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State of St. Louis MLS Expansion Bid


Brian in Boston

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Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber on Jeff Cooper's bid to bring an MLS expansion franchise to St. Louis:

"We really want to be in St. Louis, but in order to be here we have to be sure that every aspect of Jeff Cooper's bid is solid and one weakness it has today is that Jeff has not been able to secure the investor who has very deep pockets."

"Right now, we're not secure that his group can satisfy the objectives (i.e. investments in the community, player development, fan development, marketing, promotion, on-and-off-field staffing, weathering economic challenges) so the team will be successful."

Bottom line? Jeff Cooper's impressive stadium plan in Collinsville, Illinois means nothing to Major League Soccer unless he is able to bring an incredibly wealthy partner into his ownership group. Period.

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Then the league will fail because they don't get it.

An owner doesn't need to have deep pockets to be successful in the MLS. There isn't that much spending for them to do.

Rather than put it in my own words, I'm just gonna post a good article by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz from a couple of days ago.

http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/co...E2?OpenDocument

You may not know Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer. And he might just be the smartest commissioner of a professional sports league in North America.

Is the MLS as popular as the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA, or the NHL? Of course not. The league is still in the formative stage, gradually building the soccer-specific stadiums, valuable media partnerships (ESPN) and fan interest to form a long-term foundation.

Under Garber's outstanding leadership, the MLS has dramatically outperformed the cynics' doom-and-gloom expectations and isn't going away. The young MLS circuit continues to grow and gets stronger each season.

As a soccer and MLS fan, I have only one gripe with Commissioner Garber:

Come on, pal ? let us in.

It's really time to do the right thing and give an expansion franchise to Jeff Cooper and the St. Louis, Metro East community. Cooper has waited long enough.

Garber and the MLS owners have gathered in St. Louis for the league's annual SuperDraft, which gets under way at 1 p.m. today at America's Center.

Perhaps the visit to the cradle of American soccer will remind Garber and his partners that St. Louis should be first in line for the next round of expansion. That decision will be made later this year, with the two new MLS franchises due to begin play in 2011.

We've watched Cooper patiently put St. Louis into prime position to secure a team, but the MLS keeps kicking him in the shins by going to other markets. This time, St. Louis is competing with Miami, Atlanta, Portland, Vancouver and Ottawa.

St. Louis has been bypassed twice during recent expansion races. It happened in 2007, soon after the city of Collinsville approved a financing package for an 18,500-seat, soccer-specific stadium and surrounding youth soccer complex that, by all accounts, is the model that MLS advocates as imperative for success.

But despite arranging for that sure-thing stadium complex, Cooper lost out to Seattle on the invitation to become the league's 15th franchise. And just when we thought St. Louis was warming up on the side to be the next to enter the fray, the MLS awarded the 16th club to Philadelphia.

Don't get me wrong; Philadelphia is an important addition to the MLS. But the Philadelphia group was able to talk its way ahead of St. Louis by promising a publicly financed venue. As of now, Philly is still trying to arrange that financing. There's no stadium. Not yet, anyway. And if Miami receives a team, organizers there are proposing to play home games at a college football stadium, on artificial turf.

Cooper has a stadium on line, ready to break ground, and the MLS keeps tripping him up in the box.

Yellow card!

It's hard to believe that the MLS will continue to go around St. Louis and give the nod to expansion candidates that don't have this market's stadium funding, rich soccer heritage or soccer-crazed ambassador as a lead owner.

"We're clearly looking this way," Garber said in an interview Wednesday. "We have some decisions that have to be made over the next couple of months. Clearly, this is a soccer town. And from the time we've spent here, we really are impressed with the knowledge and the history. This is a community that would be a great MLS market, and we've got work to do to try and figure out the way to make that happen."

Garber has advised Cooper to strengthen his ownership group by adding big-money partners. Cooper has made progress and has assurances that other local investors will jump in if the league gives St. Louis a team.

With all due respect to the commissioner, I think Garber underestimates Cooper.

Cooper is no billionaire, but he has plenty of money. And he's precisely what the league needs in an owner. He's a grass-roots soccer activist who was raised on the game, an ideal representative of this market's proud and vast soccer culture. Cooper can tie together every soccer clique in the St. Louis soccer community and build an impressive network to keep the franchise healthy.

If Cooper has to go to every area soccer field, every school and every CYC program to form a bond with each soccer family in the metropolitan area, he'll do it.

Other potential owners may have deeper pockets than Cooper, but they can't match his complete, hands-on, no-surrender commitment.

"It's hard to find someone who's got more passion than Jeff Cooper," said St. Louisan Taylor Twellman, star forward of the MLS' New England Revolution. "I believe personally that this city could easily fit into this league as one of the top five soccer cities in the country as long as we all come together and get behind it. And Cooper can do that."

Cooper has a lot going for him: the stadium, the vision, the formidable youth-soccer network and that illustrious St. Louis soccer history. Now all he needs is for the MLS to give him a chance. It's time.

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Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber on Jeff Cooper's bid to bring an MLS expansion franchise to St. Louis:

"We really want to be in St. Louis, but in order to be here we have to be sure that every aspect of Jeff Cooper's bid is solid and one weakness it has today is that Jeff has not been able to secure the investor who has very deep pockets."

"Right now, we're not secure that his group can satisfy the objectives (i.e. investments in the community, player development, fan development, marketing, promotion, on-and-off-field staffing, weathering economic challenges) so the team will be successful."

Bottom line? Jeff Cooper's impressive stadium plan in Collinsville, Illinois means nothing to Major League Soccer unless he is able to bring an incredibly wealthy partner into his ownership group. Period.

How convenient. Philadelphia has deep pockets and doesn't have a stadium. I propose a merger of convenience.

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If MLS passes on St. Louis, again, it must mean that Cooper was not able to secure a robust enough ownership group for the league's liking. I'm guessing the league's continued pressure on St. Louis to reinforce it's ownership has something to do with the economy. The league wants new owners that can ride this out indefinitely and take losses, but remain committed to their teams. Miami, Portland, Vancouver and even Ottawa all have no questions with their ownership. All the issues in those cities are about stadiums, fans and market size.

When all is said and done for this round of expansion, my guess is St. Louis does in fact pull it together and gets a team for 2011, along with Miami, who will join in 2010 along with Philadelphia(if they every get their stadium built).

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Then the league will fail because they don't get it.

That much appears to be a certainty.

MLS has managed to stumble just about every step of the way. For every good move - the SSS - there has been two along the lines of the countdown clock.

Heck, they had a whole year without hockey to establish themselves as the fourth sport. Even with one of the four majors not playing, they couldn't advance the world's most popular sport beyond a niche entertainment in the US. Pathetic.

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I have certainly had numerous differences of opinion with how Major League Soccer executives - Don Garber included - have chosen to conduct various aspects of league business over the years. That said, I just don't see how anyone can lay the blame for this latest contretemps with the St. Louis MLS expansion bid at the feet of anyone but Jeff Cooper.

Cooper has had the better part of two years to secure a partner for his proposed ownership group who possesses the amount of financial wealth necessary to convince MLS executives that St. Louis Soccer United would be capable of weathering any serious fiscal crisis that might come the franchise's way. Despite repeated assurances that the addition of such a partner was imminent, Cooper has - based upon Commissioner Garber's comments - failed to do so. He simply hasn't brought a partner of the calibre of a Paul Allen, Phil Anschutz, William Chang, Dave Checketts, John Fisher, Andrew Hauptman, Clark Hunt, Robert Kraft, Stan Kroenke, Victor MacFarlane, Dietrich Mateschitz, Joe Roth, Larry Tanenbaum, Jorge Vergara or Lewis Wolff to the table. Hell, based upon Garber's comments, Cooper hasn't been able to cobble together an ownership group that MLS execs find as financially well-off as Neal Patterson's On Goal, LLC in Kansas City or the Buccini brothers' Keystone Sports and Entertainment in Philadelphia (which is saying something given the recent financial woes being faced by the latter group's Jay Sugarman).

Jeff Cooper has failed the financial litmus test that Major League Soccer is demanding of its investor/operators so as to secure the league's future stability. As someone who wishes to see Major League Soccer established as a business entity with the financial resources necessary to survive for the long-haul, I'm all for the league's officials making stringent demands of ownership groups in the here-and-now. Unfortunately for potential MLS fans in St. Louis, Jeff Cooper is incapable of meeting those criteria on his own and hasn't - to date - been able to bring someone into the St. Louis Soccer United fold that meets said criteria. Barring someone stepping forward, the St. Louis Soccer United bid doesn't meet Major League Soccer's financial standards. That's not Don Garber's fault... it is Jeff Cooper's fault.

Bottom line? St. Louis may be the most wonderful professional soccer market in the country, but if the potential ownership group looking to set-up shop in the market doesn't have the financial resources necessary to play ball with the "big boys", the market should have to wait until an ownership group comes along that does.

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For the record I'm not claiming the MLS will fail if it passes on St. Louis. I'm claiming it will fail because they're obviously not making wise decisions (as Gothamite notes).

Cooper has secured a pretty solid group. He himself has money. Pujols obviously has money. And there's a number of other people involved that has money.

And they don't have to spend much of their money on the stadium that has already been set to go.

How much money does the MLS think it takes to run a franchise. Do they really think it takes billions?

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It very well might take billions. Many of the teams are still losing money, and will continue to do so especially with the current economic downturn. Ownership groups must have enough money to weather the current situation and be willing to take their losses in stride for a while. And if the league wants to continue growing, then the currently manageable player contracts are going to grow as well. In order to keep luring big stars over from European clubs to play in mid-size mid-America markets like Kansas City, St. Louis, or Salt Lake City, then it's going to take a lot of money. Yeah, Beckham came, but he came to Los Angeles where he can get the exposure he wants and needs. St. Louis, no matter how nice a town it may be, is not a destination for international superstars. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles... these are destination cities for foreign stars. St. Louis is not, unless the owner has some deep pockets and is willing to spend that cash to help grow the team and the league as a whole. Stadia are important, very important. But while they enable the team to draw crowds and make money locally, they don't help television ratings or mainstream media coverage. Major League Soccer has a very good plan in place right now regarding player contracts, but it's going to take more names to keep growing.

It takes billions to run other major sports teams, and if MLS aspires to be like them, then they're not unwise to want billions.

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Cooper has secured a pretty solid group.

The problem is that pretty solid isn't good enough.

He himself has money.

Yes, but nowhere near as much as the lead investor/operators of other Major League Soccer franchises.

Pujols obviously has money.

First of all, Pujols isn't the bid's lead investor/operator. Further, even Pujols doesn't measure-up to the likes of Phil Anschutz, Robert Kraft, Stan Kroenke, et al.

And there's a number of other people involved that has money.

Yes, yet combined their wealth still doesn't set Commissioner Garber's mind at ease about the group's ability to weather long-term fiscal crises.

And they don't have to spend much of their money on the stadium that has already been set to go.

Correction: the stadium project as currently envisioned (capacity, facilities, ancillary development, etc.) is "set to go" once St. Louis Soccer United secures a Major League Soccer franchise. To date, said group has not been able to convince the powers-that-be at MLS headquarters that it has the economic strength necessary to weather potential financial instability in the future, so the rights to an expansion franchise have not been granted to Mr. Cooper and SLSU.

How much money does the MLS think it takes to run a franchise. Do they really think it takes billions?

I can't speak to the exact financial figure that MLS brass think is necessary to secure the stability of a franchise against future economic crises, but they are obviously of the mind that - whatever that figure happens to be - Jeff Cooper's ownership group has, to date, been unable to meet it.

Look... Garber and other MLS officials have spoken to the fact that they recognize the rich history of soccer in St. Louis. They have acknowledged the fact that they believe there will be outstanding fan support for both the sport and league in St. Louis. They have lauded the stadium plan in St. Louis. They have gone on record as saying that once Jeff Cooper's bid acquires a deep-pocketed partner with the type of financial resources necessary to secure the franchise against potential fiscal instability, MLS will award St. Louis an expansion franchise.

So, why isn't there a Major League Soccer franchise in St. Louis? Because Jeff Cooper's bid doesn't stack-up financially with what MLS wants from it's ownership groups. Period.

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