ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- It’s official. St. Louis is, at long last, is a part of Major League Soccer.
A news release came Tuesday shortly before a press conference was scheduled to begin.The release confirmed what had, over the last week, been the most widely-known “secret” in the region. The press conference will be held at the Palladium in Lafayette Square at 11:30 a.m., with a celebratory happy hour to follow at Urban Chestnut Brewing.
"It is with great pride that we welcome St. Louis to Major League Soccer," said Commissioner Don Garber. "St. Louis is a city with a rich soccer tradition, and it is a market we have considered since the league's inception. Our league becomes stronger today with the addition of the city's deeply dedicated soccer fans, and the committed and innovative local ownership group led by Carolyn Kindle-Betz, the Taylor family, and Jim Kavanaugh."
It was the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of work by the local ownership group, whose MLS4TheLou campaign revived what was once thought to be a dead expansion dream for the city.
Previous efforts to bring MLS to the city fizzled, including in 2017 when the stadium measure was roundly defeated by a public vote.
But the latest push, led by a predominantly female ownership group and captained by Enterprise VP Carolyn Kindle-Betz, learned from earlier false starts.
"Our ownership group has come a long way since we first announced our bid last October at Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club, and it's an incredible feeling to now be able to say, St. Louis is home to the first official majority female-led ownership group in MLS," Kindle-Betz said. "Our MLS team and stadium will only add to St. Louis' renaissance currently underway and will provide us with a great opportunity to bring together many different segments of the community, uniting people in their love for the game."
In addition to securing a local ownership group with vast resources (including Jim Kavanaugh, who led the 2017 campaign), they also galvanized local business and fan support.
Long considered one of the most soccer-hungry cities in the country, St. Louis’ enthusiasm for the sport has been reflected in an abundance of youth leagues and overwhelming attendance for international friendlies played in the city.
MLS4TheLou harnessed that energy in a way previous campaigns had not, and fans responded by adding a constant undercurrent of public enthusiasm to bolster the ownership group’s private pitches to the league.
Fans bought thousands of hats and scarves to support the campaign, the sales of which provided thousands of dollars to inner-city soccer programs in the area.
That, combined with the business community’s enthusiasm and organization during MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s visit gave St. Louis an edge as cities attended more than 10 months of meetings and pitches to the league.
Then there was the stadium deal.
After previous efforts that asked for $80 million and later $60 million from the city, both of which were rejected, Kindle-Betz and company took a private-funding approach to their new stadium financing deal.
Under the proposal stadium construction would not require any public funding, but the ownership group would get tax incentives for construction and maintenance.
There would be no sales tax on construction materials, and use of the proposed site- west of Union Station downtown- would be free. There would also be a 50 percent sales tax break on ticket sales, but the addition of a three percent sales tax on goods sold at the stadium.
The City of St. Louis would own the stadium, and the city’s development arm said the stadium deal would provide conservatively $41 million over 30 years. The resolution agreeing to the deal in principal passed in a 26-2 vote.
It all added up to a cohesive, successful pitch that will make St. Louis the 28th MLS team when the season begins in 2022 (Miami and Nashville will join in 2020 to expand the league to 26, Austin in 2021 to bring it to 27).
First, the fun stuff. While St. Louis officially has a team, that team needs a lot of things before play begins.
First, it needs a name. Even without any hint of possible options being floated behind the scenes, suggestions have been flying in.
St. Louis FC
St. Louis United
St. Louis Kings
St. Louis Steamers
St. Louis Spirit
St. Louis Krewe
All entertaining, all fictional. Currently there is no indication on what names are being considered, or even how the process of selecting a name will go. Will the public get a vote? Does the league have rules governing how many teams can share a name? When do we have to have one by?
The same questions linger for team colors and uniforms, as well as logos. For now, it’s just fun to fantasize.
The more pressing concerns are finishing off the stadium financing deal and securing corporate sponsorship.
While aldermen passed the initial resolution, none of the proposed incentives were codified. It was an agreement on a proposal. Now that the team is a reality, those agreements have to be finalized. There’s still ample opportunities for the ownership group and city to butt heads between now and then.
Also important: finding sponsorship money for the team. Whose logos will adorn those new uniforms once they are designed? Who will have the naming rights to the new stadium once it’s built?
What other sponsorship deals need to be shored up before construction crews get rolling and designers start drawing?
Those are the less fun questions, though they can be put on hold for a day. Tuesday, the owners, city officials, MLS and fans get to celebrate. St. Louis was finally invited to U.S. soccer’s highest level.