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MLS Votes To Expand To 30 Teams, Improving St. Louis' Chance To Score Soccer Franchise

St. Louis civic leaders, members of the Taylor family, which owns Enterprise Holdings, and World Wide Technology Jim Kavanaugh announced plans to form a bid to attract a Major League Soccer expansion team in St. Louis. Oct. 9, 2018.
File photo | Melody Walker | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated April 19 with MLS expansion plan details — The potential owners of a St. Louis Major League Soccer team are closer to reaching their goal. League Commissioner Don Garber says St. Louis and Sacramento will be asked to make another formal presentation to the league's expansion committee.

The announcement came Thursday after an owners’ meeting in Los Angeles. The league says it will expand by two teams. For months, it was looking to add only one franchise.

The decision is a big boost for St. Louis and Sacramento, which are the top two contenders for expansion franchises. Both will be judged on several factors including stadium plans and area corporate support.

The head of the St. Louis ownership group says Thursday’s announcement does not guarantee an expansion spot.

“There’s still work to be done,” said Carolyn Kindle Betz, who is also president of Enterprise Holdings Foundation.

But she admitted the decision is positive for the local effort.

“Obviously, this increases the likelihood of fulfilling our dream of securing an MLS team for St. Louis,” she added.

The backers of each winning bid will have to pay an expansion fee of $200 million.

The league plans to announce new expansion teams in July.

Original story from April 11: 
The ownership group behind a potential top-flight professional soccer franchise for St. Louis could have a clearer picture next week about the chances of securing an expansion team.

Major League Soccer owners will meet April 18 in Los Angeles and expansion is on the agenda. That does not mean new teams will be announced, but it could end up being another gauge of the league's interest in St. Louis.

Momentum for an expansion franchise in the region is strong in some U.S. soccer circles.

"A lot of us around the country from a sentimental perspective — and I think this applies at MLS headquarters, too — would like to see St. Louis get a team because of the soccer history," said Philadelphia Inquirer soccer beat reporter Jonathan Tannenwald.

The city's connection to the game goes back at least to the early 1900s, with the creation of the St. Louis Soccer League in 1907. In the collegiate ranks, St. Louis University has won a record 10 NCAA National Championships.

Even with that heritage, there are still questions about a soccer-specific stadium for an MLS team and whether the corporate community will step up with enough sponsorship money.

Local officials have tried to ease those concerns.

The ownership group has put together a stadium plan that it says would be "heavily privately financed" and members are big players in the region's corporate community. The Taylors are the family behind the global auto rental company, Enterprise Holdings, and the Kavanaughs are among the leaders at World Wide Technology.

"The last time the commissioner of MLS, Don Garber, was there, there was a very big show of force by the business community in St. Louis, and he was pretty impressed," said Tannenwald, who is also president of the North American Soccer Reporters — a group of journalists that follows the sport closely and votes on awards including the MLS Player of the Week.

"I have said many, many times over the years that if St. Louis gets everything in order, to me, they jump to the front of the line over all the other candidates," he said.

Several cities are interested in what could be the last round of MLS expansion for a while. They include Detroit, San Antonio and Raleigh.

But the top contenders are believed to be St. Louis and Sacramento.

There are some deep pockets behind the bid from California's capital, but league owners would have to decide if they want a fourth team in the Golden State.

"They might. They might not, " said Tannenwald.

And he said the uniqueness of the St. Louis ownership group could be an asset.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber speaks at a news conference on Monday, March 27, 2017.
Credit Fire Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
MLS Commissioner Don Garber speaking during a March 2017 news conference in St. Louis.

It is fronted by women, with Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Carolyn Kindle Betz leading the way. The group says, if the expansion bid is successful, the St. Louis franchise would be the first team in the league with majority women ownership and one of a few in professional sports around the world.

"I think it's on Don Garber's mind," Tannenwald said about the potential female-led ownership.

He pointed to legal issues facing New England Revolution Owner Robert Kraft, who also owns the NFL's New England Patriots. The 77-year-old billionaire is facing two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution in Florida. Kraft has denied taking part in any illegal activity.

"We might say that having a few women in the room might not be the worst thing."

Tannenwald said there is no clear way to tell when MLS owners will decide on new teams. The league's commissioner has said an announcement will be made this year.

Follow Wayne Pratt on Twitter: @WayneRadio

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.