Copyright 2016 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.
Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, is overseeing an expansion to 28 teams.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said during a Nov. 29 visit to the Queen City that FC Cincinnati still needs to figure out if Nippert Stadium is its longterm solution as its home site.
On Thursday, he made it clear the shared facility with the University of Cincinnati might not be an option if FC Cincinnati wants an MLS expansion bid, as the league plans to increase from 20 to 28 teams with 10 cities in the mix for four open spots.
Garber held a conference call with media regarding the guidelines, timeline and fees for the next wave of expansion beyond the four teams already set to join in the next few years - Minnesota and Atlanta in 2017, Los Angeles in 2018 and Miami likely after that.
The commissioner reiterated what he said in Cincinnati that a committed ownership group and supportive market are the most important factors for expansion clubs, followed by a "comprehensive stadium plan that ensures the team will have a proper home for their fans and players, while also serving in many ways as a destination for the entire sport in the respective market."
However, when asked specifically what the league is looking for in stadium proposals, Garber said a club-controlled stadium is a must.
"Our learning through the (first) 20 years (of the league) taught us there is not a cookie-cutter solution that works in every market, and you've got to really manage what makes sense in each individual city with the owner and with the dynamic that works in the community," Garber said. "The only thing that hasn't changed is that we must have a stadium our team owns and controls, so we can manage our schedule and manage the effective operations of our games."
FC Cincinnati's arrangement at UC would not fit that bill, and the club has about six weeks to figure that out, as applications for expansion are due Jan. 31.
Garber said teams No. 25 and 26 will enter by 2020 with an expansion fee of $150 million but owners will need to plan for an investment much greater.
"The expansion fee is the start of a huge investment in MLS for each group, as every potential market will be building a stadium, that leads to an investment that will go well north of $300 million," Garber said. "Additionally, these new teams will be making significant investments in training facilities, the first team, a youth academy and also building out their administrative staff."
FC Cincinnati general manager and president Jeff Berding said after Garber's visit that the club had looked at potential sites for a new stadium.
Berding was not available for comment Thursday while out of town but did provide an emailed statement.
"Clearly, we have a lot of work ahead in a short period of time, but there was nothing that we heard today that discourages us. Cincinnati and our ownership have what it takes to successfully bid for MLS expansion," Berding said. "We have been working to build our infrastructure since day one because we have been and will always be committed to being the strongest franchise we can be.
"We have been clear about our commitment to bring professional soccer at the highest level to Cincinnati, and we are enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue that building effort with the MLS."
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