In a conference call with the media, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber on Thursday listed the 10 cities vying for the final four spots in the league, as well as the timetable for their potential admittance.
North Carolina FC, which plays at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, recently announced a bid for an MLS team.
Garber listed the cities in alphabetical order: Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg.
Despite reports that the expansion fee to join MLS would hover around $200 million, the league announced that the next two teams will pay a $150 million fee to join the league and begin play by 2020.
The first two teams to be accepted into MLS will be announced in the third quarter of 2017.
When asked about what makes Raleigh an attractive market to host an MLS team, Garber, who met with the MLS board of governors in New York on Thursday, noted the local ownership and the area’s soccer history below the professional level.
“We all know what the interest in soccer in Carolina, generally, and it is one of the places that has enormous soccer participation and support,” he said. “We … know the power and the legacy of college soccer in this state. We know a lot about the (Capital Area Soccer League) in Raleigh and big youth clubs that sort of represent a legacy that can ultimately create a fan base.”
Garber said that House Bill 2, which has cost North Carolina millions of dollars with college and professional sports moving events out of the state, has not been brought up in discussion regarding the North Carolina markets, but that it could play a factor in the future.
“It’s not something that we’ve been addressing at this time,” Garber said. “Clearly, as we get into more details with those (ownership) groups, I’m sure it could become a factor with many, many other factors we’ll need to consider.”
The deadline for North Carolina FC owner Steve Malik to submit an application to join the league is the end of January. Garber said the criteria the league will go through when awarding teams to the competing cities are ownership, stadium, financial projections, corporate support and soccer support.
“We recently met with Steve (Malik) and he shared with us his visions for growing soccer in the area, including his ambition for an MLS team,” Garber said. “You know, I think it starts with North Carolina FC and I think that’s a step in the right direction. It is early on and we look forward to learning a bit more about what his plans are.”
North Carolina FC released a statement later Thursday: “Earlier today, Major League Soccer announced that the Triangle is among one of the 10 communities being considered for expansion. North Carolina Football Club is excited about the next steps in this process set forth by MLS and is confident it will be able to meet the goal of bringing the highest level of men’s professional soccer to the Triangle.”