Updated at 5 p.m., Aug. 20 with stadium details and comments from ownership.
St. Louis soon will be home to a top-tier professional soccer team. Major League Soccer officially awarded St. Louis an expansion team on Tuesday.
The team will begin play in spring 2022 in a new stadium to be built just west of Union Station. Construction could begin in January, according to team officials. The team’s name, logo and colors have not yet been finalized.
“It is with great pride that we welcome St. Louis to Major League Soccer,” league Commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday morning.
Garber’s announcement ends months of speculation about whether a local ownership group could secure a spot in the MLS plan to expand from 24 teams to 28 teams by 2022. The successful campaign follows years of failed efforts in St. Louis to join the top professional soccer league in the U.S. and Canada. In 2017, St. Louis voters rejected putting $60 million in taxpayer money toward building a stadium.
“When we lost the vote, we looked at it and said, 'That doesn’t mean St. Louis isn’t right,'” Garber said. “It means we went about it the wrong way, and we needed to huddle and take a different approach.”
That approach included a proposal for a more than $200 million stadium “overwhelmingly” funded by the team owners. It also included assembling the MLS’s first majority-woman ownership group by bringing on eight members of the Taylor family, who own St. Louis-based Enterprise Holdings, the world’s largest car rental company.
“Our MLS team and stadium will only add to St. Louis’ renaissance currently underway,” said Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Carolyn Kindle Betz, who leads the ownership group. “It feels amazing. I mean what an exciting day not only for the ownership group but for the city of St. Louis. We did it.”
“It’s an opportunity to work with my family, which includes my sister, my mom, my aunt and, of course, my cousins,” Kindle Betz said. “But it’s also an opportunity for us to hopefully be role models and remind young women out there that if there’s something they really want, they just need to pursue it.”
Corporate funding, public support
Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of local tech giant World Wide Technology, also has an ownership stake in the new team. He said the league’s $200 million expansion fee as well as stadium costs, which he said could total over $200 million, will be paid by the ownership group. “Basically it’s all money raised between the Taylor family and the Kavanaugh family,” he said.
The group unveiled designs for a proposed 22,500-seat stadium in April, and Kindle Betz said updated drawings and corporate sponsorships could be released in weeks ahead. The stadium is expected to be built on state land currently used by Missouri Department of Transportation ramps connecting I-64/40 with the Downtown West neighborhood.
MLS teams currently play 17 regular season home games and three exhibition games a year.
The ownership group has stressed that direct public money will not be needed for the stadium, but tax breaks have been discussed. The team will pay for all stadium maintenance and repairs.
An early plan called for the St. Louis Board of Aldermen to approve creating three special taxing districts. The ownership group is also expected to ask for a partial break on the city’s 1% amusement tax, as well as an exemption on the sales tax on materials purchased to build the stadium. That could save $5 million in construction costs.
Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed said he’d like the ownership group to provide some kind of community benefit program to the neighborhood as part of the plan.
Aldermen last year threw their support behind the ownership group and pledged, in a non-binding resolution, to pass the needed legislation. They return from their summer break on Sept. 13.
Excitement, anticipation from St. Louis soccer boosters
Kavanaugh’s soccer roots run deep here. He was a member of the St. Louis University soccer team and the U.S. Olympic squad before turning pro. Kavanaugh is also CEO of St. Louis FC, which plays in a second-division professional soccer league.
Anticipation for St. Louis getting an MLS team has been building for weeks among the St. Louis FC fan base. Its official supporter group, the St. Louligans, has formed a tight-knit community around the team and sport.
Mitch Morice, one of the fan club’s leaders, hopes that continues with the MLS team.
“I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure it does,” he said during pre-game festivities at a recent St. Louis FC game at the team’s home field in Fenton.
“That is the important thing, that the supporters group starts the foundation of a successful soccer team in MLS.”
Another St. Louligan, Sarah Robertson, said she thinks the MLS team’s new stadium in Downtown West has the potential to be an economic development tool by attracting more events to the city.
“Concerts. There'll be chances for national team games possibly. I think it will be amazing, honestly.”
Robertson is convinced the investment will pay off for the owners, the region and those who love the sport.
“It's fast-paced. It's not like baseball where you're sitting two, three hours for a game,” she said.
“And when you get a group like the Louligans around — it's constant. It's 90 minutes of chanting. It's 90 minutes of caring what goes on the field, and we've created a family out of it.”
The yet-to-be-named St. Louis squad is expected to have rivalries with teams including Kansas City, Chicago, and Nashville once it starts play in three years.
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