At an MLS event in New York City ahead of the start of the 28th season, Commissioner Don Garber stated a goal of announcing the 30th market to join the league by the end of the season. While discussing league expansion, Garber specifically referenced Las Vegas and San Diego as the markets most likely to be considered, while also mentioning Detroit, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Tampa as other possibilities.
Each market has proven worthy for potential selection thanks to any number of strong ownership groups, well-supported existing USL clubs, and vocal support for the sport from fans. However, there’s only one franchise spot open – at least for now. Given this, we thought an interesting exercise would be comparing each market based solely on consumer data around soccer consumption.
Now, it’s important to note this exercise does not account for things like ownership groups and their capital or even available or potential stadia infrastructure. What this does, however, is use data to examine each market’s soccer participation and viewing appetite for a glimpse at market potential.
In the table below, you’ll see a number of soccer-specific categories listed vertically. The associated percentage for each market, listed horizontally, represents the percentage of population within 20 miles of an existing or proposed soccer stadium in that market who fit the category on the left. For example, the table below tells us that 2.4% of Detroit’s population within a 20-mile radius of Detroit City FC’s current stadium played soccer in the past 12 months.
A few additional points of clarification:
- All data is from 2022 via Esri and MRI Simmons
- Populations within each 20-mile radius range from 1.6M (Tampa) to 3.3M (Phoenix)
- “Super Fan” categories are based on those who select 8-10 on a scale of 1 to 10 in an MRI Simmons fandom survey
- “Participation” references those who have played soccer in the past 12 months
- The average ranking is found by averaging the rank (1 to 6) by market for each category
Comparing MLS Expansion Markets
|Category||Detroit (Rank)||Las Vegas (Rank)||Phoenix (Rank)||Sacramento (Rank)||San Diego (Rank)||Tampa (Rank)|
|Participation||2.4% (6)||3.7% (1)||3.6% (3)||3.3% (4)||3.7% (1)||3.0% (5)|
|Watch Int’l Soccer (TV)||3.3% (6)||5.0% (3)||5.1% (2)||4.7% (4)||5.7% (1)||4.1% (5)|
|Watch MLS (TV)||3.1% (6)||4.7% (2)||4.5% (3)||4.4% (4)||4.8% (1)||3.9% (5)|
|Watch USMNT (TV)||2.2% (6)||3.2% (2)||3.1% (3)||3.1% (3)||3.3% (1)||2.8% (5)|
|Watch USWNT (TV)||2.9% (6)||3.5% (4)||3.6% (2)||3.6% (2)||3.8% (1)||3.4% (5)|
|Int’l Soccer Super Fan||2.8% (6)||3.9% (3)||4.0% (2)||3.6% (4)||5.5% (1)||3.2% (5)|
|MLS Super Fan||1.7% (6)||2.2% (3)||2.3% (2)||2.1% (4)||3.2% (1)||1.9% (5)|
According to the data above, San Diego is the logical choice as the 30th MLS franchise. Its residents rank number one across the board among the categories and it’s not particularly close. However, we acknowledge that a 20-mile radius isn’t inclusive of an entire market’s future potential. Would a wider radius benefit a market like Detroit or Phoenix? It’s certainly possible, but given the league’s recent history of more city-center stadia, we kept our analysis at a reasonable 20-mile radius.
Interestingly enough, if you add St. Louis – the league’s 29th franchise – to the table above, the market finishes sixth, just ahead of Detroit (bumped to 7.0) with an average ranking of 6.1 across all seven categories.
Again, this exercise only offers a glimpse into each market. Absent from this data are details on ownership groups, local sponsor potential, infrastructure, and other criteria; however, when you look simply at what the market’s population data tells you, the results are certainly interesting.
Final MLS Expansion Market Rankings
- San Diego
- Las Vegas