On Monday, MLS did what it promised not to do in Miami. The top-flight soccer league in the United States approved Miami as its newest expansion team even though the stadium location is far from being finalized and the plans could be in jeopardy of imploding this summer if a court’s ruling doesn’t go its way.
In 2014, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in his state of the league address that “Until we get [a stadium in Miami] finalized, we can’t make a commitment to Miami.”
And that stadium deal is far from being done.
David Beckham and his investors have a location in Overtown, one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods, earmarked for the stadium, but the Miami MLS group need to acquire one last piece of land for the stadium construction. In June 2017, the Miami MLS group received approval for the contentious piece of land. But that was before a wealthy land owner filed a lawsuit against the county for breaking state law in selling the land to Beckham in a no-bid deal.
In October 2017, a judge tossed Matheson’s case out, but Matheson appealed the decision. A court ruling is expected by July 2018.
In Monday’s announcement by MLS that Miami will be the league’s 25th team, there was not one mention of a stadium by any of the eight people on stage (Beckham, Garber, local investors Jorge and Jose Mas, Marcelo Claure, Simon Fuller, Miami mayor Francis Suarez and Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Giménez). It was only in the private meetings with the press afterwards that the stadium issues were discussed.
While it’s understandable why the MLS Commissioner and Miami representatives didn’t want to discuss the thorny issue of the stadium in a public setting, what is most intriguing is why the decision was made now to award Miami the franchise instead of waiting until this summer when the status of the stadium could be finalized.
We reached out to Major League Soccer for comment on why the decision was rushed, but MLS did not respond to our request.
Sprint CEO and Miami MLS investor Marcelo Claure did answer our question, however. “Why today? Because we’ve been dying to announce this for four years and we finally have everything we needed to announce. We have passed all of Major League Soccer list of things that we need to comply to officially award us a team. And that was achieved last week. So therefore we say that there should be no need to make the people of Miami wait any longer.
“Now, the stadium is only one track. There are so many other things that need to happen but it’s an important track. We feel good as it relates to a legal position and hopefully that’s not going to be an impediment to the team. If it’s an impediment, we will find solutions. That I can guarantee you.”
Although, after four years of discussions with the local city, county and state governments, MLS Miami still has no permanent stadium solution, and those impediments almost killed the entire deal.
By MLS suddenly fast-tracking Miami as an expansion team even without a stadium finalized, the question is ‘why the rush?’ In my opinion, there are three factors: (1) MLS wanted to announce Miami as team number 25 before it makes a decision of whether to award the next expansion team to either Cincinnati, Detroit or Sacramento. (2) MLS desperately needs to have Miami launch in 2020 so that the league can ensure that the 16th largest TV market in the country (Miami-Fort Lauderdale) is part of Major League Soccer’s next TV deal when negotiations begin in 2021. And (3) the timing of the decision arms USSF Presidential Candidate Kathy Carter with a major feel-good story that she can use to illustrate how MLS is continuing to grow in the United States, which could help her win some vital votes in the USSF Presidential Election in less than two weeks.
With Miami scheduled to launch in 2020, a permanent stadium solution won’t be ready until 2021 at the earliest. If Matheson wins the appeal in August, it’s back to the drawing board for MLS Miami.
For 2020, the current plan being discussed is for the Miami MLS team to play in up to three stadiums in the area, dividing the home games between (presumably) Marlins Park, Hard Rock Stadium and Riccardo Silva Stadium. Other stadiums in the area are being considered.
In determining whether MLS will be a success in Miami, everything comes back to the stadium. With the Overtown location up in the air and a myriad of temporary stadiums being contemplated, this Miami MLS investment continues to be a risky proposition.
MLS, David Beckham and the investors have gone all-in on finding a stadium. Let’s hope they finalize one soon.