COMMISSIONER GARBER: Thank you, Dan. Following today’s Board of Governor’s meeting which took place here in New York, as we stated during the state of the league address, we have an update related to expansion. As probably all of you know, Atlanta and Minnesota begin play in 2017, and both Arthur Blank and his team, and Bill McGuire and his team made presentations for the first time to the full board on how things are progressing in both markets. Both are doing extremely well, both in terms of ticket sales and the creation of their clubs both on and off the field. We’re just really excited, and I think our board was very impressed with where both of those clubs are getting ready to launch in the spring.
LAFC is now a full member of the board. They’ll debut in 2018, and they’ve made a presentation on their stadium, which has now fully broken ground and under construction, and we’re just very excited to see how that project comes together in downtown Los Angeles.
We continue to work with David Beckham and his partners regarding his expansion option for a team in Miami, and that would bring MLS to 24 clubs. As all of you know, late last year we announced plans on add teams 25, 26, 27, and 28, to be a total of 28 teams. Since announcing those plans, there’s been lots of activity, all which I think many of you reported on and have had great interest in. Lots of public officials have come to the league office and we’ve visited them to sort of lend their support and express their desire to work with respective expansion ownership groups to bring MLS to the city.
As of this date, ownership groups from 10 different cities have publicly expressed interests in joining MLS. So that I can get out of the situation where I get people reading too much into the order that we list these teams for, here on in we’ll be listing them alphabetically. Those ten markets are Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa-St. Pete.
As many of you know, and I just thought it would be important to be very specific on what are the things that we look for when it comes to evaluating potential markets. They follow into three broad buckets. The first is ownership. We spent the day here today from 9:00 in the morning to 4:00 o’clock, meeting with our owners about building a league and looking at our plans from 2017 and beyond.
So ownership and a committed ownership group that’s passionate about the sport, believes in the league, and also has the resources to invest in infrastructure to build the sport at all levels in their market is first and foremost. Second is the market, and we look for a market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer overall at all levels, from the bottom all the way up to the professional level. We certainly look at market size. We look at the geographic location as we think about the geographic footprint, and rolling out broad fan support for our league.
Obviously, we look for and is crucial to our success, the level of corporate support that exists in the market for other sports teams, but also the corporate support with national and international headquarters in a specific market, as well as the television, regional television footprint, if you will.
The third is stadium. As you know, we look for very comprehensive stadium plans to ensure that the team is going to have proper homes for their fans and players while also serving in many ways as a destination for the entire sport in their respective market.
As part of our plan to add these new teams, the owners have authorized a formal process to evaluate interests from these markets and their respective groups. And today we’re announcing those details regarding that process, the time line, and the fee for expansion to 28.
First is the expansion application process and time line. Interested expansion owner must submit applications to the league by January 31, 2017, and we’ll then work closely with our expansion committee to review these applications and conduct in-person meetings with potential owners and officials from those markets. These meetings will take place during the first, second and possibly even into the third quarter of 2017.
Those applicants will submit documentation that focuses on these areas. First, the full description of the ownership structure, and the financial information that underpins their group. Second is the details on the proposed site plan and required government approvals and support for their stadium. Third is financial projections, the corporate support, soccer support in these respective markets. That includes a comprehensive business plan, financial projections, commitment letters for stadiums, naming rights for jersey-front sponsors which is something that is a new requirement for us. Also we’re looking for an expression of support from the soccer community. As we’ve been traveling around the country, that’s probably the easiest thing for us to get a good handle on.
Second is expansion team decision timeframe. As we will review these applications and visit these markets, we’ll announce the four expansion teams in groups of two, based on the following time line: The first two teams will be announced during likely the third quarter of 2017. These new teams, teams 25 and 26, will begin play as we plan in MLS by the 2020 MLS season.
Then we’ll work on two clubs. Those two additional expansion teams will be announced at a later date. We don’t have a specific timeframe for when we’ll either select or announce those additional two teams. Third is expansion fee. The fee for expansion at 25 and 26 is set at $150 million. The expansion fee really is the start of a huge investment in MLS from each group. As every potential market will be building a stadium, that leads to an investment that will go well north of $300 million. Officially these new teams will be making significant investments in training facilities for the first team and the youth academy, and also building out their administrative staff.
Earlier today we saw presentations from Salt Lake, from New York City, from Los Angeles, from Atlanta. Each of these training grounds are — I’m sorry, not L.A., it was Kansas City. Each of these training grounds have budgets north of $50 million, something that wasn’t even conceived of in the early days of MLS. You start adding that all together, and an investment in Major League Soccer is going to be well north of $300 million going forward.
The fee for the second group of expansion teams of 27 and 28 will be set at a later date, and we don’t have that date today, and we’ll work on that after we’ve reached an agreement as an ownership group on the previous two teams.
Finally, I want to thank our expansion committee. They’ve been very, very engaged in creating this process, time line, and working with us and the rest of the ownership on the fee. That group is chaired by Jonathan Kraft, Andrew Hauptman in Chicago, Anthony Precourt in Columbus, Phil Rawlins in Orlando, and Jay Sugarman in Philadelphia are the members of our expansion committee. So after those remarks, I’m happy to take some questions.
Q. You’ve talked a lot in the past week or so about a bunch of metrics that you guys hit from an attendance standpoint, TV audience, social, now this record expansion fee, is this the healthiest your league has ever been?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Yeah, for sure. We continue to build this sport from the bottom up, and, as I said in my state of the league, it really does take a village to build a sport’s league from the bottom up and whether it’s our owners, our fans, our partners, and even the support that we have from the media, I think everybody who cares about this sport is pleased that it’s shown the progress that we’ve been able to see certainly in 2016.
We do view expansion as a leading indicator as to where this sport is actually going. Early on when I came into the league, the original investment was $5 million, and that lasted the next couple years after that. We were struggling to get folks to come into our league, to even discover the losses where the debt for some existing teams. So while we don’t really look at expansion fees as something that is really a determinater of value, we do look at it as an indicator of what people believe is the future for Major League Soccer going forward.
Q. In April you were here in Sacramento, and you had said at the time that Republic FC had “been able to check the boxes that are required.’ Given that, does Republic FC in Sacramento need to go through the same thorough application process as the other nine cities in the month ahead? And if they do, how would you respond to concerns expressed by some fans here that Sacramento has been used as leverage to give markets like St. Louis, Tampa, Detroit, and Raleigh and Cincinnati to give them time to develop their own bids and catch up?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: We’ve always said to both the mayor and Kevin Nagle and his partners that we’d be establishing a formal process, so, frankly, it’s the first time I’ve heard a reaction like that from fans. In no way have we used any market to leverage any other.
Sacramento, like all other expansion prospects, will have to go through the formal process so that they’re sure they have all the pieces in place to ensure their success and certainly we’d want to understand the same. What I will say is that I spent a lot of time with Kevin and his group, and I’ve come away being impressed with what they’ve been able to put together. We probably speak to him more than any other expansion prospect, quite frankly. We’re encouraged by their corporate support and I know they put a great deal of time and effort into their effort to bring MLS to Sacramento.
But you can’t look at any one market outside of the more formal process and manage it’s strategic expansion of the league. It’s got to be more of a formalized plan about when our teams will come in, how they’ll come in, how does it lay out geographically, and how do we ensure that they’ll be successful.
Q. Question about player and player availability. Obviously, soccer is a global support and there is an unlimited surprise of players worldwide to bring into the league. But as the number of teams increases, is there a concern at all about the quality of the American players available in the league as there is more of a finite number of first division players out there?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, that like everything else we do is very focused on strategically managing our competition to ensure that the quality of player remains at a high level. Not only ’cause it continue to grow from where we are, but frankly we’re making the kinds of investments that will ensure that it gets better faster.
The entire target allocation money program is an example of that, and all players can take advantage of that program, and, frankly, we spent a lot of time today, probably the bulk of the meeting, talking about ways that we can continue to be strategic in how we invest in growing the competitiveness and the quality of our player pool.
More so now than ever before, and you actually have been doing this longer than I have, we have been making massive investments in player development through our academy programs and the home grown player rule. And I think I made the comment last week that we’ve got over 150 players that have come from our academies that are signed from our first team.
So at no time would we ever think about making any decisions on league growth without ensuring that we would do it in the context of continuing to improve both the perception of and the reality of our player quality. Frankly, we’re pretty smart focused in these areas, and I’m confident we’ll be able to achieve it.
Q. Two-parter for you, Commissioner. You’ve got multi amount of years of experience with San Antonio, so I was curious, what intrigues you most about this market when it comes to potential expansion? And second part of the question, what do you see as the biggest hurdle folks here will need to try to clear to win you guys over?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I think it starts with the recent engagement of the Spurs. Their entertainment holding company and their expressed interest on bringing MLS to San Antonio. I have had a good relationship and spent a great deal of time with Gordon Hartman, and have really a great deal of respect for what he’s done to both the community and to bring the team to — bring an ASL team to the city. But more needs to happen. I think the Spurs are focused on trying to do that. We know that the city and county officials have worked on getting together on Toyota Field. We are spending time with them and met with them a number of times and continue to be intrigued as we are by the activity and potential in Austin.
Q. You last said there was a deadline for the Miami deal. Two questions for you; one, is January 31st the deadline you’re referring to? And what would be the consequence of selecting the 25th team before Miami in that if you go into the next step, what’s that mean for Miami’s prospects?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: We have not publicly stated a deadline, so I can’t comment on the 31st of January being that deadline. I can’t even comment on whether or not 25 comes in before 24, because we are very focused on Miami being our 24th team, and we’ll continue to work with them to try to achieve that. So there’s not much more, I can, unfortunately, say on that.
Q. Are you more optimistic for Miami than you were a year ago or less?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I think I’m more optimistic. I won’t say I think. I’m more optimistic than I was in the past. I remain a big believer on the importance of Miami to extending MLS’s reach to south of the border and to connect with a very diverse and culturally important city in our country. We have a lot invested in this because of the amount of time I’ve spent with it.
But I’ve also learned that not everything you want to do gets done, and sometimes you have to take a step back, and if you can’t get it done, you move on. I think that is not something that’s driving any energy on this to conclusion much more than it’s just about everybody needs to understand, including David and his partners, and the league and everybody else, that we’ve worked hard and it’s time for us to reach a conclusion.
Q. You talked about the $150 million expansion fee and the total investment that’s north of $300 million. What is the minimum net worth required for a prospective ownership group, do you think?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: That’s a good question. I don’t know. You probably know more than I do whether the other leagues have established that as they went through their expansion process. We clearly are very focused on having owners that not only have to have a deep passion about the sport and a desire to continue to be a trailblazer in growing soccer and Major League Soccer in North America, but now you really need to have significant financial wherewithal to be able to make these kinds of investments.
We do go through a very detailed financial review that involves understanding their net worth and understanding their ability to make the kinds of investments that are not only a commitment to infrastructure, stadium and the like, but also to have the desire to continue to fund an increased investment in many, many other things, like our player development programs, and marketing, and investing, and all the things the league is looking to do in content and digital and alike.
So it’s an interesting position to be in because the original founders of the league, Lamar Hunt and Robert Kraft, and Phil Anschutz and one or two others were very, very wealthy guys. And today that level of wealth is something that is a must-have. But, frankly, we’re beginning to see a much younger generation of owners and prospective owners expressing either interest in MLS or making investments in the league. As I think about the future growth of Major League Soccer, and who the caretakers of that future will be, we do need to start moving towards a new generation of folks that have the desire and financial capacity to take this league to where we want it to go, and we remain very focused on being among one of the best leagues in the world. That’s going to require a lot of investment.
Q. How were the members of the expansion committee chosen? Was it strictly a volunteer thing or were you guys selective in who you put on there?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: No. The committee members are selected by me, by the commissioner for the league. What you try to do in those situations is have a mix of people that have experience in being able to lead a thoughtful process. So Jonathan Kraft obviously is a very experienced sports executive, and a guy that worked at Bain and has a lot of financial acumen. Anthony Precourt is a young guy who is a new owner and has been operating a team in a market that is a mature market, has a lot of experience there.
Phil Rawlins was involved in the lower leagues and made the transition from the USL up to Major League Soccer. And very importantly, Phil and his partner Fabio are doing an incredible job in Orlando and have a lot to add when they’re talking to prospects. And Jay Sugarman is here in New York as one of our few New York based owners. He has a lot of experience in real estate development and has done a great job in building a stadium and connecting in the community. That’s a group that we’re really proud of.
And lastly, Andrew Hauptman in Chicago, again, bought a legacy team, and is managing through all sorts of opportunities and even challenges in that market that I think can be helpful to any prospective owner.
Q. You spoke about the strategic importance to MLS of the Miami marketplace. If, for any reason you needed to move on from this particular Miami group, is there a contingency for spot 24? Is there a wrinkle in the expansion process that can allow for extensions? What would happen there?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: You know, we really are — obviously, if we can’t close a deal in Miami, we’ll figure out who will be our 24th team. But as I stated, we’re trying to get a deal done in Miami. There is probably not much more I can add than that.
Q. You mentioned how some clubs are upping the ante in the area of training facilities. Can you speak to the expectation for infrastructure and investment on the academy side?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: It will be part of the formal application when we meet with clubs or send out to prospects when we meet with clubs. We have a league rule that is 12 at this point, and every club is required to fill teams from that up through their second team and their first team roster. Interestingly, Cincinnati is already building out youth clubs as part of an academy, and many of these expansion prospects have done the same. Sacramento, and certainly San Antonio is very active in the youth market. I think you can begin seeing a development pyramid at every level of professional soccer in America and that is the future of our game.
And I think to Jeff Carlisle’s question, we need to be focused on how we continue to expand, and at the same time provide job opportunities for those in a competitive environments for young players?
Q. Commissioner, can you discuss what interests you in the Nashville market for MLS expansion? And the fact that Nashville doesn’t currently have a pro soccer team of any kind put it at a disadvantage as these ten cities pursue these four slots?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Just to start, Nashville FC is set to launch as a USL club essentially being run by former MLS executives. And we’re encouraged by the community’s support, at least so far behind that team and kind of the political and business leaders who have come out and expressed interest in being a possible MLS expansion team. We also look at, and folks that have been around expansion for many years will know, we very carefully strategically see and test markets, potential MLS markets, with international games and U.S. men’s and women’s games. We’ve been doing that for over a decade. And the national soccer market has come out in really strong support for the U.S. Men’s team, the U.S. Women’s team. And the Mexican National Team had an unbelievable event that we did this year. I think there were over 40,000 fans at that game.
We continue to be focused to the extent that it makes sense as it relates to the entire geographical roll out in the southeast. It is still a place where we don’t have a lot of teams and Nashville sort of falls in that category.
I will say, Nashville is very early into this. I think we met with them for the first time within the last few months. They’re not nearly as advanced as many of the markets.
Q. I know you’ve gone on the record after your visit to Detroit and what you talked about there. But talk about Tom Gore’s part of the direct ownership group, moving his basketball, NBA franchise into the city of Detroit. Does that make an impact on the bid for the MLS club? Second part of that, what type of role do you see from Detroit’s team, Detroit City FC, does the growth of soccer there have an impact on the MLS?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Let me start by saying, I think what Detroit City FC is doing is fantastic. I read an article yesterday or the day before somewhere on there, the passion for their club and for the energy behind it as a community based professional sports team, I think it speaks to where soccer in America is going. That you could have something that is almost a quote “kickstarter business.”
I know that they’re very passionate about their team, and I wish them great success and would love to see something like that in every market.
Tom is a guy that I think is really smart, really experienced in professional sports. He makes a great owner in MLS and has moved with Arn Tellem who is a good friend of mine, a proposed plan move to take the team down into the city, I think, speaks wonders for where Detroit is hoping to get to, which is this continuation of a city on the rise.
It’s got a lot of urban energy, and more and more people moving down to the city core. I look at it as a positive, not a negative.
Q. When I talked to North Carolina FC Steve Malik, he said about having a local owner, amongst the other things, his club may be farther along than other cities. I’m listening, it seemed like a race. However, Raleigh is the newest market to announce MLS. How do you view what Raleigh has to offer compared to the other cities competing?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: We recently met with Steve, and he shared with us his vision for growing soccer in the areas, including his ambition for an MLS team. I think it starts with North Carolina FC. And I think that’s a step in the right direction. It is early on, and we look forward to learning more about what his plans are in the coming months. Our expectation is they will submit an application and a bid for an MLS team.
We all know what the interests in soccer is in Carolina generally. And it is one of the places that has enormous soccer participation and support. I look forward to spending a little more time in finding out more about what their vision is.
Q. You’ve gone out of your way to express interests in St. Louis a lot as a market. You’ve met with the owners, I know Paul Edgerly was with you at the MLS Cup. Now that we have a proposal coming out at the mayor’s office for a vote on stadium funding. I’m curious if voters approve that in April, how close is St. Louis to being a lock for an MLS team?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, it starts with they’ve got to go through the application process. The mayor, and I believe the governor, are aware of the fact that they need to go through that process. St. Louis has always been attractive market for us on a variety of levels. It starts with the deep and historic soccer roots in the city, and it kind of moved to sort of the next generation of support that we believe will be a great future for the sport, should we be able to expand there. We’ve met a lot with Paul and with Dave Peacock and their partners, and we’re very encouraged by what we see.
Q. Following up on that, if the public vote fails, would that be seen as I guess a knock against interest in the sport in St. Louis and the potential support it could have from a fan base?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Yeah, I think if the vote fails, it’s in many ways a referendum on behalf of the community as to whether or not they want to support the plan for a stadium downtown. In the presentation we made today, we showed fairly extensive detail on what their vision is for a soccer stadium, and it was met with a lot of interest and excitement.
The St. Louis ownership group needs to determine whether or not the public support exists. I think the question as to whether or not they remain an expansion candidate would be probably a question for them much more so than for MLS if they don’t get public vote.
Q. Are you fully prepared to go with 23 teams in 2018? And specifically, can you talk about having an odd number of teams, given all the initiatives you’ve put in place to have things like decision day and opening days and rivalry days that are bolted on having everyone playing the same day during the season?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Yeah, so, you know, we’ve had odd number of teams in the past. It’s not optimum, and we try to do everything we can to avoid it. We still need to figure out how it all rolls out. But in the event we do have an odd number of teams, the goal is to have it for a very short period of time.
Q. San Diego has probably been on the expansion list, at least of the cities you mentioned, longer than anybody on and off. Can you just briefly talk about what’s different about San Diego this time, if anything is different? What gives you optimism it can get done? And then I have a quick follow-up?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I think it starts when an ownership group has come forward and we’ve met with them a number of times. It isn’t a group that we have been public with and it’s going to remain that way for a while. There is obviously — there are changes that could take place in the professional sports environment in the city that I think could potentially play into whether or not San Diego is more attractive to us today than it was in the past. And it certainly the Rams leaving St. Louis has certainly opened up an opportunity for us in that market that we had not seen in the years prior.
And should the Chargers make the decision to not remain in San Diego, the market would be more attractive to us. We take that and we believe that because we’ve seen what happened in Seattle when the sonics level. And in many ways, the Sounders were able to fill a void in sort of their professional sports landscape in that city.
Q. So is San Diego as attractive if the Chargers do not leave? Obviously there is a Liga MX team just 20 miles south, and they estimate 5,000 to 8,000 fans a game go across the border and go to their games. If the Chargers don’t leave, this is as attractive of market and can you draw enough fans given a Liga MX team is so close?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: It makes it a bit harder if the Chargers don’t leave, and that is not positioned in any way to influence anybody’s decision whatsoever. It’s just a factor that comes into play as we think about what is the competition in the market, and how could that affect a team’s success.
As it relates to what’s going on down in Tijuana, we think that’s incredibly positive. To think that we could have a arrival down south of the border for an MLS team when they play in champion’s league, or should we ever be able to have a competition among Liga MX clubs and MLS teams and just friendly perspective, and just to get cool support of rivalry, all of those things are really big check marks for the San Diego market.
Q. First question I have is what are some specific things you’re looking for with regards to stadiums? The league was pretty insistent for a long time about purposeful built venues, and along come New York City and Atlanta and they’ve done very well in larger venues. Whether or not they’ve had plans to build new ones, New York has it, Atlanta doesn’t. They’ve been successful. Where does that stand now in terms of what you want for stadiums? And I have a follow up after that.
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Every expansion team has to have a stadium plan that we believe in partnership with the owner will drive all the values that we’re looking for. And it starts with having a proper home for fans and players and being in many ways an anchor sport for the community. Then it moves to driving economic value and success, and all those things that are important off the field.
We have acknowledged, as we go through this process, that our view on stadiums has evolved over the last 20 years. When Mark and the guys wrote the original business plan, they did not have the concept of a soccer stadium in the original plan, because they knew it would be impossible to both fund the launch of the league, at the same time they were going to fund soccer stadiums. So therefore they went and looked at those, at having the teams, in essence, be tenants in buildings that either the NFL team owners owned or they could rent from others. We then went to a concept that had our first building in Columbus and second one in L.A., neither of which were in the urban core. Evolved from that, thinking we needed to build big sports complexes, which we did in Denver and Dallas. Then Toronto came online with the downtown stadium.
In our learning through the 20 years, taught us that there is not a cookie-cutter solution that works in every market. That you’ve got to really manage what makes sense in each individual city with the owner and with the dynamic that exists in the community. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that we must have a stadium that our team owns and controls so that we can manage our schedule and manage the effective operations of our games.
We have begun to see a downtown urban core dynamic that seems to be a real formula for success. So that’s kind of where we are.
Q. Do you still intend to have a point where the MLS says, that’s it, no more expansion? And would that in turn force some of these teams to make the lower divisions, whatever they may be at that point, be stronger? And if those lower divisions start to have some of these expansion candidates that don’t get there and they build that strength up, does that increase a potential for some kind of promotion relegation, if it’s as far down the road as you said it would only happen after you’re gone on and so forth?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, I hope to be around for a long time. I’m feeling pretty good these days. But at some point we’ll stop expanding, so that point will come. Those that don’t come into Major League Soccer are not going to go away. Frankly, I think they’ll work in their communities and whatever respective leagues make sense, and I believe wholeheartedly that they’ll make those lower leagues better, bigger, stronger, and ultimately more valuable. But that does not effect our view on promotion or relegation or whatever.
Q. I certainly understand the need and rationale for a formalized process. But I’m just recalling — following up on Ryan’s question from a few minutes ago — I’m recalling the statement you made when you were in Sacramento in April that you said I firmly believe by the year 2020, Sacramento will have a team on the field. Are you in any way backing away from that today?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, I remember saying it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. I don’t recall saying they’d have an MLS team by 2020. So our folks are scrambling here to, in fact, see if I did say that. So it’s hard for me to respond to that. I don’t recall saying that. But I don’t think you would have asked the question if you think I didn’t do that.
Q. Well, regardless of the timing issue, is it still a matter of when, rather than if?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, listen, we still have to go through a formal process, and this is no secret to anybody that we’ve been talking to. We always have communicated to every club that we have to determine a formal process. Kevin is aware of that, (Indiscernible) is aware of that, even Mayor Johnson was aware of that from the beginning of our discussions.
Q. This sort of tails from the previous question. You’ve got ten markets for four spots by 2024. Are they all in play for 2020? Is there any delineation? Where does St. Louis fall as far as you see it right now? How big of a factor? Does a stadium need to be completed by that season for a team to begin play?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Yeah, just to start, we never said anything about 2024. We basically said by 2020 we’re going to have two teams and then we’ll determine the timing right after that. So, and I want to be very clear about that.
Q. Yeah, okay.
COMMISSIONER GARBER: But finish the rest of your question though because I was focused on at least correcting that.
Q. Okay, so you have the initial two teams who are hopefully going to begin play by 2020. Is there any delineation among the ten markets in play for those four franchises in terms of who is going to start in 2020 and who will be at that to be determined date? And where does St. Louis fall along that line? And how critical is stadium completion? Does a new stadium need to be completed here or anywhere else by 2020 to be awarded a franchise?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Let me start with the end of it. We have not had the luxury of time like we have now to be able to have stadiums completed in all cases to be open on the first match. So we would expect that the stadium would be open in any new expansion team in time for play in 2020. But there are clearly certain markets that are further along than others, and some of them, like Sacramento, we’ve been in discussions with them for years.
So what ultimately is going to happen through this expansion application process is we’ll get a much better understanding of where exactly everyone is, and what their real commitments are, what their real financial commitments are and what the underpinnings are of their bid, what kind of public support exists. This is what expansion processes are in all Major Leagues.
Q. Where do you feel St. Louis is now? Do you have any feeling before the application process?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I said before, we’re very encouraged by what we’ve been seeing there at a number of different levels. Both in terms of what the ownership group has put together. The political support of the mayor, the governor, the viability of the market from a soccer perspective, the newly reduced amount of pro sports competition. We like their thoughts on stadiums, so we feel pretty encouraged by what we’ve been seeing.
Q. I’m curious whether it is a foregone conclusion in your mind whether they’d be no more than one team from North Carolina as you go through expansion? And secondly, if you could just go through the strength and weaknesses as you see them of the Charlotte market in Pittsburgh?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: It’s so early for us to comment on one versus two. It’s a really fair question, but it’s not something that we’ve contemplated. Clearly, we’ll have a much better view when we see the applications from Charlotte and from Raleigh. We’ve seen some really big crowds for international games in the market. I think they had close to 65,000 for a game that we promoted a couple years ago.
So we have been in discussions with a potential investor group. It’s very, very early on. So far we like what we’ve seen, but the process has just started there I think.
Q. In terms of challenges for this market? Is?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: It’s hard to talk about those, because we don’t know as much about it as we know about many other markets that are on the list.
Q. I wanted to know if you could talk more about the fact that there are two professional teams here in Charlotte that have huge national followings, does that help Charlotte’s image and help the decision that you guys might have to make at MLS?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: I don’t think it helps or hurts, because our valuation of the market will be very comprehensive. I think that’s one of the factors that goes into it. I think a lot of the things that we’re seeing happening in the state are very intriguing to us and we’re not yet ready to talk about an ownership group.
The group that we have met with is one that has got a lot of energy and a lot of professional sports experience. I was just told that they’re okay with us announcing who it is, it is Bruton Smith and Marcus Smith and his family.
Q. One last thing, I wanted to ask about House Bill 2, that’s been a deterrent for a lot of sporting events here in North Carolina. Is that something you’re keeping in mind for Raleigh or Charlotte?
I asked about House Bill 2, which is something that has deterred a lot of major sporting events from coming back to North Carolina, and even some major events like the All Star game from holding their event in North Carolina. I’m just wondering if that is something that’s top of mind for you guys as you consider Charlotte and Raleigh?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: It’s not something that we’ve been addressing at this time. But clearly as we get into more detail with both groups, I am sure it will be a factor along with many, many other factors that we have to consider.
Q. I wonder if you could provide more detail about the stadiums? Are you looking for a specific capacity of seats and maybe a little more detail about the overall plan? It seems to me you’re looking for more than just a stadium, but more of a comprehensive development around the stadiums?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Our stadiums have been 20,000 to 25,000 that is the size that we think would be appropriate for any of these new markets. We’re interested not only in the facility, but what other development exists in and around it, so that it can become a destination if it is not positioned in a way to be able to do so on its own.
Now we have a presentation from our owners who are looking at new stadiums. The minimum costs of these buildings today are $150 million, and one market will be between $300 and $350 million. So it continues to become more monetized with the types of benefits that are provided to sports fans when they’re attending games than any other outdoor stadium or arena, and we’d expect that our owners, prospective owners would want to do the same with their soccer stadium.
Q. As has been mentioned, two of the ten markets on the existing list of potential expansion candidates are from the state of North Carolina. Looking broadly and taking into account the geographic considerations that you spoke of during your opening remarks, do the Carolinas hold any particular interest for Major League Soccer during this next phase of expansion going to 28?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Yeah, I say that it’s obviously a strong market with some real soccer history at the grass roots level. Certainly we in this business know the power and the legacy of what college soccer is in the state. We know a lot about Castle and Raleigh, and the other big youth clubs that are in the state and that represents sort of a legacy that can ultimately create a fan base.
But I would not say we know anymore about the markets than what I just mentioned and hope to learn more during the application process.
Q. You were mentioning earlier all of the different areas that you vet a city on. All the different things that you vet them for, the expansion group and the city. Do you take into account the political and financial status of the state and the city when that expansion group is asking for what they are asking for? You also mentioned the vote being kind of a gauge of public interest, and I wonder, considering we’re in a phase where politics are about to shift, not the best financial situation for the city itself, is that a fairway to measure community interests?
COMMISSIONER GARBER: Well, I think my comment was less about measuring community interests as much as it would be to measure us to whether or not the ownership group would want to go forward if they didn’t have support for their stadium. I also mentioned that would probably be a good question for that group should they not get that vote.
So I don’t really know how to respond to the first question because we would never go to a market that we did not think had the wherewithal from a corporate perspective or from the household income to be able to support an MLS team. So the economic strength of the city is something that we certainly look at as part of the application process.
I can fairly say as we’ve gone around the country looking at the ten markets, that at no time did I ever look at one city over another and say they don’t have the economic strength of another potential prospect, and therefore it would move lower down the list.