MLS Expansion in San Diego on the Horizon?

Credit: MLS

So, the Chargers are gone and the San Diego Padres are the only major professional sport left in America’s Finest City– for now.

As you may have heard (unless you’ve been off pretty much all forms of media during the past few months), Major League Soccer is seriously considering San Diego as a place of expansion. With the Chargers bolting to LA (no pun intended), that consideration has been kicked up a notch. MLS, which current sports 22 teams (soon to be 24 once the 2017 season begins) across the USA, is seeking to add two teams within the next eight months that will eventually make their MLS debuts in 2020. San Diego is joined by Charlotte, Cincinnati, Durham, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Sacramento, Nashville, San Antonio, and Detroit as cities with ownership who have contacted MLS regarding 2017 expansion.

With the departure of the Chargers having become a reality, San Diego is now a very attractive venue for MLS and commissioner Don Garber. As a matter of fact, the city may be one of the favorites and a priority for MLS. Garber himself was quoted as saying a couple of months ago, “Should the Chargers decide to not remain in San Diego, the market would be more attractive to us.” Well, that has happened… and rumblings have only gotten louder since then.

Major League Soccer was created in 1994 and had its first games in 1996. It is considered the top soccer league in North America. As mentioned before, there will be 24 teams in MLS in 2017. Clubs play 34 matches in the regular season; 17 home matches and 17 away matches. Teams receive three points in the standings for a win, none for a loss, and one for a tie. There are two conferences, the East and the West, and the top six teams in each conference become playoff eligible. The playoffs then begin with a knockout round, where the bottom four seeds in each conference face off against each other in a single-elimination format. The conference semifinals and conference finals are decided by a two-game aggregate series, and the finals (called the MLS Cup) is a winner-take-all game. To learn more about how the MLS playoffs work, click here.

The Seattle Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup in Penalty Kicks

MLS is one of the fastest growing sports leagues in the world, according to Forbes. In 2016, the average club was worth $185 million, which was an 18% increase from 2015. Television deals with ESPN, FOX, and Univision (to state a few) have allowed MLS to stream their games to over 170 countries. Per MLS, viewership was up eight percent in 2016 compared to 2015. Merchandise, sales, and attendance are all up- and MLS is only behind Major League Baseball and the National Football League in average attendance. Clearly, MLS is on the rise and will soon be (if it isn’t already) a headline American professional sports league; joining the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB.

The news of MLS seeking San Diego out has sparked a lot of conversation during this past week. One theory is that an MLS team coming to San Diego would allow the Aztecs to work with MLS to bring a new hybrid-stadium to Mission Valley. The Aztecs have made it clear they would like to have a partner to build a stadium that would replace the Q, a place that Aztec football has called home since 1967. Other people are not so thrilled about the possibility of an MLS team. Nick Canepa, a writer for the Union Tribune, said that replacing the NFL with MLS is a type of “small town thinking” that would totally eliminate the possibility of San Diego ever getting an NFL team again.

Whether it is “small town thinking” or not, an MLS team would definitely figure to work in San Diego. Not only would they help the Aztecs get a new football stadium, but the odds of MLS gaining a following would be pretty high as well. San Diego is a top ten soccer market in the USA, per Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing. Here is the list of top ten soccer cities in America, according to their studies:

1)   Los Angeles
2)    Houston
3)    Dallas/Fort Worth
4)    Washington, D.C.
5)    New York
6)    Seattle/Tacoma
7)    Denver/Boulder
8)    El Paso, TX
9)    San Diego
10)   McAllen/Brownsville/Harlingen, TX

The first seven on that list are home to MLS clubs. San Diego is the next highest-market on that list.

Not only that, but there is a lot of other evidence that an MLS club would have good backing in San Diego. San Diego loves watching soccer. During the 2010 FIFA Men’s World Cup Championship Match, San Diego was rated as the second best market, just behind Washington, D.C. It was the same story during the 2014 World Cup, in which San Diego was rated just behind Washington, D.C. as a top 2 market. During the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final, San Diego registered as the third highest market (according to FOX).

San Diego Soccer Fans in PETCO Park watch the USA-Belgium World Cup Match

Due to San Diego being so geographically close to Mexico, the Tijuana Xolos have gotten a lot of press and publicity in San Diego (our own Francisco Velasco has written some pieces on the Xolos as well). The MLS commissioner believes that having the Xolos and an MLS team in close proximity to each other would spark even more interest amongst San Diego soccer fans. It would be a pretty cool little rivalry that the two could have:

I hold the belief that an MLS team can definitely work in San Diego, and it seems like a lot of people hold that same line of thinking.

How possible is it than San Diego gets an expansion team? Well, there is a viable plan for MLS to come to San Diego, according to Kevin Acee. The plan would allow Aztecs football to be able to get a new home, one that can be modern and one where they can actually use all the facilities. For a program that finished in the top 25 this past year, they deserve it. MLS would be fun, too. They might not be the Chargers, but for now, the idea of an MLS team coming to town might be something that can help grieving fans recover. A growing soccer league going into a soccer-crazed city seems like a good idea. Time will tell if MLS and San Diego can reach an agreement to bring another professional team to San Diego.

As a matter of fact, it might just be what this city needs.

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