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MLS Exec: “Multiple teams in Southeast could be very successful”

Jun 7, 2013, 10:18 AM EDT

Stadium near South Bec Stadium near South Bec

This story just keeps gaining momentum.

With David Beckham recently seen loitering with intent in Miami, and Orlando City hiring MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s ‘special assistant’ to their front office, Florida is getting serious about bringing MLS back to the Sunshine State.

We all knew this was coming, with Orlando City’s huge amounts of work and Beckham meeting billionaire’s court side at Heat games, the writing has been on the wall for a while. But we’ve heard it all before.

However now it seems to be different, MLS returning to Florida for the first time since 2001 could be on the cards.

And this morning a new story popped up in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, as Major League Soccer’s executive vice president of communications Dan Courtemanche, revealed the league is making plans for expansion in the Southeast.

We’re going to start to formulate our plan for the future and potential growth for beyond 20 teams. We certainly believe that an MLS team could be very successful in both South Florida and Central Florida.

(More: MLS Expansion in Florida set for 2016?)

Courtemanche went on to reveal how impressed the league is that Miami ranks inside the top 10 in TV viewer ratings for MLS games.

That’s including the fact that we have 16 teams in the United States. That’s pretty strong for a market that doesn’t have an MLS team. We eventually want to have a team in the Southeast. It provides geographical balance, and we also think a team, or potentially multiple teams, in the Southeast could be very successful.

Wow.

This is the first-time we’ve heard this kind of forthright and steady support for MLS in Florida from league officials. Don Garber has spoke about his admiration for what Orlando City Soccer Club are doing, after hiring Brett Lashbrook and working with the City of Orlando to get a new soccer-specific stadium. But the league hasn’t really come out and openly stated its ambitions to expand in the Southeast. Until now.

(More: David Beckham owning an MLS franchise in Miami, yeah that feels right)

This is a huge deal for soccer fans in that region. Courtemanche was key to point out in his comments that franchises in both South Florida and Central Florida could be successful. That would link in reports that surfaced on Wednesday, regarding two MLS franchises to be present in Miami and Orlando by 2016. It’s all fitting together nicely now.

Yes, everyone will point to the failure of the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny back in the day. But that was a different time and there were a whole bunch of other factors that went into why their crowds suffered and both franchises were disbanded in 2001.

Obviously this is just one report in a newspaper. But the quotes from a high-ranking league official are telling. The notion for MLS in Florida seems to be getting stronger by the day. Excited?

  1. geojock - Jun 7, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    The MLS is much different today, so I see hope; however, I keep thinking about how Florida has such crappy fan bases in almost all pro sports. If the big 3 are only mildly, at best, successful there, how can we expert MLS to do much better?

    • 1luckyelf - Jun 7, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Well, I’d say one possible reason is that with so many transplants, the Marlins, or whoever, being a ‘new’ team, are trying to gain converts from those who are lifelong Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, etc. fans. Same with the Heat and Knicks, etc. A very, very hard sell. A Miami MLS team is ‘merely’ going to be competing, as with the rest of MLS, for the loyalty of fans who have a team in another country.

      • geojock - Jun 7, 2013 at 11:16 AM

        That is a good point. They dont have a deep loyalty to begin with so they are a clean slate. Another problem with Florida is it is a fun, beautify state so there are other things to do.

      • joeyt360 - Jun 7, 2013 at 5:57 PM

        And soccer has an advantage there, too, because the game itself is shorter. You don’t occupy a whole day with a soccer match (which is probably 1:50 from kickoff to exiting the stadium) the way you would with a football game (which is probably about 3:15 or so).

  2. jmsloop - Jun 7, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    I will be excited to see a franchise in Florida. However, a Florida team (especially a down state Florida team) is unlikely to ignite passion for MLS in the “southeast.” Reasonable or not, like it or not, Florida is situated culturally as cut from its own cloth (i.e., not a “southern state”). I continue to hope that, some day, we will see an MLS franchise in a more centrally located southeastern city. I dream of Nashville because I live here but that’s mostly a pipe dream at this point, but I would be thrilled to see the Atlanta team become an MLS franchise. They are in driving distance of a very large population, and, as the Braves did for decades with baseball, could find identification with a broad region, hopefully drawing more newbies to MLS and soccer in general.

  3. Joe Prince-Wright - Jun 7, 2013 at 1:07 PM

    Is it just me or is Atlanta being completely frozen out of any Southeast expansion talk?

    What would be better, an MLS team in Miami or Atlanta? It’s a pretty close call.

    • wesbadia - Jun 7, 2013 at 1:46 PM

      How much of that is because of their recent association with Eric Wynalda? It’s no secret that Waldo has been extremely outspoken about MLS and their system, especially with player development and the salary structure. Could Courtemanche, Rodriguez, and Garber be avoiding him? It’s entirely possible.

      • charliej11 - Jun 7, 2013 at 2:53 PM

        No. Wynalda will be done with, if money can be made. Eric who ? Oh that guy that scored in Detroit…love that guy…whatever happened to him ?

      • danielofthedale - Jun 7, 2013 at 3:40 PM

        MLS has got into bed with people far worse than Wynalda. Plus, the guy straight up knows what he is doing! The Silverbacks were pretty much a dead in the water team before him, new GM Andy Smith, and coach Brian Haynes come to the team last summer. Since they they have been one of the best teams in the league.

        That said, I don’t see the Silverbacks having much say in the future of MLS in Atlanta in a managment capacity right now. If Blank buys the team then maybe but I think they will want their guys running the show. But I think they would be smart to have Wynalda involved, the fans LOVE him down here.

      • wesbadia - Jun 10, 2013 at 8:49 AM

        Not debating the validity of Wynalda. As much as I hate his smart ass tone sometimes, I love his ideas, and you can’t challenge his knowledge of the game. My comment was more against MLS for alienating a guy who spent so much of his career trying to build up the league that they run and offer quality talent to a fledgling sport in this country. Rodriguez treats Waldo like a red-headed bastard most times (maybe rightly so…), and I don’t even think Garber is willing to talk with him. The financial situation for the Silverbacks is one thing, but it’s much easier to overcome than differences in personalities, which Wynalda offers.

    • danielofthedale - Jun 7, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      Miami or Atlanta is a pretty tough call, and I am the Atlanta area. I think the Beckham factor is the biggest reason I would say Miami over Atlanta right now. I think Becks attatchment could help draw the crowd and keep it up the first couple of seasons while the team works through the initial expansion struggles. It also seems that after New York and Los Angles, Miami is the the most highly regarded city to want to live in for reasons that escape me. That means it would be able to be a much bigger player for DP’s than Atlanta and even Chicago, Philly, Boston all of which are places I like better but no one is offering me an MLS contract.

      There are plenty of things that fall in Atlanta’s favor. Atlanta is home to fourth highest number of Fortune 500 Headquarters. In a league that still struggles for team and stadium sponsorship it would be a great way to get into the day to day life of high level corporate execs. It is the largest TV market with out a team. That could me a good deal in future TV contracts. The city is the economic and cultural capital of the South. As another poster pointed out, the Braves are the MLB of record though out the region and it the norm to see fans at the games from Alabama, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. It would not be hard to use that same model for soccer fans too if the marketing is done right.

      This stuff might apply to Miami too, but since I don’t live there I can’t say it does or does not. The demographics of supports groups which have become the driving force in larger attendance numbers for MLS match up very well with Atlanta. Atlanta has a fast growing young professional and recent college graduate population. These are the fast growing ticket buy segment for MLS the last I saw.

      One last thing I think works well for Atlanta, is Arthur Blank. The man does not fail, if he does something he does it right. Home Depot, he was a co-founder and everyone can see how sucessful that is. He bought the Falcons when they were a dumpster fire of an organization. Now they are one of the best run in the NFL. He has stated how he wants Atlanta to continue to grow into a world class city and says that a world class city has to have a successful soccer team. So I think he would put in the money to do that. I even think that he would eventually build a SSS down the road once the team gets on stable finical ground and move them out of the new Falcons Stadium.

    • charliej11 - Jun 7, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      I don’t think it is anything personal. It is where the money is. Investors see better opportunities. Or guys named Beckham want to live in Miami over Atlanta.

      Money is driving this thing, which means one thing. MLS is making money. They are not just expanding to expand. They are expanding because guys think big money can be made.

  4. minkheel - Jun 7, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    Neither Miami nor Orlando is in the “Southeast” — culturally or otherwise. Florida is its own place — with south Florida even more so. For MLS to enter the “Southeast” it needs to look at Atlanta, Nashville or Raleigh (which is a better soccer market in NC than Charlotte).

    • wesbadia - Jun 7, 2013 at 2:13 PM

      Not to take away from my agreement that teams need to be present in the Carolina’s, Georgia, or even Appalachian states, but Florida IS geographically in the southeast. Culturally? Maybe not. It’s certainly not the traditional version of “Dixie”, but it’s most definitely part of the southeastern quadrant of the US. Saying “or otherwise” is completely false when assessing this situation. Outside of cultural relevance, I don’t see how Florida can be excluded “otherwise”…

  5. udosean - Jun 7, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    As an Atlanta native I am a little disappointed not to hear our name in the conversation. Im really hoping that Arthur Blank finally steps up to the plate. A new Atl MLS team could be introduced in tandem with the new Falcons stadium downtown which I think should be ready by 2017 if I’m not mistaken.

    • hate23putt - Jun 7, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      I would like to see Chivas moved to Atlanta and renamed. Atlanta has great growth potential for MLS and it has a large population and areas to draw from.

    • wfjackson3 - Jun 7, 2013 at 2:41 PM

      Their exclusion may have something to do with the fact that nobody in Atlanta seems interested in meeting the new requirement of a soccer specific stadium before MLS grants a team franchise.

      • danielofthedale - Jun 7, 2013 at 3:50 PM

        That is a falacy. There is no requirement for a SSS. The Sounders had no SSS and before you say they are different, no one at the time thought they would be 30+ thousand fans in the stadium when the team was announced. I mean I watched USL games from Seattle and they had pretty much avg. USL crowds nothing to lead one to believe the Sounders would turn into the phenomenon they are now.

        NYCFC has no SSS. They have no plan in place. They have a wing and a prayer and in NYC that really does not mean much.

        Had the Sports Financing Bill passed in the Fl. Legislator the Miami MLS team would have been put in a refurbished SunLife Stadium most likely.

        Each situation is different and what MLS wants in each city is different. I am confident that while the MLS team in Atlanta would start out in the New Falcons Stadium, that once it got a firm financial position they will work with Georgia State University on a split use 20-25K stadium also in the downtown area.

      • wfjackson3 - Jun 7, 2013 at 6:59 PM

        I disagree with your assessment. NYCFC has reportedly put up the money to fully fund their stadium development. I also argue that CenturyLink Field is not your average NFL stadium. They don’t have quite as much space around the field as most NFL stadiums.

        So yeah, they don’t have to have the stadium built, but they have to have a reliable plan. They have to have the financial resources to pull it off, which will be questionable for Mr. Frugal who spent 10 years trying to get the city to pay for the whole thing. I just don’t hear the required chatter coming out of Atlanta.

  6. flight19er - Jun 7, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    They need to start mentioning Fort Lauderdale more in these articles. South Beach (pictured) is gonna be 30-40 miles from wherever the new SSS will be built even if it is in MIA. Fort Lauderdale has a better fan base that is better suited for American domestic soccer. Plus Fort lauderdale already has a team called The Fort Lauderdale Strikers with a TON of history and support that are actively trying to build a privately funded expandable 8-10k seat Soccer Specific Stadium in Broward County much like the new stadium the San Antonio Scorpions have.

  7. cranespy - Jun 7, 2013 at 10:19 PM

    they have a brand-new stadium scarcely being used

  8. jpan007 - Jun 9, 2013 at 2:17 AM

    please make this happen

  9. footballer4ever - Jun 10, 2013 at 1:18 AM

    Just like NYCFC , MLS is interested in opening or reopening shop in huge tv markets who can help the lesgue command tv revenue as the league blooms past 20 teams. Having a bunch of small market teams drawing on average 18k for the season only helps the league remain there, but having metropolitan tv markets carry a club as well will take the league to a higher level.

  10. midtec2005 - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    Nashville had like the 4th highest TV ratings for the last qualifier… just saying…

  11. godsholytrousers - Jun 14, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Context is Everything:
    This article is being written on NBC Sports – Pro Soccer Talk

    NBC Sports is investing in MLS and has every right to try and help Garber find reasons to move franchises into big TV markets.

    The question that MLS and CBS needs answered is this:
    Will these cities but buts in the seats? Nothing looks worse on TV than an empty stadium. Television loves Seattle and Portland as much as Seattle and Portland love soccer. Can Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando put the fannies in the stadium?

  12. 05tleclaire - Jun 30, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    Comparing the Braves situation of attracting fans from the whole region doesn’t really apply to the possible Atlanta FC mls team.

    If you come to Atlanta for the weekend to watch the Braves you get to see 3 games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. With the possibility of coming early on Thursday or staying later on Monday. That doesn’t apply to the soccer team, where they would only get to see 1 game.

    So the value of driving all that way is not equal. 2, 3, 4 or 5 games vs. 1 match.

    You are also comparing the American Pastime (Baseball) to a sport that is just now gaining National acceptance. Give the MLS and soccer 10 more years to build up their national audience and engrain itself into the American culture and then we I think Atlanta could have a successful football club.

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