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Major League Soccer's Team #20, who, why, and why not Part II

MLS Expansion Map?
MLS Expansion Map?

So in part I, I crossed a number of teams off my list of potential team #20's including:

  • San Antonio
  • Rochester
  • Detroit
  • Ottawa
  • Cleveland
  • Phoenix
  • St. Louis
This time I am going to look at 5 markets that I consider as outsiders (we should remember that Salt Lake wasn't on the radar in 2004):
  • The Carolinas
  • Atlanta
  • Tampa
  • San Diego
  • Minneapolis
I will take a close look at each of them after the jump:

So my first thoughts when I look at the list I consider the second tier of potential locations that are outsiders but in the running to become home to MLS Team #20 is that if I were running a business I would put a team in Minneapolis, they are the largest TV market without a team. Then I remember the dismal TV numbers for MLS, and the fact that despite tradition (Yes, I attended several Minnesota Kicks matches growing up) that USL has struggled, and with a new baseball park, a new college football stadium, and most likely a new pro football stadium coming, that money for a SSS might not just be hard to come by, but impossible.

Minnesota has a good history going back to the NASL of supporting soccer in general, and with MLS locating their Sales Training Center( in the state could that provide some sway behind locating a team there.

In fact last fall the owner of the Minnesota Vikings mentioned interest in MLS, as a potential way to fund a new stadium. He referenced the situation in Seattle (you have to believe that having 17-20 more events with 30K attending helps the bottom line a lot) as possible motivation. That was part of a look at MLS in the twin cities that was done (very well done) by the SBNation Minnesota staffer Jon Marthaler, I touched base with him last week and he that while the collapse of the Metrodome roof has put a new stadium back on the radar the state's 6 billion dollar deficit probably means no new public funding anytime soon. He ended his thoughts with this:

I think Minnesota could support an MLS team, and should the Vikings get a new stadium, it'll be much higher on the radar. But team #20... that seems really very unlikely.
Jon Marthaler SB Nation Minnesota

Then there is Tampa, who all of a sudden were jumping up and down a couple weeks ago after "the Don" had a sit down with some MLS in Miami fans, but not all Tampa fans got their undies in a bunch. A solid response from Ralph's mob (a TB Rowdies supporter group) states their case of they are worse fans than we are, but doesn't deal with the reality that less than 10 years ago they had a team and they were contracted. So what has changed in Tampa to make us believe they would do better the second time around?

I will grant that they have a long history and the city has done well supporting the US National team, but without a stadium or ownership group that can afford to build a stadium they might just be on that long waiting list of runner-ups. I think it will take more than averaging 4,500 to USL/NASL matches to impress anyone enough to pony up the required money to build a MLS team there. Major League Soccer Talk was more optimistic back in the summer about Tampa's chances, but All Things Footy has the bottom line down:

Down the road a few years, when the D2 league is stabilized and MLS can expand again (or work more closely in connection with D2) I would expect Tampa Bay to be among the top areas considered along with Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Raleigh/Durham, Detroit and maybe Milwaukee, St. Louis, or Cleveland. Among that group of cities, Tampa Bay has as strong a case for inclusion in an expanded MLS as any other potential market, but the failure of a local investor to step up or local Governmental and business leaders to fund a Soccer Specific Stadium could doom any effort and hurt the D2 Rowdies in the process.

All Things Footy

Atlanta, oh how nice it would be if the city could embrace Soccer the way they did a QB who was later sent to jail for dog fighting. It would be wonderful if one of the largest cities in the US, a hub of commerce in the Southeast, and a city and state that support sports as well as anyone could get behind the beautiful game, but reality is that they simply haven't. Two years ago it looked like MLS in Atlanta was a sure thing, Arthur Blank (owner of the Falcons) had money but couldn't find any partners who could work with him and the bid died. Recently like SB Nation Minnesota, the folks at SB Nation Atlanta took a quick look at what the prospects of MLS in Atlanta, but I would say based on the 25 people who voted in their poll that there isn't as much interest as their once was.

When All Things Footy took a look at Atlanta, it sees have come down to two things, historically teams die there and there is no SSS (which in this day and age of MLS is more and more a requirement. I still have to believe if one of the big wigs of Atlanta gets the fever for MLS, it could be a city that would make a great home for the league. It represents one of the largest regions of the US (the Southeast) and without a MLS team somewhere in the region it just doesn't seem right to me.

Well the Southeast seems to be my topic of focus so far, so I am going to shift gears a bit and talk about San Diego, it is an interesting city that has a history of soccer, a huge Hispanic population, and if you paid attention to the TV ratings for the World Cup (I only could find US vs. England numbers) you know that San Diego was the top market to watch the match:

Top markets for USA-England
1. San Diego: 11.5 rating
2. San Francisco: 11.2
3. Las Vegas: 11.0
4. Cincinnati: 10.8
5. Salt Lake City: 10.2

Well that might explain why San Diego got back on the radar in a hurry in 2010, but since 1996 the city has been talked about as a potential expansion city for MLS, and so far no bid, no plan, and just occasional talk about it. I think it is a great market, and while there is no SSS or plans for one, it is a city that has no mid sized venue for concerts or other events. As always the guys at All Things Footy took a look at San Diego and their writer came up with a fairly solid plan on how to move the city towards being home to a MLS team:

Say an affluent owner targeted 2014 - the next World Cup. That owner should spend the ensuing three seasons doing the following:

a.) Put a team in D-II and start forming the relationships with fans

b.) Bring the USMNT, USWNT, Mexican national team here as much as possible

c.) Bring big clubs - United, Inter, City - here during the summer.

It is interesting that even that the website for the Union-Tribune did a fairly extensive look at what it might take to bring MLS to the city, but I think the most promising talk has been about Chivas USA moving to San Diego and probably doing a major rebranding. I don't know if that will ever happen but I have to say that San Diego is a city that almost made my list of teams that should be contending for the #20 expansion slot.

The final market we look at in this installment is the Carolinas, and that is what is wrong with their likelihood of landing a franchise, lots of cities but nothing that jumps out. Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte, ?? All of them could likely support a team, and it is an area rich in soccer tradition, but until one market steps up to be the "go to" city to represent the region they will be in the shadow of Atlanta and markets in Florida. Don't get me wrong I support MLS putting a team in the Southeast, but I just don't see any of the potential locations in the Carolina's getting their act together in time to make a run at the #20 spot in MLS.

OK that only leave my top 3 markets that I think have a realistic chance of being team #20, and one of them is going to blow your socks off.