January 31 is the deadline imposed by Major League Soccer for expansion bids for teams 25-28. The first two of those is expected by announced by the third quarter of 2017 and will cost $150 million. The timeline and cost for the final two teams to get the league to 28 teams in total will be announced “at a later date.”
Four bid from the South are expected to be submitted ahead of the deadline: Charlotte, Nashville, North Carolina FC, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Where do they stand going into the final weekend ahead of the deadline?
The Queen City’s bid is in limbo after the city canceled a vote on a stadium proposal that would see the American Legion Memorial Stadium replaced. Mecklenburg County narrowly voted to approve the plan and commit $43.75 million towards the project. Just minutes after the county’s vote to approve the project was announced, the city announced that it would cancel its scheduled meeting to discuss the deal.
Charlotte City Councilwoman Vi Lyles said on her Facebook page:
“This morning, I urged fellow council members to delay a decision on co-funding a Major League Soccer Stadium in Elizabeth. The timing was too rushed, there wasn’t sufficient time to have a dialogue with the people of Charlotte, and there were too many unknowns to rush to vote. I am continuing to work with members of the community to make sure their voices are heard.”
Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith has not committed to continuing with the bid without the city’s financial commitment.
In addition to the city’s hesitancy to discuss the deal, there is friction between Smith’s group and the city’s existing USL club Charlotte Independence. Jim McPhilliamy, president of the Independence, told the Charlotte Observer that he felt like he had been “run over.” He also said that plans he developed to renovate Memorial Stadium had been shared with Smith’s group without his knowledge.
Follow the Queen City Football Chronicle for continuing coverage of Charlotte’s bid.
Where Charlotte is having major roadblocks to their stadium efforts, Nashville has its mayor’s support for building a new stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds. The Tennessean‘s Joey Garrison and Nate Rau reported that Mayor Megan Barry’s plan would also include recreational soccer fields as part of a makeover of the Fairgrounds.
Discussion around stadium possibilities for MLS in Nashville have also included Vanderbilt University’s football team. It is unclear if the Fairgrounds site would include the Commodores.
Nashville might be one of the newer group in this round of MLS expansion bidding, but things are coming together quickly for the group headed by John Ingram and Bill Hagerty. Many feel that their best bet is in the second wave of this expansion as others are ready to start quicker.
North Carolina FC:
With MLS unlikely to take two teams from the Carolinas, North Carolina FC has to feel that the difficulties in Charlotte help them. With only the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL to compete against from a professional sports perspective, this could be an enticing market for MLS. There is college sports to consider, especially ACC basketball, but MLS’ season works pretty well against that competition.
Steve Malik has rebranded the old Carolina Railhawks to North Carolina FC ahead of the upcoming NASL season. He has also acquired a NWSL team called the North Carolina Courage to play in 2017 as well. They have three locations in mind for a MLS-suitable stadium and all will be part of the bid, which makes the second wave of expansion more likely.
Tampa Bay Rowdies:
Owner Bill Edwards has been very aggressive in pitching the Rowdies for MLS in recent months. The billboard purchased in New York’s Times Square recently is a prime example of his approach.
They have plans to expand Al Lang Stadium (with private funding), their current home, to meet MLS standards. It could turn into a Portland-on-the-bay type of setting, converting a smaller baseball stadium into a soccer-first facility.
Edwards is working to build more support in his community ahead of MLS’ decision, spearheading a push on Rowdies season tickets for the upcoming USL season and ticket sales for the Rowdies Suncoast Invitational event next month that will feature five MLS teams playing in their preseason.
With an existing stadium to build from, and sitting on the largest TV market outside MLS, Edwards has a lot of optimism about the Rowdies’ chances to join MLS.