by JAKE NUTTING
A week after officially launching their campaign to gain admittance into Major League Soccer, the Tampa Bay Rowdies have learned the timetable for achieving their goal.
On Thursday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber revealed that the 25th and 26th and teams to enter the league will be announced at some point in the second half of 2017, with the timeline for numbers 27 and 28 to be decided at a later date. It was also announced that the 25th and 26th teams will pay an expansion fee of $150 million and kick off in MLS in 2020.
Despite only recently announcing their MLS ambitions, the Rowdies are pushing hard to beat out a crowded field of potential expansion groups and become one those two new teams in 2020.
Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards laid out his cards in a statement after MLS’ announcement, saying, “I want to be the first of the ten potential cities to earn an MLS franchise.”
Competing with the Rowdies are a number of attractive markets. MLS acknowledged Charlotte, Raleigh, San Antonio, Sacramento, Detroit, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Miami, San Diego and Nashville are the other teams vying to earn a spot in MLS. The league has requested that all interested groups submit a formal expansion application for review by the end of January.
“It’s great to know that less than two weeks after announcing our #MLS2StPete campaign, Major League Soccer is acknowledging us as one of the potential expansion cities,” said Edwards. “Bringing Major League Soccer to the Tampa Bay Area by 2020 is my goal.”
Edwards and the Rowdies likely have a lot of work to do if they wish to make the move to MLS in 2020. The USL’s Sacramento Republic FC has long been considered a favorite for expansion to MLS since announcing their campaign a few years ago. With a stadium plan in place, strong season ticket numbers in the USL and local officials on board, Sacramento would be appear to be a lock.
St. Louis is another formidable contender. The city’s historical ties to the sport in America has kept it high on the list of MLS and fans for many years and they might finally have their way. An investment group that includes the owner of USL side St. Louis FC has unveiled a plan for a stadium in downtown, but the group’s proposal will face a crucial test in April when voters decide if they will award them $80 million for the stadium. Garber told media members that should St. Louis not win the vote, the group would have to decide on how to proceed.
A wrinkle to the whole expansion process is David Beckham’s long-gestating quest to bring MLS to Miami. Garber reaffirmed that MLS has not wavered from its goal of making Miami its 24th team. However, Garber admitted that the time for a final decision on Miami is approaching quickly after years of stagnation.
“We are very focused on Miami being our 24th team and we’ll continue to work to try to achieve that,” said Garber. “I think I’m more optimistic than I was in the past … but I’ve learned not everything you want to do gets done and sometimes you have to step back and if you can’t get it done, you move on. That’s not something that’s driving any energy on this to a conclusion. Much more, it’s just about everybody needs to understand, including David and his partner and the league and everybody else, that we’ve worked hard and it’s time for us to reach a conclusion.”
A decision on Miami is seemingly guaranteed before MLS makes a decision on teams 25 and 26. If Beckham’s bid were to fall apart, it would potentially open up a vacuum for another expansion group to slide in. Garber declined to provide insight on how a failure in Miami would impact the expansion process.