MLS: Expansion delay will be positive

MLS will delay the maiden seasons for three expansion franchises. St. Louis, Sacramento, and Charlotte. While initially disappointing, it is positive for all involved.

Major League Soccer will push back the starting season for three expansion teams. That should disappointment the leaders and supporters of Charlotte, Sacramento, and St. Louis. And initially, it certainly is a disappointment. After all, the fourth expansion team, Austin FC, got clearance to continue planning their first games in 2021.

However, after measuring how close team progress was to their goals, the other three franchises decided their opportunities outweigh any disappointment after delaying their start dates. The Charlotte team will now hit the pitch in 2022, while the maiden seasons for Sacramento Republic FC and St. Louis City SC are in 2023.

MLS commissioner Don Garber blames COVID-19 shutdowns and delays for the measures. In a statement last month, Garber said:

“We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club. It is important for each club to take the necessary time to launch their inaugural MLS seasons the way their fans and communities deserve. With the extra year to make up for what has been a challenging 2020, these teams will be well-positioned for their debuts and for long-term success.”

The delayed expansion teams now have more months to accumulate value for team competition and fan entertainment. The top investment for each team is their soccer stadium. Each of those structures is planned for 20,000-plus seats. Yet, the post-COVID-19 environment will demand extraordinary attention be applied to designing seating arrangements. Charlotte MLS president Tom Glick reported the extra time will benefit renovation plans at Bank of America Stadium for safe-seating of a maximum number of spectators.

Designers had slowed down while going back to blueprints for the Sacramento Republic FC stadium after considering COVID-19 concerns. Now all are confident the $300 million downtown structure will offer safe gathering in the post-COVID-19 era, spokespeople assured. Construction will start this fall after being delayed during the spring.

St. Louis City SC leaders and supporters sound the most enthusiastic after absorbing their 2023 league debut setback. Majority owner Carolyn Kindle Betz assures they were upset at the initial news but quickly recognised the greater potential for ensuring that their expansion is a success with an added year of preparation.

And now more sponsors have been calling to get on board with building partnerships, construction crews are adapting to new COVID-19 safety regulations, and there is a tentative belief that the delay will be positive for all involved.

For the three delayed MLS expansion franchises, they took their lemons and made lemonade. The delay is a disappointing, yes, but ultimately, it will pay dividends.