The MLS has seen tremendous success among expansion clubs in the past 15 years. The league’s elevation can be attributed to various factors including entry into Canada through Toronto (2007), supporter culture acceleration and the league’s rebirth in Orlando and Atlanta.
In the next expansion phase, 12 bids were received to fill up the new 4 expansion spots. These bid cities tick numerous boxes for MLS. Play alongside or replace teams and leagues that left and newly promoted teams in a top tier league, to name a few.
Each bid was evaluated using three key principles:
- Stadium Capacity
- Market Strength
In picking the final four, the MLS will also consider the league’s strategic needs including present markets that are underserved by the league and important television markets they have not entered.
From the loss-making venture it was in 2001, today, the situation is totally changed. Attendance records are shattered every year. Presently, MLS has more fans per game that the NBA and NHL and its three rights holders experienced an increase in viewership last year.
According to MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, the league isn’t fully developed yet, mentioning an evolving national fan base. The league’s merchandising business is also set to grow and become more vibrant.
Jonathan Kraft, joint owner of the New England Revolution foresaw this growth momentum, only he didn’t see it coming along this quickly.
Over the last 12 years, under the leadership of Don and Mark Abbott, (MLS President and Deputy Commissioner) the beautiful game has risen to another level thanks to their growing understanding of the game and immense passion for the same.
Kraft, as the head of the MLS Expansion Committee, has seen firsthand what effects come with the maturation of these bids. With their introduction comes additional strength for the league geographically. Additionally, it will make the league more attractive, and with this growth, getting to 28 teams, make the MLS a true national property.
The MLS and its expansion committee, though still at the early stages of reviewing the 12 applications, is keeping silent as to how they will approach the four teams. In the coming months the committee is expected to travel and meet with the candidates. Selection of the first two will likely be around the second or third quarter of the year. They are expected to begin play by 2020 after paying $150 million in expansion fees.
The fees paid will be directed towards improvement of the league for things like infrastructure upgrades and player development as directed by the league’s leadership.
Alongside these considerations, the league is also looking into how a future market could spark national interest in Canada and the U.S., which would ultimately grow the national commercial and media value.
Each bid city is expected to provide commitment letters for stadium naming, jersey front rights, and any other corporate and local support it expects from its region. With this continued growth, plus the recent success of younger players like Sebastian Giovinco in Toronto and investment in the youth players by several teams, our long-standing reputation of being a retirement league for Europeans Stars is soon coming to an end.
As the league clears this next hurdle in expansion, the benefits are surely right behind.
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