MLS Expansion: Smaller Markets Jockeying For Position

MLS Expansion: Smaller Markets Jockeying For Position

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On September 16, 2013
  • Features, MLS Expansion


Ever since Don Garber announced back in July that Major League Soccer would be expanding to 24 clubs by the end of the decade, I was flooded with various emails, tweets, texts, etc. about potential markets.

And after last week’s news that three of the four spots are spoken for¬†–¬†with the likelihood of them being three Southeast clubs in Miami, Orlando and Atlanta – the race for the fourth and final spot appears to be heating up with everyone throwing their names in the hat.

Earlier in the day I noticed that a grassroots effort in Louisville, Kentucky has started up. The gang there was highlighted by some local press in the city about their desire to get a MLS club. It should be noted straight away that this effort isn’t being back by any big money groups like we’re seeing in Atlanta with Arthur Blank or in Orlando with their Brazilian-led group. So don’t get worked up by the thought of MLS going to Kentucky.

What it does bring up is the amount of smaller markets hoping to be that “next Portland” team for the league. We’re seeing a lot from Sacramento these days and for good reason. They’re just a large enough market that it would make sense to go to and yet a small enough market in their own right to have that “Portland-feel” to it.

I wouldn’t get too worked up over some of these cities though as MLS moves forward in their expansion game. We’re going to see a lot of these stories. Places like Nashville, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Tulsa all seem like areas that fit this mold of smaller markets that could be looking to have some group or person that wants a MLS team in their city.

If anything these will be NASL or USL cities before it is said and done. Both of those leagues are really doing a good job at identifying smaller markets that make sense from a national footprint standpoint. Like the NASL with Indiana and the USL with Sacramento.

Like I said, I wouldn’t get too worked up over hearing stories like this from time-to-time for the next couple of years. I applaud the effort in Louisville to get the grassroots movement going. But MLS already has a number of ‘smaller’ markets like Portland, Columbus, Kansas City and Salt Lake, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need another or will even go for another. The league will expand where the money is, where the stadium will be built and where the fans are. Simple as that.

(By the way: I love Louisville as a city. If you’ve ever been there you understand how nice the area is. But saying that, it is not a MLS town at all.)

  • Jay Nba

    It seems to me that the above article is leaving out a lot of information. First of all, there is no mention of the fact that Louisville, as far as I know, has just recently started the push to get an MLS franchise. I don’t think you could expect them to have investors lined up at this point. Give them a chance and a little time, and you just might see that you are wrong about Louisville not being an MLS city. If you do some research and look at all the facts, I think you’ll see things differently. Louisville is indeed an MLS city, or at least potentially so. As has been said before, you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

    • Jay, I mentioned that this was a start up movement, nothing more than that. I think you’re not understanding the core point of this post, which is about smaller markets like Louisville having these talks like this. I’m not trying to advocate them one way or the other as a MLS town. I’m just pointing out that there will be a lot of these type of cities out there that will want or feel like they are MLS worthy. But you are right in one aspect, we most certainly need to give these groups time. Things can’t happen overnight.

  • Sean

    Louisville does have MLS potential. Very much so. It is similar in size to Columbus and is major in college sports like Columbus. Louisville can attract fans from non-MLS cities like Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Lexington, and Nashville and will be a natural rival for the Columbus Crew. UofL and IU both have major college soccer programs and bring in large crowds, Butler has a good program, and UK’s program is improving. Louisville also has decent youth and high school programs that are nationally competitive. UofL is also growing and they just brought in a record size freshman class. Soccer is the second most popular sport in the country for people in their 20’s, right behind the NFL. Having a lot of college kids in their 20’s will just help the attendance at both the college and MLS games. Having other large universities in the area such as IU, UK, WKU, and Purdue will help create fan support as well. The city of Louisville also has an atmosphere similar to Columbus, Portland, and Seattle (other successful MLS cities) and an open attitude. Louisville also has UPS, Humana, Brown Forman, and Yum! Brands, which could be huge sponsors. As Jay Nba said, Louisville at least has really good potential and they look like an MLS city to me.

    • Exoderp

      Many, many cities in the US fill that role you just described. It’s not that Louisville isn’t worthy, so much as so are other cities. Moreso, probably. Louisville can’t touch San Diego or Sacramento for TV numbers and population. They’re not even close. Louisville doesn’t touch 300k residents, while San Diego alone can claim a million plus. Population isn’t everything, as evidenced by Portland, but Portland is a unique situation.

      • Tim

        Exoderp, our metro population exceeds 1.2 mil. Furthermore if you identify our market reach as 2 hours or less in drive-time, the total population exceeds 9 mil potential fans.

  • Bigpapa

    What Louisville has going for them is that they are the only city mentioned with the exception of Birmingham that does not have a pre-existing Big League professional franchise. This means that there will be more dollars in these two cities to go towards pro sport.