LOS ANGELES – Major League Soccer aims to finalize its 30th team “sometime in the first half” of 2023, Commissioner Don Garber said Thursday, continuing expansion for top-flight men’s soccer in the United States and Canada.
While Las Vegas remains a serious candidate, so too is a renewed push in San Diego.
Garber provided that update at his annual State of the League address, speaking some 120 miles north of the Californian border city as LAFC and the Philadelphia Union prepare to play the MLS Cup 2022 Final on Saturday at Banc of California Stadium (4 pm ET | FOX, Univision in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada).
“I'm a big believer in San Diego,” Garber said. “ … I think there's a view that San Diego, it's too nice there and people are out surfing and hanging out at the beach and I just don't buy it. I think San Diego's a great sports market, it's a gateway city.”
Garber’s remarks come amid reports of interest in San Diego, with the potential team possibly playing at Snapdragon Stadium, on the campus of San Diego State University.
San Diego has been on MLS’s radar before, with expansion conversations gaining steam up through a November 2018 public vote that denied the SoccerCity project. That group included Landon Donovan, who the league’s MVP award is named after.
But amid start-again talks, Garber is hopeful of possibilities around the market.
“Sometimes it takes a step back to take a couple of steps forward, and we did take a step back,” Garber said. “But I think it's fantastic that they are where they are. I hope we continue to make progress with the ownership group that we're taking to and we're optimistic.”
San Diego is home to several professional soccer teams, with the NWSL’s San Diego Wave coming off a wildly successful 2022 expansion season, both on and off the pitch. Just this past September, the Wave broke the NWSL attendance record when welcoming 32,000 fans to Snapdragon Stadium for a match against Angel City FC.
The USL Championship, home to second-division men’s teams, also has San Diego Loyal SC. Led by Donovan, they’ve made the playoffs two of three years since launching in 2020.
Las Vegas update
While Garber spoke optimistically around San Diego, he made clear Las Vegas remains on the table as well.
“I believe that Las Vegas, like all other leagues do, is going to be a growing market both in terms of the number of people and its ability to drive success for professional sports,” Garber said. “We have active discussions there.”
One of the keys, Garber said is finding a stadium when considering the Nevada heat and overall conditions.
“We've got a lot of work to do because you clearly need to build an indoor MLS stadium,” Garber said. “Stadiums are expensive. Indoor stadiums are really expensive. So we'll see how all that plays out. It's not a matter of who's first or who's second. Both are very active discussions.”
Expansion has seemingly been a perennial topic in Garber’s media availabilities, with the 2022 season bringing about team No. 28 in Charlotte FC – doubling the league’s size over the last 15 years. Charlotte, which set a single-game attendance record this year (74,479) at their Bank of America Stadium opener in March, became the third team to average over 30,000 fans per game alongside Seattle and Atlanta.
Next winter, St. Louis CITY SC will begin play as team No. 29 as well. Garber said there are over 60,000 deposits for season tickets at CITYPARK – all positive data points for the future of the game’s growth.
“I really think it's a credit to where soccer in North America is today,” Garber said. “There's not a [large] city in the United States or Canada where you can't have a successful MLS team, or a successful professional team if it's not in Major League Soccer. And that's a testament to what's going on in the sport today.”
Another key topic during Garber’s press conference, which spanned nearly an hour in downtown LA, was the new Apple partnership that goes into effect in 2023.
The 10-year partnership will make MLS games available worldwide on any device, and without blackouts, in improved picture quality. There will also be a simplified schedule, making viewing windows more predictable for fans.
More details will be announced in the weeks and months ahead, Garber said.
“We certainly will be launching our season with Apple, with great production teams, with all the bells and whistles that we've been talking about,” Garber said. “Stay tuned, as we'll soon be announcing a brand and soon announcing some of the innovations that we'll have in that new relationship.”
As the pieces come together, Garber believes the profile of MLS globally will only increase.
“We do think that having global exposure for our league in easily accessible formats is going to allow us to open up our league to other players who may or may not be thinking about Major League Soccer today, and obviously other fans who will have more access to our games,” Garber said.