Not All Expansion is Good Expansion

By now, I’m sure we’re all aware of the expansion talk in MLS. Don Garber made comments last week that he’d like to expand the league past the previously mentioned 24 teams by 2020 threshold, to 28 teams.

Obviously, almost seconds after saying that, he mentioned some markets that MLS are interested in. Some of the usual suspects were listed: St. Louis, Sacramento, San Antonio, etc. But, what really caught my eye were the cities that seemingly came out of left field, namely: Detroit and Austin.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention to the lower tiers of soccer in the country, you’ve may have noticed by now Detroit City Football Club. A team that has upwards of 5,000 fans at their matches, and a great supporters group, Northern Guard Supporters. On top of that, news broke on Tuesday that Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers owner) and Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons owner) were interested in pursuing options to acquire land for a stadium. MLS media and fans love to jump on exciting things like this and fantasize about atmospheres and stories like this translating to the big leagues without taking time to count the costs.

So, I want to answer the question, “Is all expansion good expansion?” In order to answer that, I reached out to a DCFC supporter who wished to remain anonymous. The first question I asked them was, “how do DCFC fans feel about the #DET4MLS talk?” Their answer was that the fans are torn. There seems to be quite a few NGS members who dislike the idea of MLS coming to DET, but then you have others who might be open to it. It’s rather difficult to get a read on the casual fan attending DCFC matches.

Me: DCFC has done a fantastic job of being a “grassroots” club. Many people have said that DCFC is what every American team should aim to be, pro or not. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like they’ve done a fantastic job of being a part of and raising up the community around them. Recently, they have raised over $700k for stadium renovations. What would happen to DCFC/NGS if an outside ownership group came in and planted the MLS flag in the city? Would DCFC survive? Would it change? What do you see happening?

Them: It depends on what happens. There is a prior relationship with our FO and with Quicken, Gilbert's company. It is very possible they attempt to buy the existing team if the rumors are true. If DCFC is not involved I think there is a chance that DCFC survives in its current state. I think arrival of MLS would severely stunt our future growth and our FO's plans of going pro one day. But the fans of the team now who are DCTID are more than enough to maintain an NPSL level team.

Me: My final question: Ultimately, do you think it could work? Is there a dream Scenario where you see DCFC, the fans, and the community being a part of MLS one day?

Them: I think the leaders of NGS dream scenario is having their kids one day cheering for DCFC.

Before we get excited about whether or not a stadium is going to have a safe standing section, or we argue over capacity, we’ve got to talk about what is actually happening in these locations, in this specific case, Detroit. I’ll be the first person to tell you that this is a great league to follow, but it’s not without its faults. I think we’ve got a great thing going on, but the league needs to be careful about where and what their plans are for expansion. Just because we see passionate fans lighting off flares in one city, doesn’t mean that they are all of a sudden going to become the next Portland Timbers. In order for expansion to work in a city like Detroit, and I would argue anywhere else in this country, it’s not going to be very easy. In fact, it will be very difficult. It’s going to take ownership groups who not only have the cash to flash, but also the understanding of these communities that they’re trying to come into. Do Gilbert and Gores have both? I don’t know. But what I do know is that not all expansion is good expansion, and we need to count the costs.