    The number of world leagues that practice pro/rel is close to 100%; and yes, I know that we don’t have to do it because anybody else does it, but neither is logical to completely ignore that fact, like we do, and look the other way as it is not important. That reality should make us look closer at pro/rel, and lead us to as a few important questions:

    Why is p/r so popular on the soccer world?
    How can it work as good on countries that are so different? Rich, poor; big, small; capitalist, socialist.

    The more important angle about p/r, and one that is usually ignore by the anti p/r crowd, is the REAL reason why we should implement it. Promotion and Relegation is not a goal on itself, it is just a tool to accomplish the real goal, which is to open the game up for all potential cities and clubs. That openness is part of football’s DNA, it is at the core of the game values, and it is best exemplified by the World Cup.

    The World Cup is open to ALL of its member associations….ALL! Haiti, Vanuatu, Fiji, etc, the smaller and poorer nations of the planet are admitted. More nations played the last World Cup (208), than the United Nations has members (192). That is the spirit of this game, and to be in tune with that spirit, is the REAL reason we should implement p/r.

    Ironic how, after we had the privilege to host a World Cup, our status quo came with: …..”here is what we are gonna do…..a franchise is worth $40 mil, and we control 51% of them all….and…..”. They “did not get it”, right after hosting a World Cup! 16 years latter, they still “don’t get it”! Could it be that they just don’t want to get it?

    There is a spanish saying that goes: No hay peor ciego, que el que no quiere ver.
    translates to: There is not worse blind, that the one that does not want to see.

  4. footballer4ever - Nov 28, 2012 at 12:34 AM

    The Pro/Rel talk, theory, thesis, whatever you wanna call it is a concept which “might” work in 50-100 years if and only soccer grows deep into the country..
    The points that Steve said were more than enough to have opened your eyes. If not, please speak with your wallet and buy chivas USA for the $40 million with the risk they will be relegated and you’ll lose all your money. It’s easy to demandof other what most likely you won’t do with your money.

  5. footballer4ever - Nov 28, 2012 at 12:52 AM


    This all expansion talk hype does is create the aura other cities are in the battle to get a franchise and it benefits the league to increase franchise value. The reality of the fact is that ML$ can’t afford to expand ala NASL and have a few teams ruin the whole league if it does not work. Currently, there’s Chivas USA, Columbus Crew, NE Revolution, DC United and even FC Dallas which are dragging the league down. It’s for franchises like SSFC, PTFC, Whitecaps, Union, LAG, and recently Dynamo that are the ones making things look better, but it’s no secret there’s a lot that must be done on those struggling franchise than to go rolling the dice on markets / ownerships which might not be best suited. In other words, Orlando City, Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis, keep waiting for possibly a decade or more unless someone with big pocket$ and stability flashes the $$ to get Garber’s attention and proves it to him too.

  6. roger17k - Nov 28, 2012 at 1:33 AM

    If we don’t open the game up for another 50-100 years, then we are going to be out of tune with the spirit of the game for another 50-100 years. Like I said on the previous post, you guys keep looking the other way every time this issue is brought up, like it is not important.

    There is a football culture, there is certain spirit attached to this game DNA, certain values. Football philosophy is totally different that the one practiced by american sports. Until we manage to get people that understand those differences, to the decision making positions of US football entities, we will have problems. No organism in conflict with its essence can live in harmony!

    To wait until football grows in america, to then consider to implement pro/rel, is like waiting for a bleeding patient to get stable, to then apply a blood transfer. How are we going to expect the game to grow under the actual nonsense that out system is? With lower div clubs completely un-link to the international club structure, traveling distances from LA to Puerto Rico, and from San Antonio to Edmonton? Without the incentive of promotion. With the USSF neglecting the USOC, which is the only meaningful competition the play. I am surprised how they manage to survive! ……You propose to wait until the game grows, to then consider to implement the system that would give then the incentive to grow !? How is that going to happen? Magically!?……………I call that, reversed thinking.

    Single entity and its $40mil+ price tag, are incompatible with pro/rel. Let’s not fool ourselves, whoever designed a thing like single entity, were not considering a transition to an open system, EVER.
    Promotion and relegation is up to the fans, and it will happen in spite of the status quo, not with its initiative. There will have to be a transition out of single entity, which never should had been implemented, as we the fans were never consulted. It will take a fight, but the people that really love and understands this game, knows that to believe in the “impossible”, is also part of its culture.

  7. mvktr2 - Nov 28, 2012 at 5:32 AM

    You had me at free beer.

    Avid Homebrewer

  8. footballer4ever - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:15 AM


    I agree to disagree with you respectfully.

    Even though your points are all fancy-like, the reality is other which the league must abide by and as a fan only you might or will not want to understand it. Therefore, continue your fantasy like pro/rel search outside of the US.

  9. roger17k - Nov 28, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    I agree to disagree with you respectfully too.

    You are right the way I go about making my points is fancy-like, but stile is irrelevant, what’s important is the content, which is usually ignored.

    I think I understand our reality very very well, allow me please to give it a try:

    Our football institutions have been infiltrated by people that have more links to the american sports establishment than to our game, it is not on their best interests for us to pursuit our true club football potential. The actual set up keep our game from becoming a threat. Promotion and Relegation, unlimited clubs, a multi level pyramidal system with potentially thousand of clubs is NOT what they want. They are powerful and smart, and to control our game from with in, is the smart thing to do.

    As for your last recommendation to continue my “fantasy” outside the US, I will just say:

    That would be convenient! Wouldn’t it?

  10. soccerreform - Nov 28, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    Roger sums most of it up for me – save the most inconvenient truth. Sadly, it is one that Steve Davis is very aware of:

    If we stick with closed top-flight leagues, we have to limit clubs in order for them to survive. If we want clubs that grow to take on the worlds best, they have to be as unlimited as any in the world. The failure rate of closed soccer leagues of unlimited top-flight clubs is virtually 100%. Therefore the only system proven to accommodate the unlimited clubs we need to go toe to with the world is an open one that includes independent clubs and promotion/relegation.

    And yes – no doubt in my mind MLS would all too happy to limit our clubs – and our game – if they thought they could make a buck. That’s not the point. The point is:
    Do we continue to sit back and let them do it?

    Finally… the most compelling reason to adopt promotion and relegation in our market is size. Unlike many smaller Euro nations, we have too many potential D1 markets for one league. Pro/rel make be great and interesting in the rest of the world. The US may be built for it.

    I am so fed up with the easy ignorance of company guys like Steve on this topic. They know better. Plus, do us all a favor and stop trying to hide behind any statement that begins “I really LOVE pro/rel, but…” Enough already. We know MLS doesn’t want pro/rel. This has nothing to do with whether we need it or not.

    As far as all the “copying Europe” stuff goes: Go back and read this post again – then stop trying to dumb down the American game into a chain of discount soccer outlets so that it might survive in the NFL business model.

    The gnarliest part of this discussion: NBC just paid 800% more for EPL broadcast rights than they paid for MLS. Turns out Americans like unlimited soccer clubs as much as anyone.

    • brittkamp - Nov 28, 2012 at 7:43 PM

      Please……NBC did not buy the rights for “unlimited soccer”! That is the biggest bunch of crap. NBC paid for the top six or eight teams in the EPL! They want the ManU, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool oh and Man City because you know..those are the only teams you supposed fans of “unlimted soccer” follow. NBC wanting or caring about QPR or Wigan or the name of the club that will be promoted is a joke. Those teams only make TV broadcasts now when they play the big boys or when ESPN gets stuck with them on Mondays.

      You will never get American owners to agree to any pro/reg until soccer makes more money in this country. Period!

      • soccerreform - Nov 28, 2012 at 8:31 PM

        Just so we’re clear: You mean the Chelsea, ManU, Arsenal, and Liverpool that couldn’t exist in salary capped MLS? Those are the teams Americans want to watch? The unlimited kind that MLS doesn’t allow?

      • brittkamp - Nov 29, 2012 at 12:00 PM

        Just so we’re clear: You mean the Chelsea, ManU, Arsenal, and Liverpool that couldn’t exist in salary capped MLS? Those are the teams Americans want to watch? The unlimited kind that MLS doesn’t allow?

        Your missing the point. Its not “unlimted soccer” people watch, its big names. What you were pointing out is that NBC paid so much for the EPL because of their financial program which is crap. It is simply Big names with lots of history, If it was just a league with unlimted soccer that people want to watch, then show me the “Wigan Army” in the states. Name and history, these two important factors in which MLS teams are still striving for. “Unlimted soccer” in MLS would be a disaster for the league. To defend Steve Davis a bit, you expect the Carolina Railhawks owner to be able to afford promotion to MLS? How about my Charleston Battery? Minnesota won the Nasl two years ago and lost in the final this year and barely at the last minute found an owner to stay in buisness. You expect them to adhere to “unlimited soccer”?

        It just came out that the Rapids lost 1.3 million in 2012, This is number many “unlimited soccer” clubs would give their children for.( Rangers anyone?) I will take financial health for another decade then agree with you to start bitching about “unlimited soccer”. Let see whatt happens when the FFP takes hold.

  11. dhagentj - Nov 28, 2012 at 11:23 PM

    My dream MLS map looks something like this:


    San Jose
    Los Angeles
    San Diego

    Salt Lake


    Kansas City
    St Louis

    San Antonio


    New York

    Puerto Rico/Orlando

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