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MLS awards its 28th franchise to St. Louis

Major League Soccer’s new St. Louis franchise will begin play in 2022 in a planned 22,500-seat downtown stadium.

MLS on Aug. 20 made official what had been widely rumored for weeks, granting the midwest US city an expansion franchise that represents MLS’ 28th team. The new St. Louis team does not yet have a nickname, crest or designated colors, with selection efforts in those areas to begin immediately.

The franchise joins an ongoing wave of league expansion that includes a new team playing this year in Cincinnati, Ohio, and ones planned for Miami, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee, next year, and also in Austin, Texas, in 2021. MLS intends to expand to 30 teams, with bids from Sacramento, California, and Charlotte, North Carolina, currently gaining momentum. 

St. Louis is the 21st largest US media market, with only five current MLS clubs playing in smaller markets. But city won over MLS with a comprehensive bid that included an all-local ownership group, strong local government and community support, a public-private plan to build a new stadium in the city’s Downtown West neighborhood near Union Station, a deep local heritage of amateur, scholastic and college play in the area, and a lengthy history of pro soccer teams that includes prior entries in the original North American Soccer League and Major Indoor Soccer League. Twenty-nine players in the coaches in the National Soccer Hall of Fame hail from St. Louis.

“It was hard to imagine we’d have a thriving league without St. Louis,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber at a celebratory press conference in the city that was attended by local sports icons such as former St. Louis Cardinals players Ozzie Smith and former St. Louis Blues players Chris Pronger and Bernie Federko. “Well, imagine no more…St. Louis, with its incredibly rich soccer history, not only deserves a team, but has earned one.”

The new St. Louis team, to be led by Carolyn Kindle Betz of the Taylor family that founded and runs the Enterprise car rental empire, will be MLS’ first female majority-led franchise. MLS does have female investors in several other markets, including singer Ciara in Seattle, Wendy Carlson Nelson with Minnesota United, Mia Hamm with LAFC, and Dee Haslam with the Columbus Crew, who co-leads that team with her husband, Jimmy. 

“I think I’m still in shock,” said Betz, who is joined in the ownership group by Jim Kavanaugh, chief executive of World Wide Technology and owner of St. Louis’ United Soccer League entry, St. Louis FC. 

The forthcoming St. Louis stadium, part of a larger mixed-use development in that part of the city, will be built mostly with private funds after voters in the city two years ago defeated a referendum that would have directed $60 million in new sales tax revenue toward a new soccer stadium. 

Betz and the Taylor family entered into the MLS expansion picture following that vote, which had led to the departure of Paul Edgerly, who had led a prior St. Louis investor group seeking an expansion team.