As you may recall, I’ve written for VICE Sports about that tangled world of sports and politics. Namely, I’ve looked at the efforts of new MLS franchises to get stadiums built and stick a hand in the taxpayer’s pot of cash. As you’d expect, I didn’t pull punches when looking at both MLS franchisees and local politicians. Using open record requests, I was able to shed some light on how and why the situations had seemingly stalled.
Now, I’m happy to report, things have changed. Here’s where and how.
When I zipped off public record requests to city and county officials in Miami, I was shocked by the lack of communication with Team Beckham. Yes, most negotiations take place in person and secondly over the phone. However, there’s normally a paper trail of emails between personal assistants to set up meetings and draft agendas. The piece was much more critical of Team Beckham than Miami officials: the lack of local ownership and sports lobbying experience shined clearly. For Howler Mag, Robert Andrew Powell also dug up some delicious dirt on just how naive Team Beckham was.
Now, over a year after looking at various stadium sites and dismissing the former Orange Bowl in Little Havana as “spiritually tainted”, Team Beckham has announced they have accepted that site to build a stadium. This is odd, because the MLS Commissioner told ESPN in July of last year that expansion depended on a downtown stadium. Little Havana is not “downtown”. Has the expansion be revoked? Nope.
Over in Minnesota, I used public record requests to unearth a now obvious fact: the Mayor of Minneapolis was really against any new stadium. Basically, the super expensive Vikings stadium had poisoned the well at the state level and in the Mayor’s eyes. Still, Minnesota United had supporters on the City Council and got the County to help them lobby during the franchise bidding in New York at MLS headquarters. Team McGuire was ahead of Team Becks, but MLS had imposed a ridiculously short stadium plan deadline. They only had months to get things done.
Flash forward a few months, and Minneapolis has slowly taken steps towards a stadium. They’ve formed a task force and met a few times. However, things have gotten heated up North. Peter Callaghan of the MinnPost used pubic info requests to reveal that the McGuire Group has been in talks with the nearby City of St. Paul about a possible stadium. St. Paul is worried that they’re being used as leverage, but MLS has reportedly agreed to come visit the proposed St. Paul site after the MLS All-Star game.
Here’s the problem: just this month, Don Garber told Fox Sports that the team has to play in a downtown stadium. Of course, Garber has never clarified his “downtown” remarks with allusions to zipcodes or red lines on a map. Beckham’s team will be in “downtown Little Havana’ while Minnesota United may end up in “downtown St. Paul.” Still, the league’s frequent pronouncements and specifications have lost credibility as a threat to either new franchisees or local officials. Not that they were ever that menacing. Combined with naive and artificial deadlines, they always conflicted with reality in the first place.
MLS has to realize that to get a really good stadium deal, you first need an established franchise and then years of expensive lobbying at the legislature level. The key aspect, though, is time. Sporting KC, when the were the Wizards, lingered in a minor league baseball field for years before getting a non-downtown stadium deal. How long has DC United played at decrepit RFK stadum? Also, FC Dallas, the Union, and Colorado all play in non-downtown stadiums.
In sum, as a fan of MLS, I’m happy to see new franchises gets stadiums and hopefully field teams. However, I’m a bit disappointed in how the league has publicly commented on this process. The artificial deadlines and hollow threats have hurt its credibility. And for a still young league that has finally found its financial footing, isn’t credibility kinda important?