After announcing the blockbuster deal that brought in Manchester City F.C. and the New York Yankees to Major League Soccer as owner-operators of the expansion side New York City FC that is set to kick off in 2016, the league claimed that they would be content at twenty teams for the time being and had no further plans to expand.
David Beckham, however, planned differently and now is expected to decide upon purchasing an expansion franchise, that the league is contractually obligated to allow him, within the next ninety days. Beckham would place the team in Miami, Florida and would team with the Bolivian-American founder of Brightstar Corp., Marcelo Claure. Claure already has experience in owning a soccer club, having been the owner of Fútbol Club Bolívar that plays in the top league of Bolivia. Beckham only recently retired from soccer after the 2012-13 season, spending his last season with Paris Saint-Germain of the French Ligue 1.
The potential expansion side would not be Miami’s first foray into Major League Soccer. The Miami Fusion joined the league during its first expansion in 1998 – the same one that brought in the Chicago Fire – as the league’s second Florida-based franchise. Unfortunately, due to the much more unstable makeup of the league at the time, both Miami and the Tampa Bay Mutiny were contracted after the 2001 season, something that has never happened since in MLS. Another problem the Fusion faced was not actually playing in Miami, but in nearby Fort Lauderdale, further from the center of their targeted fan-base.
Miami looked as if it would get chance when, in 2011, FC Barcelona placed a bid to own one of the eventual 2011 expansion sides. Instead, the Spanish juggernaut eventually backed out and it was Cascadia that picked up not one, but two, teams in Portland and Vancouver. The area currently hosts the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a professional team that plays in the second division of American and Canadian soccer, the North American Soccer League.
The duo of Manchester City and the New York Yankees paid a record $100 million expansion fee, with other recent franchises having been sold for around $40 million. Beckham’s side could join the league at an even lower price, as his contract with the Galaxy set the price at just $25 million, a much more reasonable price in 2007.
Beckham and Claure stopped at several potential stadium locations, including Sun Life Stadium, already home of the National Football League’s Miami Dolphins and formerly Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins. The seventy-five thousand seat facility surely has a large enough capacity to support an MLS team to say the very least, but the league has a strong preference for soccer-specific stadiums and Sun Life would likely only be accepted as a temporary venue. The duo of prospective team owners also visited Florida International University’s twenty-thousand seat FIU Stadium, which would also be better served as a temporary facility.
Beckham told CBS4 Television, “I think bringing an MLS team here to South Florida would be… it’s exciting… I think Miami fans are very passionate about their sports and very passionate about winning and of course, it would have to be success but it’s definitely exciting.”
The league has little choice to accept Beckham’s purchase due to their contractual obligations, and the league desperately needs to spread its footprint into the Southeast, but the biggest question to come from these developments is whether the increase to twenty-one teams would put further expansion back on the table for the league or not. Major League Soccer has had an odd number of teams since 2012, and would go back to it when the Miami franchise is added even after the New York franchise evens it out. The scheduling is thrown off by the odd number, forcing more bye weeks for teams, and the league’s conferences are currently getting much larger without divisions than in other sports, the closer comparable being the National Hockey League’s new divisions of eight teams in its Eastern Conference starting next season. The league would certainly benefit from reduced travel, but would it be willing to have three five-team divisions to go along with one of six teams? Perhaps, but Orlando City’s chances at coming into the league certainly have become more likely. The Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League are designing new stadiums with soccer in mind and could pursue MLS franchises as neither city is currently occupied. Both, however, do host minor league sides in the area, as the Atlanta Silverbacks and Minnesoua United FC play in the NASL.