It’s never been a question of whether Major League Soccer wanted to be in St. Louis, but rather whether St. Louis could get its collective act together enough to bring the growing league to town.
Local fans of the beautiful game still have nightmares of watching totals come in from a 2017 public vote effectively killing the #MLS2STL campaign, which would have approved public money to help build a stadium next to Union Station. It didn’t matter if one blamed Stan Kroenke for poisoning the local well or the fact the vote was confined to city limits; it wasn’t going to happen.
No stadium, no team. The MLS sky had fallen.
Well, things are looking up again, thanks largely to the Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family, alongside Saint Louis FC owner and Worldwide Technology CEO, Jim Kavanaugh. This new potential ownership group — #MLS4TheLou — announced their privately funded MLS Stadium hopes to a group at Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club Tuesday.
Kavanaugh, himself a #MLS2STL principal, told 101 ESPN this latest crusade began when Enterprise chairman Andy Taylor reached out to him.
“We didn’t have a plan B (after #MLS2STL was voted down), and it was probably 120 days ago that Andy really reached out and said he wanted to get together and just talk about this,” Kavanaugh said. “I didn’t know if he was serious. So, we met and I kind of filled him in on what I felt needed to be done to really make this work.
“We continued to talk and literally the more we talked, the more we collectively got excited about what this could mean for St. Louis and that really brought us to where we are today,” he added. “We just connected all the dots on the investment side and felt that this was just a really strong local investor group that is interested in doing great things for the city of St. Louis and soccer. We just thought the timing was right to do it.”
Indeed, as the currently 23-team MLS plans to expand to 28, with Cincinnati, Miami and Nashville being 24, 25 and 26. San Diego, Sacramento and Detroit are other candidates, but the league’s made it clear they’d like to have a club in a town with St. Louis’s soccer history.
Carolyn Kindle-Betz, granddaughter of Enterprise founder Jack Taylor and senior vice president, seemed optimistic the league still wanted to be here. Kindle-Betz, who would head the female-led ownership group (an MLS first), also pointed to potential Midwest rivalries as an all-around sweetener.
“From all the indications I’ve gotten, yes. They seem very helpful as well,” Kindle-Betz told us. “Selfishly, I think St. Louis sort of fits a Midwest footprint for them. So our hope would be to maybe create some Midwest rivalries, but also parlay it with other sports. So have soccer and baseball rivalries same day (or) same weekend.
“I think the MLS also knows our super rich soccer history here. Jim Kavanaugh over at Gallagher; I mean they’ve put tens of thousands of youths through soccer and they’re playing all over the world now.”
Kavanaugh wouldn’t speak for the league, but was also encouraged by his MLS interactions.
“I think they love the investor-ownership group and they just want to see that St. Louis is behind this effort,” he said. “I think if we can demonstrate that to them, we will move things along pretty quickly.”
And given St. Louis’s turbulent past on this road, what would showing them the town is “behind this effort” look like?
“I would say the first thing that we have to get over is some of things we were dealing with the last go-round,” Kavanaugh said. “The MLS is wanting us to bring to them a lot of energy and a lot of support, both political support (and) business support as we go and we bring sponsors.
“It’s very important who would be a sponsor for the naming rights of the stadium (and) jerseys. So do we have the support of the businesses, the community and the fans? Those are the things that they’re looking for.”
It certainly seems all parties involved can count on the Taylors’ support, both for soccer and civic pride.
“My job at Enterprise Holdings is ‘foundation and community,’ and I said, ‘Well, I think it would be great,” Kindle-Betz said. “I think St. Louis is a three-professional sports team (city). I think that soccer is an international sport. I think to be a true international city, we need an international sport.”