Back to the Bay
A's owner nearing deal for MLS franchise in 2008
Posted: Thursday May 24, 2007 7:55PM; Updated: Friday May 25, 2007 2:51PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- Major League Soccer is close to making its return to the Bay Area in time for the 2008 season, SI.com has learned. The league is negotiating a deal to allow Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff to operate an MLS franchise sooner than anyone expected, even without a new stadium deal in place, a source close to the negotiations says.
Wolff's previous agreement with the league stipulated that he complete a deal for a soccer-specific stadium before MLS would allow him to exercise his option for an expansion team.
But the league is eager for a 14th team to begin playing as soon as possible to balance the uneven schedule, the source said, and Wolff's team is the furthest along of the handful of possible expansion projects nationwide.
The league would allow a new team to begin play in the Bay Area while Wolff finalizes a stadium deal, the source said, although it is unclear where the team would play in the meantime. It most likely would not be at San Jose State's Spartan Stadium, home of the former San Jose Earthquakes, who moved to Houston in 2005.
Earthquakes Soccer LLC, the soccer arm of Wolff's sports properties, came close to reaching a partnership earlier this spring with SJSU in which Wolff would finance and build a stadium on the school's campus to replace 74-year-old Spartan Stadium. But Wolff walked away from negotiations after the two sides failed to agree on how to split revenues.
Wolff and the city of San Jose are now negotiating on a centrally located 75-acre plot of land near the San Jose International Airport as a place to house a new stadium. However, other groups around the Bay Area have also expressed interest in a pro soccer venue, including one in Sacramento.
"We're exploring all options and we're working hard to making a soccer-specific stadium a reality," said David Alioto, executive vice president of Earthquakes Soccer. "We want to get on the field as early as possible." He declined to give any other specifics.
Major League Soccer officials declined to comment other than saying discussions with Wolff are ongoing. The 13-team league wants to expand to 16 teams by 2010. Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Seattle, Atlanta, Phoenix, southern New Jersey, Las Vegas and Portland, Ore., have also been floated as expansion targets.
The Bay Area is the fifth-largest media market in the country, but has been without an MLS franchise for two years. The former Earthquakes' owner, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, moved the franchise to Houston after similarly failing to reach a deal with San Jose State to build a new stadium.
Wolff, a real-estate developer, has plans in place with the city of Fremont to build a new $400-million stadium for the A's, which would be scheduled to open as soon as 2010. Wolff and principal partner John Fisher purchased their three-year option to start an MLS expansion franchise in May of 2006.