Breaking Down MLS’s Expansion Criteria

Breaking Down MLS’s Expansion Criteria

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On August 6, 2013
  • Features, MLS Expansion
Would Atlanta fit MLS's new criteria for expansion?

Will Atlanta fit MLS’s new criteria for expansion?

When MLS announced that they would be expanding to four more markets by the end of 2020, they put out a list of criteria that must be met in order for the league to go into a that market.

Factors taken into consideration include:

  • Committed and engaged ownership;
  • A comprehensive stadium plan;
  • Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market;
  • Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents;
  • Geographic location;
  • A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club.

So which markets fit these new factors? Let’s take a look at the contenders right now to see where they stack up.


Committed and engaged ownership? Check.

Stadium plan? Check. (Though the funding from the state and local side is a little iffy, but their billionaire owner will make it so)

Fan support? Check.

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? No official word but I’d assume so, check.

Geographic location? League wants a team in the Southeast, so check.

Business plan? Check.

Outlook: Looks great, they’ll get a club, that much we already know.



Committed and engaged ownership? David Beckham and his group seem like they will be committed. Check.

Stadium plan? Not so much right now.

Fan support? Uh, I may give them this one. Check.

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? No official word but TV ratings in this market always do well.

Geographic location? League wants a team in the Southeast, so check.

Business plan? A billionaire and a massive soccer icon working together, so I’d say yes, check.

Outlook: Four out of six so far, I’d imagine a stadium plan will be unveiled when Beckham reveals his plans for his expansion team.



Committed and engaged ownership? If it is Arthur Blank, then yes, check. If it is someone we don’t know, then may not.

Stadium plan? Sort of, Blank wants a MLS team to play in his new stadium for the NFL’s Falcons. Meh.

Fan support? Dicy one for this.

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? No official word but I’d assume so, check.

Geographic location? League wants a team in the Southeast, so check.

Business plan? Check.

Outlook: Decent but honestly not great. With Orlando’s bid looking as good as it is and the league going to Miami with Beckham and his group, I doubt Atlanta’s chances will remain too high unless Blank comes in with an aggressive bid.


St. Louis

Committed and engaged ownership? None as of today.

Stadium plan? None as of today.

Fan support? It would certainly be there, so check.

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? Same as the one above, that is a solid market. Check.

Geographic location? Big time check.

Business plan? None as of today.

Outlook: The location makes sense as well as the city’s history with the game. Lots of players want a St. Louis team and if an owner would step up, it certainly would work.



Committed and engaged ownership? I guess I’ll give them this one since the NFL’s Vikings would be involved. Check.

Stadium plan? Same as Atlanta, so, check.

Fan support? It would certainly be there in my mind, so check.

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? Hard to assume this one, haven’t see TV numbers for soccer from this market before.

Geographic location? Good location for a rivalry with Chicago and even Kansas City. So check.

Business plan? Haven’t seen one yet.

Outlook: The location is good, the stadium plans are similar to Atlanta. I still don’t like the idea of a new team in a NFL stadium.


San Antonio

Committed and engaged ownership? I think they need more $$ in their corner, other wise this would be a yes from me.

Stadium plan? Check.

Fan support? Check.

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? I think it would come in, that is a strong market as Toyota is even sponsoring the stadium. So yes, check.

Geographic location? Can’t claim this one for the Southeast but another team in Texas sounds favorable to Dallas and Houston fans. Outside of Texas, folks may not like that idea. But given how this is a rivalry driven league, this would work. Check.

Business plan? I’m sure one would be there, but haven’t seen one yet from this side.

Outlook: I still remain in the camp that says San Antonio will make the leap to MLS before long. Good market for the league to be in and they’ve proven they draw well in the NASL.



Committed and engaged ownership? It sounds like they will be, still want to see the $$ from them though.

Stadium plan? I guess you can say they have one. But I’d like to see real commitment for it before I give them a check mark.

Fan support? They drew well for a friendly, outside of that we really don’t know.

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? No clue.

Geographic location? I do like the idea of another California team but honestly, I’d rather see it in San Francisco.  Still, a good rival for the Quakes to have, so check.

Business plan? No clue.

Outlook: Their folks continue to talk and before long someone will really listen.



Committed and engaged ownership? If the right owner steps up in that market sure.

Stadium plan? Owners of the Silverdome want a downtown stadium. That would work. Need more on it though.

Fan support? I’ll give them this one, Detroit fans support their teams. Check. 

Support from sponsors, TV, etc.? No clue.

Geographic location? A good geographic spot for the league. Natural rivals for Chicago, Montreal, and Columbus. Check. 

Business plan? No clue.

Outlook: This is a market that really could work if all the right pieces fell in place. I’ve always thought highly of market in terms of how well they support their teams. Even the lowly Lions get supported. I know the city is in financial ruins though, which makes it tough for their chances right now.


Other markets: San Diego, Nashville, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Birmingham. All could have made this list but there isn’t enough for me to go on with this list of factors to match them up.

  • M

    You forgot to include the Cosmos for NY3.

    • Roderick MItchell

      Let’s see:
      Committed and engaged ownership: Check
      Stadium Plan: Check
      Fan Support: Saw someone wearing a Cosmos’s T shirt at a Chicago White Sox game when A-Rod came back so They have the potential to be the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers, a nationwide team, in the MLS. Check
      Support from sponsors, TV deal: Global sponsor from the same airline company that sponsors PSG and already have a TV deal: Check
      Business plan: Check
      Outlook: Much better than St. Louis which for some reason people are including the city that has no NASL or USL team what so ever.

      Twice in a Lifetime

    • Didn’t forget them on purpose or anything. The Cosmos will be in MLS if the Cosmos want to be in MLS. I’m just not convinced at this time that they want to be in MLS.

  • rduhawks

    And Raleigh. Only thing its missing is an owner. haven’t researched it yet, but I would think if you include Charlotte and parts of South Carolina, they’d have a bigger tv market than Atlanta.

    • Raleigh is another solid market. To be honest, I’d rather see the league there than in Charlotte.

  • catwalk

    as a Silverbacks fan here in Atlanta, I don’t see us having a valid chance right now. the best scenario I see would be to build up the Silverbacks, who are trying very hard to build themselves up in the area. winning the spring season helps a lot because they’re bringing the trophy around to various landmarks for meet n’ greets. as for the Falcons’ stadium, their original location plan hit a snag because 2 churches in the area refused to sell so now the Falcons have to find an alternative location. even then, I highly doubt they could just throw a MLS team into this new stadium and think they had any chance of filling it up like the Sounders are in Seattle. I would think it would take awhile to actually average 20k+.

    like I said, I like the idea of the current Silverbacks taking the same approach as the San Antonio and Orlando city teams. build themselves up: stadium, brand, tv, fans then the MLS will notice.

    • Good points, I’ve always felt Atlanta is a few years off anyways. Not to mention the folks there have even said they won’t be ready for a MLS team until 2017.

  • Adam

    Even for an opinion piece, you’re all over the place. At least apply the same criteria/analysis per category per market. You gave St Louis a HUGE pas considering they have no soccer team there currently.

    You: ” St Louis-Fan support? It would certainly be there, so check”. “Sacramento- Fan support? They drew well for a friendly, outside of that we really don’t know.” FYI, if you’re basing expected attendance based on other pro team support, Sacto has one of the longest sell-out records in the NBA.
    Support from sponsors??? They should all be “no clue”. Straight up guessing.
    Do your homework

    • Oh come on man, seriously? Have you ever done any homework on St. Louis and soccer? The support would easily be there. No question about it. The jury is still out on whether or not Sacramento would really support a team, they’ve hosted a couple friendlies, that’s it. Comparing what they do with a NBA team is apples and oranges here.

      • Adam

        Share with me about St Louis and soccer. Explain to me how “the support is there for St Louis” and “the jury is out on whether or not Sac would support a team”. Every pro argument you make about St Louis I can match everything with Sacramento’s own soccer community. This is no diss on St Louis. From what I’ve read, they are a great youth program. So does Sacramento.
        My point was that all cities up there are questionable, including Sacramento. The author didn’t apply his own criteria equally, esp for St Louis.

        • Adam

          Sorry. the author as in you….didn’t realize who I was responding to.

        • Alan

          St. Louis was basically the soccer capitol of America up until the early 1990s. It’s been a hotbed for the sport since the early 1930s. youth soccer there is absolutely huge. Frankly, when the inaugural ten teams for MLS were revealed, it was shocking that St. Louis wasn’t on the list. When Drew Epperley said “Have you ever done homework on St. Louis and soccer?”, this is what he was referring to. The fanbase is there, there is simply no stadium, owner, or team for them to support.

  • RE: Sacramento. Just down highway 99 from the capital is a PDL team in Fresno which produces pretty decent attendance numbers every season. Republic should pull decent numbers by USL-Pro standards.