The MLS is a growing professional league with bright prospects. A single team is on average worth $103 million. In just twenty years, the league has expanded from ten teams to what will be twenty-three by 2017, and this is just the beginning. Now even Minneapolis is getting in on the action.
With only five professional teams since 1970, there must be a serious push for Major League Soccer to even be considered in the Twin Cities, and that is exactly what’s happening. William W. McGuire, the former chief executive of UnitedHealth Group and the owner of the Minesota United of the North American Soccer League, is spearheading the effort and attempting to launch the expansion franchise by claiming he will build an open-air soccer stadium with private money.
He has committed $250 million (100 for the M.L.S. expansion fee and 150 for the stadium itself) and intends to focus solely on soccer. This is fantastic news for soccer because the Wilf family, owner of the Minnesota Vikings, opposes the M.L.S. expansion. An immensely powerful family, they potentially have (or rather had) the ability to shut down the project entirely.
Before McGuire pledged the $250 million, they were bidding to make the team play in the Vikings stadium. Had this transpired, soccer would be relegated to a position of lesser significance. It would come after the Vikings. It would, in short, be second.
Mcguire explains, “The sport I love would be a second priority. The N.F.L. is a gold mine, and everything else has to be second. There was always a chance the league would look at that situation and say ‘This is what we want to do.’…the best thing for soccer is to have soccer-specific stadiums, if it could be pulled off, rather than putting the sport into a stadium that’s fundamentally built for something else.”
M.L.S. officials agreed with McGuire and allowed him to build the purposeful stadium he envisioned. Funny enough, McGuire was not born into a soccer-filled childhood. Hailing from Troy, New York, his 6’6” lent itself to basketball and he played at Clear Creek High School in Texas. He spent his spare time fishing instead of kicking a ball around—until 2011, that is. That’s when the N.A.S.L. took control of the at-the-time failing Minnesota franchise, the Stars.
The N.A.S.L. got in touch with Bill’s daughter who, in turn, got in touch with Bill. Still, he was not interested. It was only after going to a couple games and meeting fans in 2012 that he changed his tune. Taken with their passion for the sport and the palpable energy immersing the sport, Bill decided he’d give it a shot. In fact, Bill took on the initiative with an eye to philanthropy than profit. “It was not analyzed extensively on a financial basis,” he claimed.
A sport that has never received much publicity is being kept alive based off of its presence in the community. McGuire elaborated “It was something we should not let disappear from the community after 35, 36 years.” If soccer is already being kept alive on goodwill even without the following it’s known for across the world, it bodes very well for the future of the sport.
Major League Soccer is making a splash in professional sports, and I expect it will only continue.