The COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled another sports calendar, and this change is a significant one.
The start date of St. Louis’ Major League Soccer expansion team has been pushed back a year, from 2022 to 2023, the team's MLS4TheLou ownership group and MLS announced Friday.
St. Louis has company, as MLS also announced a new timeline for the inaugural season for two other expansion teams. Charlotte’s expansion team, scheduled for a 2021 launch, will move to 2022. Sacramento’s expansion team, scheduled to debut alongside St. Louis in 2022, will also shift to 2023. Austin’s expansion team is still scheduled to launch in 2021 as initially planned.
“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,” MLS4TheLou CEO Carolyn Kindle Betz said in a news release. “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.”
The new timetable was decided by MLS commissioner Don Garber and the league's expansion committee. A league news release cited "the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the commencement of business operations and stadium development of these clubs" and said the delay "will give the clubs an appropriate timeline for a successful launch." Austin's expansion team will continue to move forward on its pre-pandemic timeline, the league said, because its January 2019 announcement put that team in position to be ahead of the other expansion teams in terms of sporting, business and stadium objectives.
“We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club,” said Garber in a release from the league. "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.”
Site preparation and construction at the 30-acre, 22,500-seat open-air stadium at Market and 20th streets will continue to move forward, a team spokesman confirmed Friday. Construction partners have been practicing health guidelines put in place since the beginning of the pandemic. The primarily privately owned project, estimated in March to cost between $350 and $400 million, was previously targeting a March 2022 completion that would have been critical if the team was going to be able to play its first home game in the venue. The pandemic complicated that timeline, along with ongoing conversations with potential sponsors.
The ownership group has not yet announced team name and colors.
Garber and Betz could not be reached for interviews Friday.
The MLS4TheLou group secured the league’s 28th team in August 2019, a finish line of sorts for a city that had pursued an expansion franchise in fits and starts since the league launched in 1996. The wait just got a year longer.