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MLS expansion delay grants teams stadium breathing space

Major League Soccer (MLS) has delayed the debuts of its new franchises in Charlotte, St. Louis and Sacramento by one year as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on the clubs’ stadium developments and business operations.

While Austin FC remains on schedule to begin competition in 2021 as planned, Charlotte, originally scheduled to begin MLS play next season, will now debut in 2022. St. Louis and Sacramento will begin play in 2023 instead of 2022.

The decision was made by MLS commissioner Don Garber, in conjunction with the league’s Expansion Committee. Austin FC, which unveiled the club’s brand in August 2018 and was formally announced in January 2019, remains on schedule to debut next year. MLS said the club had made significant progress on its sporting, business, and stadium objectives before the onset of the pandemic.

We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club,” said Garber. “It is important for each club to take the necessary time to launch their inaugural MLS seasons the way their fans and communities deserve. With the extra year to make up for what has been a challenging 2020, these teams will be well-positioned for their debuts and for long-term success.”

Charlotte, St. Louis and Sacramento were each awarded MLS expansion teams in the second half of 2019. Owned by David Tepper, Charlotte’s MLS team was announced in December and will begin playing at Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers NFL team.

“After a lot of discussion with Major League Soccer, we are confident it is in the best interest of our club and our supporters to take additional time to ensure a successful inaugural season,” said Tom Glick, president of Tepper Sports & Entertainment.

“When we were awarded the team in December, we knew we were on an extremely tight timeline to begin play in 2021, but we were ready to meet that challenge. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several of our essential initiatives. We have made huge progress in the last few months but having additional time to build is important.”

Sacramento Republic FC, owned by Ron Burkle, Matt Alvarez and Kevin Nagle, was granted an expansion team in October. The club’s new stadium will have a capacity of 20,100 and serve as the centrepiece of a wider project that will also include housing, retail, theatres, parks, museums, a hotel and a major medical centre.

The Railyards Stadium will now break ground this autumn, and will be ready for a full 2023 season. CAA ICON and Mortenson, as general contractor, have been selected to support the development and construction. The architect on the project is HNTB.

“Our goal remains the same – to build the best stadium and MLS club befitting the wonderful Sacramento region,” said Sacramento Republic FC investor Matt Alvarez. “With an additional year, we can better adjust for the impact of the pandemic on our community and identify how we can best serve the neighbours and friends that have supported our club on its rise to Major League Soccer.

“We will bring Sacramento into the top-tier of American soccer ready to compete at a championship level, and create an opportunity to support the next era of regional growth with a world-class venue and a commitment to continued community investment.”

Led by Carolyn Kindle Betz and the first female majority ownership in league history, St. Louis was awarded an MLS team in August. Construction of the club’s stadium district and team headquarters is still moving forward and construction partners are closely following guidelines from health and government officials to effectively and safely manage the ongoing stadium project.

The ownership group was given a boost in March after the Missouri Development Finance Board (MDFB) voted in favour of providing a $5.7m (£4.5m/€5m) tax break to help pay for the team’s stadium.

“We’ve been working closely with the league and collectively agreed that the adjusted timeline was the best decision to position our club for a historic launch and long-term success,” said Kindle Betz, MLS4TheLou CEO.

“We can’t wait to get on the pitch in 2023 and are still moving full steam ahead to build a world-class club and stadium district that will invigorate Downtown West and be a meaningful part of our current downtown renaissance.”