Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Who Is St. Louis' Competition in Its Bid for a Major League Soccer Team?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Who Is St. Louis' Competition in Its Bid for a Major League Soccer Team?

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - St. Louis' bid to win a Major League Soccer team next year hinges as much on the merits of its competitors as on its own success.

This contest won't be decided by goals and teams, but by dollars and stadiums.

Last week, club owners and officials praised St. Louis' bid for an expansion franchise, impressed with the city's love for soccer and the wealth of the proposed owners.

But history has proved, in sport after sport, team after team, that favorites don't always stay favorites. Major League Soccer has demoted cities before, after plans changed.

"There is significant competition for future Major League Soccer expansion," cautioned Dan Courtemanche, a league executive vice president, at the owners' December meeting last week.

Twenty-three teams played this year. New franchisees will open in Cincinnati next year, followed by Miami and Nashville in 2020. League Commissioner Don Garber has long targeted 28 teams as a "fully expanded" league. Despite recent discussion to move past 28, there's little indication that would happen right away.

One of those two spots is already gone: Garber said earlier this month that Anthony Precourt, owner of the Columbus Crew, will build the league's 27th team in the hipster, high-tech mecca of Austin, Texas, and sell the Crew.

That leaves room for expansion to just one city -- and proposals from at least eight: Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Las Vegas; Phoenix; Raleigh, N.C.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Diego; and St. Louis.

Owners and league officials have said repeatedly that the St. Louis bid -- from World Wide Technology chief executive Jim Kavanaugh and Enterprise Holdings' Taylor family -- is a favorite.

Kavanaugh briefly played professional soccer and owns the minor-league St. Louis Football Club. The Taylors bring a multibillion dollar bank account and a deep commitment to St. Louis. Their plans have recently won support from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and St. Louis aldermen, two entities that dogged last year's failed St. Louis bid for a team. And the ownership group has promised to pay out-of-pocket for a $250 million stadium on Market Street downtown.

"St. Louis is a great market," said Los Angeles Galaxy President Chris Klein, a St. Louis native and former De Smet soccer star. "And one I think Major League Soccer should be in."

THE COMPETITION

But frontrunners don't always stay that way. Just a few years ago, a group of National Football League owners repeatedly praised the St. Louis effort to build a new football stadium and keep Stan Kroenke's Rams in the city. The NFL's expansion committee even recommended the team stay put. Then owners, swayed by the allure of Kroenke's money and the grandeur of his vision, voted to send the Rams to Los Angeles.

The current list of MLS expansion proposals is not fixed. League officials mention some on one day, and others on another. Garber has stopped naming them altogether, so as to avoid the complaints when he forgets one.

But some of the eight cities have clearly moved down the list, if only temporarily.

Garber, for instance, has publicly suggested that Charlotte and Raleigh aren't in the running for this round of expansion. In September, he spoke to reporters about the success of clubs in Atlanta and Orlando, Fla., and franchises to come in Miami and Nashville. "I think we're probably done expanding in the southeast for a little while," he said.

Sacramento, Calif., has a rabid soccer culture, the active support of city politicians, public money for a stadium, and a site picked out. But it doesn't have a wealthy owner to woo the league.

San Diego has a strong owners group and a growing, affluent region full of adults who grew up playing the sport -- but voters there just turned down a plan to use city land for a new soccer stadium.

Las Vegas, now a darling of professional sports teams, is an easy target. But Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said a year ago that a Major League Soccer proposal was a few years away. …

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