St. Louis MLS Expansion Hopes Hit A Snag

By Frank Maduri
Jan. 06, 2017

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer (MLS) has been positioning itself to enter the St. Louis market for some time now. The city has a rich soccer history, devoted fans, an established minor league club to build upon, and an identified, committed ownership group.

Those are all very important elements in an MLS expansion bid. However, what St. Louis is lacking is an approved plan for a new soccer stadium that is up to MLS standards. The stadium piece of the bid is a huge and vital component to any successful expansion bid; it is so important that the league will not approve a bid without a new stadium plan in place.

The rationale behind this, for those who are unfamiliar with the way MLS operates, is that the soccer specific stadium provides revenue streams to allow for the league to remain profitable.

The city of St. Louis about one year ago now, officially lost their NFL team, the Rams, who relocated to Los Angeles. The city had been planning to build the Rams a new football stadium on the waterfront by the Gateway Arch in a counterproposal to the Los Angeles move, and it was unsuccessful.

The members of the business community and other leaders involved in the Rams new stadium proposal quickly pivoted to utilizing the same area for a new soccer stadium for an MLS expansion team. The plan for the estimated $200 million dollar price tag of the facility broke down in this way: $80 million from the city, $40 million from the State of Missouri, and the ownership of the team planned to put up $80 million with the help of other private stakeholders.

The new governor-elect of Missouri, Eric Greitens, was not involved in that initial proposal and has stated that he will not use public money for the building of the soccer stadium, or any stadium for that matter. This news is a huge blow to the expansion hopes for St. Louis for an MLS team.

The ownership group has admitted that without the support of the state, it is unlikely that the funds from the city will be made available, and that it is a longshot to get private financing for that $120 million portion on top of the rest of the money needed to complete the construction of the project.

There is a chance if St. Louis does decide to go ahead with the $80 million they had initially put forth for the project, then the owners could try to secure bonds or other lines of financing for the $40 million variance represented by the withheld state funds.

The league loved the concept of a stadium and a team in that part of St. Louis and gaining a foothold into that region of the country, but MLS cannot afford to make a bad decision with expanding the league. It should also be noted that the league has plenty of interest from other cities which have stadium plans and financing lined up which also meet the other criteria for expansion.

The Rams vacated St. Louis and they expected to rebound by gaining an MLS team, now that proposal could go away as well. The city would be left with acres of cleared land with nothing to build on it, in an area where they badly need to revitalize. There is a great deal at stake for the city and the community, and it is a divisive issue. Some within the community do not want the MLS team and do not want to be on the hook for another stadium (St. Louis is still paying off the Rams former stadium, the Edward Jones Dome, built 20 years ago).

Conversely, the city has passionate fans that would like nothing else but an MLS team to play on the waterfront in their city. It is an interesting debate which has certain political undertones as well, it will play out in the months to come, as the deadlines approach for the next round of expansion and both sides will be left with a decision to make. That is unless the decision is made for them based on the political and financial implications of this important stadium proposal.

(some background/data figures courtesy of Fox Sports)