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Why St. Louis Just Became The Leading Contender For A Major League Soccer Franchise

(Source: forbes.com)

Don’t be surprised if St. Louis is awarded one of the next two expansion bids into Major League Soccer in the coming months.

On Tuesday, it was announced that a group led by a multi-generational cohort of the founding family of global car rental behemoth Enterprise Holdings (the Taylors) would be the principle owners of a soccer club in St. Louis.  Additionally, the Taylors are teaming with the family of Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of Maryland Heights-based World Wide Technology and a former professional soccer player.

For a city that many soccer experts consider to be one of the most historic soccer communities in the country, the involvement of the Taylor family yields 3 significant factors which were missing from the failed soccer bid from Spring 2017:

  1.  A financial whale with strong local ties

The Taylor family’s contributions within the St. Louis community have been tremendous.  One would be hard-pressed to find another family in the region with the history and combination of business acumen, goodwill, and philanthropy which would match the Taylors.  Major League Soccer embraces these types of leaders as the owners/stewards of their clubs.

And if we look at recent history, a big reason why FC Cincinnati and Nashville won the most recent round of expansion is because of similar leaders in their respective communities (Carl Lindner III in Cincy, John Ingram in Nashville).  Conversely, the Sacramento bid – which was looking strong thanks to rapid local support from fans and businesses as well as the development of a new downtown soccer stadium – has been temporarily slowed because the club has yet to land their whale.

2. Majority-led female ownership

At the end of the day, the 3 factors any MLS expansion bid must have in place are:

a) Fiscally solid ownership group with deep-pockets and an impeccable reputation;

b) Evidence that local fans and companies will support the club;

c) And, ideally, a soccer-specific stadium located near the region’s Central Business District.

That said, any other favorable intangibles won’t hurt…and in fact, could strategically position a particular bid for having a greater likelihood to be chosen.

Well, presuming the Taylor’s involvement simultaneously addresses both the financial solvency question as well as the delivery of a new stadium at minimal cost to the public, the fact this bid just happens to be led by a majority-led female ownership group is particularly strategic.

For starters, it would be the first such ownership group in Major League Soccer history.  Something the league would certainly embrace.  Especially since it would make the St. Louis bid one of the few female-led ownership groups in all of sports.

Furthermore, with the current climate in America as it relates to gender relations in general, and specifically within the work place, there could be added pressure on MLS decision-makers to approve such a bid.

On its own merits without consideration of this factor, the new St. Louis bid which is comprised of affluent local leadership that can produce a new soccer-specific stadium in downtown St. Louis would alone be formidable…especially given the region’s soccer roots.  But if we were neck-and-neck with another vying city, having a bid with majority-led female ownership could be a key influencing factor which sways MLS towards St. Louis.

3. Minimization of public financing for new stadium

On March 30th, 2017, I wrote a Forbes piece which lauded the prior soccer stadium plan in St. Louis as “a fiscally responsible partnership with unprecedented city and community benefits”.  I felt that way then, and I still feel that way about a plan which did require a public vote in the City of St. Louis to approve $60 million in public money.

Fast forward to yesterday.

While all the details are not out yet, the new ownership group is saying (quote from their website) that “this proposal is heavily privately financed, and ownership has no intent to request citywide tax revenues or Tax Increment Financing (TIF).”  

Citing the same source, as it relates to state funding, they say “The state currently owns the land chosen as the preferred stadium site.  We are asking the state to deliver to the city a clean, buildable site for the stadium.  This is a standard request and would be made by anyone who wished to develop the property for any purpose.  Additionally, the financing package relies on certain tax credits from the state, which we are currently discussing.”

Lastly, with a new Missouri Governor in place who appears to be more receptive to collaborating with the project, this provides yet even more confidence in the financial viability of the stadium project.

The race for MLS expansion over the last two years has felt a bit like a Cannonball Run (a nod to late great Burt Reynolds).  And when seen through that comedic prism, the failed stadium vote in April 2017 felt like our car engine racing towards MLS inclusion had burst a gasket.

However, the inclusion of the Taylor family into the MLS mix has turbocharged and revitalized the St. Louis soccer bid.

Racing the St. Louis bid past its current competitors to now be the front-runner as a Major League Soccer invitee.  With the caveat that if Sacramento finds their whale in the coming weeks and months, they and St. Louis would appear to be the most viable candidate cities for MLS expansion.

More Info: forbes.com

Money Matters
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