MLS Expansion News – Five Markets

Expansion news from five markets competing with FC Cincinnati for a place in MLS including Charlotte, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, and Sacramento.


This series of articles from Orange & Blue Press falls under the what have you done for me lately theme, and explores the most recent events in each city’s campaign to gain entry into MLS.

If you’re looking for the basics of the current MLS expansion situation, see our MLS Expansion 101 article.

The expansion landscape across ten cities is complex, dynamic, and several markets have a reasonable chance for a successful bid. Five of the ten expansion markets are covered in this article. A separate article will follow in close proximity and cover the remaining five. Cincinnati will be covered last in order to review how news from other markets affects the Cincinnati bid.

For each market, the TV market size, existing team, venue, and investment group are listed along with a summary of recent developments. This information is followed by links to relevant news articles and resources. It’s important to note that the existing team in a market does not necessarily become the MLS team if a bid is granted, particularly if the team’s ownership is not part of the MLS bid.


Charlotte, North Carolina

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #22*
Existing Team: Charlotte Independence – USL
Venue: Memorial Stadium, an existing historical stadium in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte that would be renovated and expanded
Money: Investment group led by Marcus and Bruton Smith (Speedway Motorsports)
Summary: Recent news discusses the impact that a successful MLS bid would have on the Independence. There is also news on attempts to secure partial public funding for the stadium renovation. A key funding vote at the county level is scheduled for 1/26. A city vote will follow shortly thereafter if approved.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/15 – Bruton Smith, the billionaire race track owner of Speedway Motorsports, and his son Marcus confirm they are in talks with MLS about an expansion team. [Charlotte Observer]
  • 1/5  – County commission considers proposal to level Memorial Stadium and renovate with up to $100M with in tax revenue. [WSOC Charlotte]
  • 1/6 – Mecklenberg County will have an open hearing on 1/24 to get input from the public on proposed use of tax money for stadium financing. [Charlotte Post]
  • 1/10 – Charlotte Independence and owner could be out of the picture if MLS franchise is awarded to the Smiths. [Medium]
  • 1/20 – Financial details of Charlotte’s stadium proposal are released. A key stadium funding vote is scheduled for 1/26. [Charlotte Business Journal]


Detroit, Michigan

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #13*
Existing Team: Detroit City FC  – NPSL – Detroit City FC is unlikely to be the MLS expansion team given the ownership group and supporter opposition to MLS expansion.
Venue: Proposed $1 billion mixed-use stadium complex on the site of the stalled Wayne County jail project in Greektown
Money: Investment group led by Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers / Quicken Loans) and Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons)
Summary: Detroit’s large TV market and pro sports ownership give this bid clout, but the stadium plan has been a sticking point (common theme). There’s not a lot of recent news from this bid except that their application will be ready in time.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/12 – Article explaining the anti-MLS sentiment of Detroit City FC supporters [SB Nation]
  • 12/24 – Report that there is no deal yet for Gilbert and Gores as they attempt to secure the Wayne County Jail Project site [Crain’s – registration required]
  • 1/18 – The Detroit MLS investment group reports that they are on track to submit their MLS application on time at the end of January. [Detroit Sports Nation]


Nashville, TN

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #29*
Future Team: Nashville SC – USL, to begin play in 2018
Venue: Stadium plans are in the early stages of development. The most promising idea includes a partnership with Vanderbilt University to build a stadium at the Fairgrounds in Nashville.
Money: Investment group led by John Ingram (Ingram Industries), no official ties to Nashville SC
Summary: This upstart bid has recently announced Ingram as their leader and is working on both public funding and a partnership with Vanderbilt University to build a stadium.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/19 – A bill was introduced to the state of Tennessee legislature that will help pay off future debt on a new soccer stadium. [Tennessean]
  • 12/20 – Local businessman with ties to Vanderbilt University, John Ingram, is announced as leader of Nashville’s MLS bid. [Tennessean]
  • 1/17 – Nashville’s ownership group is exploring a partnership with Vanderbilt University on a stadium, but the site of proposed stadium is still uncertain. [Nashville Business Journal]
  • 1/18 – Nashville MLS Expansion Profile – Brian Straus [SI]


Raleigh, North Carolina

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #24*
Existing Team: North Carolina FC previously Carolina Railhawks – NASL
Venue: A proposed 24,000 seat stadium privately financed by the investors
Money: Investment group led by Steve Malik (North Carolina FC and founder of Medfusion)
Summary: Charlotte isn’t the only show in North Carolina, and Steve Malik’s aggressive bid boasts 100% private funding, which few others can claim. His recent purchase of a NWSL franchise shows commitment to the growth of pro soccer in the triangle.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 12/6 – The Carolina Railhawks re-brand as North Carolina FC in conjunction with their MLS bid, including the sale of various levels of membership that can be bought by fans and companies to show support. [WNCN]
  • 12/16 – Article about Raleigh/Durham bid after December 15 MLS Board of Governors announcement. This article includes comments from Garber about the bid and North Carolina’s controversial HB2 legislation. [News & Observer]
  • 1/9 – Announcement is made that North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik has purchased NWSL team Western New York Flash, which will be rebranded as the North Carolina Courage and begin play in Cary in 2017. [News & Observer]


Sacramento, California

TV Market: Nielsen DMA #20*
Existing Team: Sacramento Republic FC – USL
Venue: An approved $226M privately funded stadium complex will be built at the Railyards if an expansion slot is granted.
Money: Investment group led by Warren Smith (Sacramento Republic FC) and Kevin Nagle (EnvisionRX Options)
Summary: Sacramento’s bid is likely the most advanced of the ten. They were once considered a lock for the next expansion slot, and likely still are. The emergence of strong bids from across the nation means Sacramento has to play the application game with everyone else.
Recent News & Resources: 

  • 11/10 – Sacramento stadium plan is approved by Sacramento City Council [Sacramento Bee]
  • 12/21 – Sacramento MLS Expansion Profile – Brian Straus [SI]
  • Sacramento’s bid is perhaps the most mature of the ten and there are few recent developments outside of the critical stadium approval.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for the second set of five markets which will include Cincinnati.
UPDATE: Part two of this series has been released, follow the link for expansion updates on Cincinnati, Saint Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa / St. Petersburg.

Do you know of recent news or key facts about these MLS expansion contenders not mentioned above?  Let us know in the comments section.

*NOTE: Nielsen DMAs are referenced in this article for TV market size information. DMAs seem most relevant to television advertising, but which market size ranking to use is debatable. Some argue that these markets could be combined with other nearby markets to create a larger market (i.e.: Cincinnati/Dayton). Because DMA’s combine surrounding areas already and there is no clear evidence that MLS is evaluating any markets as combined, this series of articles will not do so.


2 thoughts on “MLS Expansion News – Five Markets”

  1. There is no indication that MLS is even considering any change to its two conference, East-West alignment. LAFC will be #23 and the league still appears committed to Miami as #24. Historically, MLS has tried to expand in a balanced Mann (at least in concept). So, if one assumes that this will hold true going forward, Cincinnati is not really in competition with Sacramento as we are East and they are West. Our competition, therefore, is Detroit, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh and Tampa. And St. Louis which could be East or West. Nashville and Detroit will not have bids ready for this round. St. Louis and Charlotte have major issues with public funding for their proposed stadiums. The real threat to Cincinnati comes from Raleigh and Tampa.

  2. MLS has been very patient with David Beckham and Miami. I suspect that patience is running thin. The owners of current MLS teams stand to lose a lot of money if Beckham gets his team, due to his option to join the league for $25 million instead of the reported $150 million expansion fee that will be imposed on the next wave of teams.

    Either way, with Atlanta joining the league, there will be some attention on getting more teams in the South to join them and Orlando. Whether it be Miami, Tampa Bay, a North Carolina team, or Nashville, I have to think a least one of those locations, if not two (eventually), will be awarded teams – if they can get stadiums. Beckham brings the “name”, but that hasn’t done much good so far. I’ll put my money on Tampa Bay.

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