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St. Louis, San Diego Bidding For MLS Expansion Teams

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dropped by the NFL, St. Louis and San Diego are among bidders from 12 areas applying for four Major League Soccer expansion teams.

Two of the teams, which have $150 million expansion fees, will start play in 2020. MLS Commissioner Don Garber said Tuesday that having stadium financing in place is a condition for selection.

"In the past, we weren't in a position to demand that every new market came in with all their I's dotted and T's crossed," Garber said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Now we're at a point where there are so many cities looking for so few market opportunities that we can do the right thing by everyone and ensure that every aspect of their expansion plan is fully in place."

The expansion committee, led by New England's Jonathan Kraft, will start to review applications in February. MLS will pare the field in the next few months and plans to announce its two selections by the end of the year. The percentage of government stadium financing will depend on the city.

"Every market is different," Garber said.

Others to submit bids were groups from Charlotte, North Carolina; Cincinnati; Detroit; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tennessee; Phoenix; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; San Antonio; and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida.

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, MLS has 22 this year following the addition of Atlanta and Minnesota. A second Los Angeles team is slated to open next year and David Beckham has rights to start a Miami team — but has been unable to finalize a stadium plan. The league said in December it plans to expand to 28 teams but has not put a timetable on the final two.

The NFL's Rams left California and moved to St. Louis for the 1995 season, then shifted after the 2015 season to Los Angeles, where a new stadium in Inglewood is under construction. The Chargers had been in San Diego since 1961 but said on Jan. 12 they are moving to Los Angeles for next season and also will settle at the new stadium in Inglewood.

"Clearly, both in San Diego and St. Louis there's a void left by the NFL," Garber said, explaining the loss of the NFL might increase MLS interest in the corporate community. "Those folks that were sitting on the fence as it relates to supporting soccer now might be more inclined to do."

St. Louis' owners would include Paul Edgerley, a senior adviser at Baine Capital and a minority owner of the NBA's Boston Celtics; Terry Matlack, a managing director of Tortoise Capital; Jim Kavanaugh, owner of St. Louis' team in the second-tier United Soccer League; and former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock.

San Diego's investors would include Padres controlling owner Peter Seidler; Freestyle Partners' Michael Stone; former Qualcomm president Steve Altman; Bridgewest Group co-founders Massih and Masood Tayebi; and media executive Carlos Rodriguez.

Others bidders include:

—Charlotte: Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith

—Cincinnati: American Financial Group CEO Carl Lindner III, who owns the USL's Cincinnati team

—Detroit: Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert

—Indianapolis: Keystone Construction CEO Ersal Ozdemir, National Bank of Indianapolis chairman Mickey Maurer, Heritage CEO Jeff Laborsky, Elwood Staffing CEO Mark Elwood and Mohr Auto Group owner Andy Mohr

—Nashville: Ingram Industries chairman John Ingram and former Tennessee Commissioner of Economic Development Bill Haggerty

—Phoenix: Berke Bakay, owner of the USL's Phoenix Rising

—Raleigh/Durham: Steve Malik, owner of North Carolina's team in the second-tier North American Soccer League

—Sacramento: San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York, former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Kevin Nagle, owner of the USL's Sacramento Republic

—San Antonio: Spurs Sports & Entertainment

—Tampa/St. Petersburg: Bill Edwards, owner of the USL's Tampa Bay Rowdies

Among Nielsen's Designated Markets measuring audience, the biggest absences in MLS among the bidders are Tampa/St. Petersburg (11), Phoenix (12), Detroit (13), Sacramento (20) and St. Louis (21).

"Market size is only one factor that needs to be considered," Garber said. "When you look at some of our most successful cities, they happen to be in smaller markets, many that have less competition."

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