MLS president Mark Abbott discusses expansion bid submissions and process

The day after 12 cities submitted expansion bids for future rounds of MLS expansion, the league's president and deputy commissioner, Mark Abbott, fielded questions from reporters via teleconference call.

Highlights of Wednesday's hourlong session follow below: 

On meeting with the Nashville ownership group and mayor Megan Barry:

“With respect to yesterday's meeting, it was the first time that I had had a chance to meet with John [Ingram, of the Nashville MLS Organizing Committee]. I'd met with Bill [Hagerty, also of the Nashville MLS Organizing Committee] previously and had never met the mayor, although I'd spoken to the mayor on the phone last summer. And it was a wonderful meeting. The mayor expressed the support of the city behind the application, and John expressed his enthusiasm about being involved in trying to bring a Major League Soccer team to Nashville. So I thought it was a very positive initial meeting.

“It was the first time to meet John, and you know, I was really struck by his enthusiasm for this. You know, I really enjoyed getting to know him, and I was struck by the mayor's vocal support for bringing Major League Soccer. And if you know the mayor, and you might know her better than I do, she is quite a spokesperson, an advocate for the city of Nashville, and that comes across when you meet with her.”

On the effect of the Jan. 31 application deadline on Charlotte's bid:

“With respect to Charlotte, we did see some concern about the role that the deadline was playing, and had some concern as to whether it was impacting the deliberations. So we had a conversation with Marcus Smith [prospective owner in Charlotte], and Marcus decided to move ahead with the application, remove the deadline as an issue, and to say to the city that they're prepared to submit the application to continue discussions with the city. I know there was discussion around the deadline, but in the end, it really didn't play a role in anybody's determination as to whether to move or not move forward.”

On St. Louis and an April 4 stadium ballot measure:

“Well, in our discussions with the ownership group and with public officials [in St. Louis], it was and it remains our understanding that in order for the stadium to remain -- and project and process to remain on a timetable to allow them to hit the 2020 opening -- that the April ballot is the ballot that they would need to hit. So we remain supportive of that, and I don't think anything has changed with respect to that.

“We're not going to rank markets today, but we've been very supportive of the ownership group and the stadium process in St. Louis, and we remain very supportive of that today. You know, all of the markets that we saw make submissions yesterday have lots of great attributes and factors that lead us to believe they could be successful, and St. Louis clearly falls in that category, also. As you point out, there's a great history for the sport, going back to the very beginnings. We have a tremendous ownership group, and we've got a really compelling stadium plan. We've been public about our support in St. Louis, and that hasn't changed.”

On Detroit's quest to secure a stadium site:

“We don't have a firm date as to when you have to have the site finalized in order for us to hit the year end, but there's going to be a practical aspect to that which is going to be slightly different in every community, depending on what type of governmental approvals you may need. But in order for us to select the city, they're going to have to have a finalized plan. We know that the groups continue working on the jail site, and we'll just have to continue to see how that plays out. I don't really have more specifics on that other than I know they continue to work on it, and that remains their goal.”

On San Diego's plan to share a 40,000-seat stadium with San Diego State University:

“We don't have any abstract of stadium size, but each community has a stadium that will work for the MLS team in that community. And there are ways you can build stadiums that have different capacities that still work for MLS. What's key for us is we're able to get a stadium plan and project there with a capacity that creates the right kind of environment for our fans, so there's no abstract or random stadium size. There would be a specific plan that we would have to evaluate in San Diego."

On media market size and a stadium expansion plan underway in Tampa-St. Petersburg:

"There are four factors that the league will think about or use when evaluating any particular application, and so I'm not going to rank markets today. We're at the beginning of that evaluation process. But some of the factors you've cited [media market size and a stadium plan] are factors that we talked about just a few minutes ago.

“What's the stadium plan, and how is it going to be executed? How does the market help us achieve our overall national goals? What do we think the dynamics within any particular market are that lead us to believe it would be successful? We're not going to today apply those to any particular market or handicap any particular market, but those are the factors that we're using in our evaluation.”

On whether the league specifically asked Indianapolis to apply:

“While we were supportive of their desire to apply, we didn't go to any market and encourage them to apply. This was a process by which people have been aware that we are going to expand, and they have approached us. I don't want to get caught up in semantics here, but we were open to the application from Indy Eleven, but I would quibble a little bit about the characterization that we went around to any market and encouraged them to apply.

“The thing that I think is interesting is, as you note, the team there has been successful from its perspective, and they have begun work on a downtown stadium plan. Other than that, I don't have a lot of specifics to comment on with respect to their plan, but those were two components that obviously we're aware of.”

On stadium plans in Cincinnati:

“You know, we have had discussions with them about a plan for a new stadium. I think that obviously we're still at the beginning of the process here. I know that they have been spending time evaluating that, and those are conversations that we look forward to continuing to have with them. Other than that, I don't really have any specific comments on the stadium plan in Cincinnati, but we have talked to them about a new stadium.”

On San Antonio's bid and the involvement of the NBA's Spurs:

“Well, I'll begin by saying that we have a lot of respect for the Spurs' organization, and I think it really speaks a lot about the state of the sport in this country that they got involved with the USL, they're involved with the stadium for that team there, and that they're interested in Major League Soccer.

“So I think that's a real positive with respect to -- generally about the sport -- that an organization that has been as successful as them is interested in pursuing Major League Soccer. And so I don't have much more detail than that, but I think that was something that -- certainly caught our interest.”

Topics: