MLS Expansion: Finding The Supporters

MLS Expansion: Finding The Supporters

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On April 27, 2010
  • 31 Comments
  • MLS Expansion

A lot of my readers seem to ask the same question to me, “who will be the 20th club in MLS?” With the thought that Montreal is all but a shoe-in for the 19th finding who will be the 20th club won’t be very easy. Sure MLS commissioner Don Garber has stated he wants to head back South to either Florida or Atlanta but why not find the best market that fits the league?

I’ve given it more thought since Garber’s comments over going back to Florida or Atlanta for the 20th club and I thought where exactly is the best place for MLS to go to here? If you look at it with their recent rounds of expansion to Toronto, Seattle, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Portland and likely now Montreal the league has tapped into some serious sports (and soccer) markets.

But pull out a map of the country and find the next best market after that and its tough. No one market is better than the next on paper. Each has a flaw, some have more than others. I’m taking Canada out of the picture here as I do see three being enough, the league will likely never expand beyond three up there and its not a knock on the Canucks its just more my opinion than anything else on the matter.

So in the US there are plenty of good markets, but none are great. Lots of markets have no potential ownership group which let’s face it is the biggest thing to have. But some do have fans that are begging for a team. We know what the Sons of Ben did for Philadelphia and I believe another group like that could very well help get a city a team when it is all said and done.

The Sons of Ben have given supporter groups around the country a template of how to actively get a club started from nothing. It took them a few years to get something done but as they grew so did the bid in Philadelphia.

So which markets have a decent to strong support group in place? (Note: forgive me right now if I forget your city here, its nothing against your town but just a fact that I didn’t write them up here doesn’t mean all that much) Let’s see.

Miami:

Obviously this is a market the league wants to be back in or else Garber wouldn’t continue to say Florida each time he talks expansion. And by Florida I’m sure he means Miami (but yes Tampa is a good option as well). For something to happen the big supporter’s group down there the Miami Ultras need to step up to the plate like the Sons of Ben did in Philadelphia. Its not just saying you want a club but its showing you want one. Great thing the S.O.B. did was to help drive the idea of a club in the city and state. Once both saw there was a desire for a club it helped gain steam to get a stadium deal in place.

We know Miami is a tough sports market. It is for all of its professional sports, which is why the supporter’s groups like the Ultras will need to be louder in their call for a club. Hype a potential club and the current USSF Division II club like never before.

Atlanta:

This city may have what most on this list lack right now, a potential rich owner in Arthur Blank. Thing is Blank will have to be a driving force behind this expansion bid. Unless my Google skills are lacking I have lots of trouble finding any sort of supporter’s group for this city. There was the Westside 109 group but aside from that I couldn’t find all that much about them.

New York:

I know deep down the league would love nothing more than to add another club in New York City. Not New Jersey but in the city. The Borough Boys have been working hard these last couple years to do just that, get a club. While they have may more hoops to jump through in terms of getting a stadium and a good owner I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see them end up with a club before it is all said and done. They’re basing a lot of things off the Sons of Ben and if it worked for them why not the Borough Boys?

San Antonio:

This city nearly got a club a few years back. But some issues with the Alamo Dome and the city pulling the plug on the deal pretty much killed this city from getting a club. I still find this to be one of the better markets for the league to go to down the road. Having three teams in Texas would be huge and as Jason Davis pointed out this morning as of 2009 they have a supporter’s group in place that is ready to work for getting a club. The Crocketteers are their name and maybe just maybe they have a shot at getting a club of their own. They are new to the supporter’s game but just from reading up about their ideas and thoughts make me believe in their city’s potential even more.

Phoenix:

The idea of a club in the valley of the sun may not be one some folks like but the potential market is there, as are some fans. MLS Phoenix Rising is a local supporter’s group that has been in place for a few years now. They may not appear as active (at least on their website) but it does show that there is solid support in that city.

St. Louis:

Yes everyone still wants a club in this city as much as I do but honestly the only way I see it happening anytime soon is if someone other than Jeff Cooper steps up to the plate and gets it done. I think Cooper is probably a bit burnt out anyways from dealing with MLS. I’m sure the supporters there aren’t though. Eads Brigade is the main group in the Gateway City that still wants a MLS club. They’re small in numbers right now but once the new club AC St. Louis takes off in the second division like I think it will they’ll grow in numbers.

  • DemonJuice

    What about Puerto Rico?

  • I considered them, but I just don't see them as a candidate right now. Maybe in a few years time when the league goes to expand again, maybe.

  • DemonJuice

    They're my dream pick for number 20 but it will probably never happen. They deserve it on merit alone. The people who complain about Canada needing their own league… I think their head would explode if 19 and 20 went to Montreal and PR.

  • OleGunnar20

    actually. if you study the demographics of all the mls markets and all of the other top 40 MSAs in the us you will find that there are some demographic metrics that correlate to better attendance (top 1/3rd tier) and some that correlate to negative attendance (bottom 1/3rd tier). Miami and TB got lousy attendance and booted from the league for a reason … their markets are too old, too poor, not enough over 50K households, too poorly educated etc. there are, however, markets with demographics that seem to lead to upper echelon MLS attendance success … namely size of market/pro sports teams (basically an “estimate” of fan population available per pro team); % of pop between 20-54; ratio of highly educated to low educated (BA+Grad/HS only or less); few Median Household Incomes under 25K; lots of MHI over 50K … San Diego, San Francisco, Minneapolis all do very well on these metrics compared to any other candidate city. Miami and TB do very poorly … as does St Louis and Phoneix. Austin does better than San Antonio (and a 3rd Texas team is unlikely). Atlanta and Las Vegas and Inland Empire are all about average demographically speaking compared to MLS teams and their markets demographics.

    proving a high level of D2 success can also be attractive to MLS. St Louis seems to be doing best in this regards over Minneapolis, Atlanta (hello on hiatus), Miami and TB.

    but as you said MLS is concerned mostly with A. rich owners and the 50M fee and B. SSS … unfortunately MLS seems to be willing to just wing the demographics and hope for the best. i think MLS would do well to do a comprehensive study like my amateur one. studying in detail the demographics of every MLS market and every potential MSA … and studying the demographics of the fans that attend in each market and those that are STHs. only with this data can MLS find what demographic factors correlate to success or failure and thus make fact based analysis a part of selecting future expansion markets. with only a few teams left to expand it would behoove MLS to try and select a market that will be more likely to be SSFC/TFC than COL or FCD.

  • MdUnitedFan

    Brooklyn/Queens/L.I. would be great for MLS. Thats the one it will be, its the one the league wants its the one that would support the club.

  • What about the Stampede in Rochester.

    That group has roots all the way back to Sam's Army with their close proximity to Buffalo.

  • I mentioned this on MFUSA, What MLS could do is set up something like the Mexican League Structure: Group East and West, 2 groups of 12, Balanced group schedule, 6-H and 6-A against the other group
    Add St. Louis, Montreal, NY2, San Antonio, a team in the southeast, and one more team To Be Named.

  • I've thought long and hard about Rochester as a MLS city and honestly the longer I think about it the less I think it will happen. Sure they got a stadium in place that can be expanded but it comes down to money and I don't see that ownership or any other ownership in that town putting up enough cash to get a MLS club. Second division is a lot cheaper than MLS at this point.

  • Joosepi

    Remember, Oklahoma City was close to beating out Salt Lake for a team back in 2004. They money is there (OKC is the most recession-proof city in the nation), the supporters are there (soccer crazy town for high school, no competing major sport during the summer) and the ownership possibilities are endless.

    For No. 20? Probably not. But this league will expand past 20, no matter what FIFA says. And I fully expect OKC to have a team within 10 years.

    Only thing is to make sure an SSS is built in OKC proper, and not in Edmond or Midwest City.

  • Anonymous

    Tampa>Miami

  • Miami and Tampa had teams and they failed. Garber won't invest there again. You have to find fans like this :http://thetwelfthmanblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/crazy-mls-fans.html Then you start a team there. You have to have the proper infostructure.

  • Excellent points all around, though I would argue (and so would most folks) that SF has a club though its on the other side of the bay in San Jose. But I do think down the road San Diego or Minneapolis would be good fits.

  • I remember reading something about OKC recently and MLS. They'd be a lot like Salt Lake or Portland, not a lot of other big sports to compete with though college football is king there so finding a way to balance out with that crowd could go a long way.

  • The Glazers are originally from Rochester.

    Problem solved.

    😉

    That has been a frustrating thing, though. I believe Rochester would be a better market than a lot of potential #20s. But, we lack the #1 thing: someone to write the big fat check to MLS.

  • evan eleven

    3 conferences of 8 would be better. play in conference home and away, 14 games. play each team out of conference once, 16 games, 30 total. call them the Pacific, Atlantic and American conferences.

  • Really want Atlanta to be the 20th city. There's been NO notice of Blank pushing towards getting an MLS club…at least from the publicity standpoint. Also, the proposed venue at KSU (kennesaw state university) ended up going to the Atlanta Beat. In all honesty, I would not go see games at KSU as that's an almost 45/60 min drive from Downtown ATL.

    I would love to have us where the Silverbacks currently play (also no more than 15 mins away from where I live :-D). But this is braves, falcons, hawks and UGA/GT country…not sure if MLS can succeed here without HUGE support from the latino and eurosnob sectors. I'm doubting we can get either or both.

    • OleGunnar20

      um. the silverbacks don’t currently play anwhere. they exist only on paper.

  • They've been on quite a down turn attendance and standings wise, if they can get back the the MLS beating Rhinos maybe then.

  • The question remains, will the Borough Boys support this club, or will the complain that its not in the city itself.

  • OleGunnar20

    i think the point is while people are talking about absolutely idiotic ideas for MSAs to put an MLS franchise in (OKC? really?) or already failed and demographically failed MSAs (Miami, Detroit) what the MLS needs to do with its last few franchises is put them in places where they are going to end up being SSFC/TFC more likely than not and not putting them in places where they are most likely to be mediocre or miserably attended.

    if teams can go in VAN-POR-SEA there is absolutely no reason why you cannot have teams in SF & SJ. from the attendance numbers, when SJE play in SF/OAK they get more fans but it is pretty obvious those SF/OAK fans are not coming down to SJ in any significant numbers to see the team. otherwise the attendance would sell out every game at BuckShaw, ST would have a wait list and the new stadium plans would be more than 15K. the increased exposure and media buzz and passion that would be created by an active SJ-SF rivalry would bring more fans to SJ than they would lose to SF being added. after San Diego (which would be a good place to move CUSA frankly) SF is the only demographically desirable market left in the west.

    putting aside ownership and stadiums picking what makes a good MSA market for MLS isn't about fair or perceived notions of being a “soccer hotbed” or having a few die hard supporters. you don't get 20K+ attendance because you have a 500 person supporter group or a bunch of kids that play soccer in the area. that was MLS 1.0 now it is about creating as many SSFC/TFC/POR/VAN/MON type situations as you can. those situations have some very attendance correlative demographics in common and places like San Diego, SF, and Minneapolis share those demographic profiles almost identically.

    you have to think that if 24 is the final number (for the forseeable future … 10 years at least) NYC2 is going to happen and i don't see how you keep out St Louis no matter how poor their demographics are (and they are quite poor surprisingly) … that leaves you 3 teams … no point in not maximizing those final 3 franchises potential. MLS wastes those spots on demographically mediocre MSAs at their own peril and detriment.

  • played. They did exist for a while 🙂

  • andy25

    Yes to MLS to Miami # 20 expansion. Great city.

  • OleGunnar20

    yes. understood. but i find it amusing that anybody would consider a market for MLS that cannot even sustain an D2 team consistently. that probably has more to do with the ownership. i was actually not a fan of Atlanta for a MLS franchise but having crunched all of the demographic and pro sports attendance numbers it actually turns out that while Atlanta isn't a Seattle/Toronto/Vancouver type demographic gold mine it is far better than i expected … meaning it is pretty much average demographically with the middle of the pack MLS MSAs. so if a club has to go in the south Atlanta is the lesser of evils because Miami and Tampa are wretched demographically.

    i could accept Atlanta as necessary MLS southern token MSA as long as the current Silverbacks fiasco ownership isn't involved.

  • OleGunnar20

    it might be a great city to party or live in but it would be a terrible market for a MLS team. its other pro sports teams perform well below their league medians in average attendance and % capacity.

    on every demographic metric that correlates to attendance they do very poorly. they have a low percentage of population between 20-54. they have a very high hispanic % of population which, surprisingly, has a negative correlation with attendance. they have a very under educated population (Bachelors&Graduate /HS Diploma and less). they have a high percentage of Median Household Incomes of less than $25K (25%) which has a negative correlation to attendance. they also have a very low percentage of MHI of over $50K (49% one of the lowest of the top 40 MSAs). a high % of MHI over $50K has a positive correlation with attendance.

    there is a reason Miami 1.0 has the lowest median attendance in the history of the MLS and a large part of that is it is probably the single worst MSA demographically and from a pro sports attendance perspective based on the hard data.

  • southfloridasupportersformls

    South Florida soccer fans we have a Mission to Bring MLS team back to Miami & Support Miami FC. Now that Garber has mention expansion for south Florida is time for all soccer fans to reunite and show that MLS those belongs in South Florida.
    http://www.miamisoccerfan.com

  • vic

    Hey have you heard about El Paso, Texas. We can easily support an MLS team, easily. We lived across the border from Juarez, Chihuahua and their first division team Indios (Indians) just got relegated. The 22,000 stadium was always pack like BMO field even though hard times, but 75% were El Paso fans who bought there season tickets. No one knows about El Paso, Texas but we are better than Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin in terms of soccer fans. Its a cheap city to live in El Paso, we are a Soccer and College Basketball town. We also have lots of land, and soccer fans and our city council wants to make El Paso, Texas the number one city in the southwest up there with phoenix. We have the El Paso Patriots who once beat the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup. The city broke down the old Patriots Stadium to expand the zoo, and since then the team lost its identity. It was always pack, Dudley Field, and even fans from Juarez came to our city to watch our patriots. Do you know Edgar Castillo the American who is playing in Tigres in Mexico first Division, well the soccer from El Paso Texas helped him make it. If you were to interview him and ask him about El Paso, Texas, ans ask him if El Paso a good market for a first division team. He would say, its a no brainer. Why? Because El Paso basically filled up the stadium across the border for Juarez Indios http://www.clubindios.com and El Paso has shitload of soccer fans, and people actually would waste money on the team. El Paso has land for a stadium, our city knows whats soccer, they live it. We are not dallas or Houston but we are a big city. When you combine El Paso, Texas with Juarez, Chihuahua you have 1 million soccer fans and a first division soccer team, its gold.

  • Vic, I can't say El Paso is a great market for MLS. Sure its got the pull for some soccer fans but as far as TV and money goes it wouldn't work in the eyes of the league. I have a feeling most of the fans there wouldn't support MLS as much as they support the Mexican league too.

  • vic

    You see, people do not know how much of El Paso can make it. The owner from Indios from the Mexican first division once said, he would like to have a team in the MLS in El Paso and he was about to bring Galaxy, Dynamo to El Paso for two friendlies. By the way, if Salt Lake can make it, we can too as well and even better. The team across the border Indios just got relegated this weekend.That team had sucky marketing, no big name players, a good enough 22,000 seat stadium, but the fans came from El Paso, texas. The tickects were the second highest in the first mexican division but 70 to 75 percent of the fans were from El Paso, Texas that bought the expensive season tickects. Even a famous team Pachuca front office came to Juarez, Chihuahua to investigate why in the world was the team selling out every game with expensive tickets but the answer was El Paso, Texas. check this video out from the semifinal in Indios Stadium, our people from El paso are modern hispanics like San Antonio or Austin, but you can see some real mexicans on the video that are from juarez, chiuahua so dont think bad about our city. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXi00e4O0Bw&feat

  • vic

    Hey have you heard about El Paso, Texas. We can easily support an MLS team, easily. We lived across the border from Juarez, Chihuahua and their first division team Indios (Indians) just got relegated. The 22,000 stadium was always pack like BMO field even though hard times, but 75% were El Paso fans who bought there season tickets. No one knows about El Paso, Texas but we are better than Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin in terms of soccer fans. Its a cheap city to live in El Paso, we are a Soccer and College Basketball town. We also have lots of land, and soccer fans and our city council wants to make El Paso, Texas the number one city in the southwest up there with phoenix. We have the El Paso Patriots who once beat the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup. The city broke down the old Patriots Stadium to expand the zoo, and since then the team lost its identity. It was always pack, Dudley Field, and even fans from Juarez came to our city to watch our patriots. Do you know Edgar Castillo the American who is playing in Tigres in Mexico first Division, well the soccer from El Paso Texas helped him make it. If you were to interview him and ask him about El Paso, Texas, ans ask him if El Paso a good market for a first division team. He would say, its a no brainer. Why? Because El Paso basically filled up the stadium across the border for Juarez Indios http://www.clubindios.com and El Paso has shitload of soccer fans, and people actually would waste money on the team. El Paso has land for a stadium, our city knows whats soccer, they live it. We are not dallas or Houston but we are a big city. When you combine El Paso, Texas with Juarez, Chihuahua you have 1 million soccer fans and a first division soccer team, its gold.

  • Vic, I can't say El Paso is a great market for MLS. Sure its got the pull for some soccer fans but as far as TV and money goes it wouldn't work in the eyes of the league. I have a feeling most of the fans there wouldn't support MLS as much as they support the Mexican league too.

  • vic

    You see, people do not know how much of El Paso can make it. The owner from Indios from the Mexican first division once said, he would like to have a team in the MLS in El Paso and he was about to bring Galaxy, Dynamo to El Paso for two friendlies. By the way, if Salt Lake can make it, we can too as well and even better. The team across the border Indios just got relegated this weekend.That team had sucky marketing, no big name players, a good enough 22,000 seat stadium, but the fans came from El Paso, texas. The tickects were the second highest in the first mexican division but 70 to 75 percent of the fans were from El Paso, Texas that bought the expensive season tickects. Even a famous team Pachuca front office came to Juarez, Chihuahua to investigate why in the world was the team selling out every game with expensive tickets but the answer was El Paso, Texas. check this video out from the semifinal in Indios Stadium, our people from El paso are modern hispanics like San Antonio or Austin, but you can see some real mexicans on the video that are from juarez, chiuahua so dont think bad about our city. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXi00e4O0Bw&feat