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St. Louis could be a discussion topic when Major League Soccer owners meet Thursday

St. Louis could be a discussion topic when Major League Soccer owners meet Thursday

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Another push to bring soccer to St. Louis

(From left): Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology; Andy Taylor and Carolyn Kindle Betz, of Enterprise Holdings; Wendell Covington Jr., past CEO of Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club; Chrissy Taylor and Barbara Taylor. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

NEW YORK • The bid for a Major League Soccer team in St. Louis enters a new stage Thursday, as team owners gather here to discuss, among other things, competing proposals to win two coveted expansion franchises.

No decision is expected at this meeting. League Commissioner Don Garber said recently that the process of expanding the 26-team league to 28 could take as long as another year.

But these are key weeks to come.

“There are a lot of people still in the running,” said ESPN analyst and former league star Taylor Twellman, who grew up in St. Louis and has close relationships with owners and league staff.

League executives and partners, including Twellman, call St. Louis’ ownership group a front-runner. The league says it judges bids based on three criteria:

• The financial capacity of the ownership group and its passion for soccer.

• The worthiness of the stadium.

• The support of the local market.

Insiders often say the St. Louis proposal — from World Wide Technology chief executive Jim Kavanaugh and Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family — has those criteria handled.

Kavanaugh knows soccer. He briefly played professionally, owns the minor league St. Louis Football Club, and worked on last year’s failed bid for a team. The Taylors, owners of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, bring deep pockets. The family’s net worth has been reported as high as $13.8 billion.

The work to lock up stadium financing has overcome a few important early obstacles: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has shown support for the effort, unlike Gov. Eric Greitens before him. The state has agreed to sell state-owned highway land on Market Street downtown to the city to serve as the stadium site. City aldermen recently passed a resolution that outlines a bevy of tax incentives, from a permanent property tax break to a 3 percent tax on the sale of hot dogs, beer, T-shirts and other goods at the stadium. And the ownership group has promised to pay for the rest — as much or more than $250 million.

Finally, locals and league officials alike praise the St. Louis market as being steeped in soccer history and full of scarf-wearing, flag-waving fans.

Now Kavanaugh and the Taylors have to persuade league owners that they can design and build a stadium that resonates with owners from across the country — not just with St. Louisans — and deliver a competitive, financially sound team to MLS.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear what owners think of the St. Louis market. Several National Football League owners also own soccer teams — Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, for instance, owns the Colorado Rapids — and those owners are not itching to get an NFL team back to St. Louis.

Add to that any residue from last year’s failed soccer stadium effort: Greitens’ statements against “welfare for millionaires” for the proposed stadium, plus a lack of support by city aldermen and, eventually, city voters.

Moreover, the league has since added teams in two Midwest cities, Cincinnati and Nashville, Tenn., reducing the perception that the middle of the country is underserved.

MLS now has 23 teams, with three others — Cincinnati, Nashville and Miami — approved and set to start playing by 2020. Garber has long said the league would expand to 28 teams. Last week, in his state-of-the-league address, he suggested that number could grow.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we can support having more than 28 teams in Major League Soccer,” Garber said on Friday. “No doubt in my mind.”

But not right away.

And that leaves at least six cities vying for the last two spots. A league official recently confirmed that Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Las Vegas; Phoenix; Raleigh, N.C.; and San Diego have active bids. Sacramento, Calif., says it does, too.

The league’s owners meet Thursday at the New York Marriott Downtown.


Soccer in St. Louis has a rich history

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