MLS' original plan was to launch with 12 teams in the spring of 1995, and then expanding to 12 by 1998. In June of 1994, USSF president at the time Alan Rothenberg announced the launch of seven teams: New Jersey (Giants Stadium), New York (Long Island), Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, Columbus, and San Jose. All teams were to be league owned. The NY club was going to play in a 30,000-seat soccer specific stadium built next to the Nassau Coliseum where the Islanders play, and Columbus committed to building a SSS that was completed for the 1999 season.
In November of 1994, after the successful World Cup, it was announced that MLS wouldn't be ready for Spring of 1995. Instead, MLS would begin operation with 10 franchises in the spring of 1996, although the Long Island team wouldn't start until later. The additional teams announced that day were Chicago and Tampa Bay, which were chosen from a pool that also included Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami, San Diego, and Tulsa, OK. All of the cities were part of the 27 cities that placed bids to host World Cup games.
The league also announced that investors could become owner-operators allowed to run their teams as they saw fit instead of taking orders from the league. The league would still own all the player contracts, but they were free to hire their own GMs and coaches and all personal decisions would come from that group, not the league. Investor-Operators invested $10 million in the league.
At MLS launch, investor-operators controlled seven of the ten teams: LA, Colorado, New England, Columbus, NY/NJ, Kansas City, and DC. LA were controlled by Marc Rapaport’s LA Soccer Partners, Metromedia Partners controlled NY/NJ, Lamar Hunt and his son Clark controlled Kansas City and Columbus, and Kevin Payne’s API soccer controlled DC United. AEG in Colorado and the Kraft Family in New England were brought in after the initial announcement.
By the time contraction came around the Hunts had also snatched up Dallas; The Kraft Group briefly controlled San Jose, and AEG invested not only in Colorado, but expansion Chicago, purchased Los Angeles, DC, NY, and then took over San Jose after Kraft left it go.
In 1999, when Don Garber was hired, and especially after the contraction of the Florida clubs, those three ownership groups had majority control of MLS, mostly out of necessity. Subsequent expansion has come with an ownership group already selected, and the Hunts and Anschutz are down to two teams each.
Things continued to change before the 1996 launch. The NY and NJ teams were combined into the MetroStars. Chicago was delayed, and Dallas, Denver, and Kansas City were chosen to fill the final three spaces. The originally announced names of the franchises were: NY/NY MetroStars, New England Revolution, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Columbus Crew, Washington United, Colorado Rapids, Kansas City Wiz, San Jose Clash, Dallas Burn, and Los Angeles Galaxy.
The NY/NJ bid was originally known as the Empire Soccer Club. Nike wanted to name them the MetroFlash, as a group called Metromedia controlled them, but they ended up with MetroStars. Nike giving teams terrible name is going to be somewhat of a trend here.
Playing on natural grass was a priority, and all clubs would at least start on natural grass, when the MetroStars going turf when the Giants started preseason. Every team was playing in either a college football or NFL stadium. The original salary cap was $1.135 million, with the maximum individual salary $175,000.
Chicago launched their MLS club in 1998, but the Chicago Fire weren't originally going to be called the Fire. Nike wanted to name them the Chicago Rhythm, and their logo was to be a red, yellow and black spitting cobra surrounding a soccer ball, much like the US National Team uses now. It was AEG who stepped in and said, no way is the Chicago Club going to be known as the Rhythm.
2000 was a big year for MLS as the shootout was dropped, although there were still two five-minute overtimes before ties were called. The official time would now count up to 90 instead of down, and the referee was made the official timekeeper (I imagine old MLS had a buzzer like basketball or hockey). MLS also realigned into three conferences.
Don Garber convinced MLS to contract Tampa Bay and Expansion Miami in 2001. AEG’s divestment of it’s six MLS clubs began in 2003, when Kroenke Sports Entertainment who control the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and the Pepsi Center took control of the Colorado Rapids.
MLS and Adidas announced an exclusive partnership in 2004, which included Adidas getting the rights to outfitting all MLS teams and all MLS merchandise sales. It also included the youth development programs. Under Nike this had been referred to as Project 40, but was now named Generation Adidas.
MLS reached 12 teams again with Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA in 2005. In 2005 the Kansas City Wizards were put up for sale, with funds for a soccer specific stadium a priority in selecting a buyer. In 2006, AEG divested of the MetroStars, selling them to Red Bull. Starting in 2007, MLS added a team a year, including San Jose in 2008 to replace the Quakes who had been moved by AEG in 2006; MLS added two teams in 2010.
Also in 2007, MLS announced the Designated Player rule which allowed teams to pay players out of pocket with only $400,000 on that player’s counting against the salary cap. The LA Galaxy used the DP rule to sign David Beckham.
MLS's exclusive supplier now is Adidas (who hold that contract through 2018 after signing a 10 year partnership in 2004 and then restructuring the contract in 2010) but Adidas only outfitted three of the original MLS clubs. Reebok also designed kits for two clubs, with Nike covering the other five originals and the expansion Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion.
Nike continues to outfit the US National Team, but MLS conception was also a Nike project. Nike named a solid handful of the original MLS teams, and designed their kits which were just as outlandish as the 1994 USA kits from the World Cup. The names they came up with: Los Angeles Galaxy, San Jose Clash, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Dallas Burn, NY/NJ Metro Stars.
Not every MLS teams was designed by Nike; out of the New England Revolution & Colorado Rapids (Reebok), Kansas City Wiz, Columbus Crew, & DC United (Adidas) only Kansas City has rebranded. Since Adidas became the exclusive outfitter of MLS in 2004, four of the five teams Nike originally designed have changed their name or folded. One of the expansion teams folded, while the Chicago Fire rejected Nike's branding attempt.
AEG refused to go with Nike's plans, and narrowed their list of named down to the Blues, Wind, and Fire. Ultimately Fire was seen to have the most marketing potential. It is a bit curious that Chicago MLS decided to go with Nike, given that their sister club the Colorado Rapids were a Reebok club.
ESPN and ABC have been MLS broadcasting partners since the inaugural season. The original contract was for three years, and allowed ESPN to broadcast 10 games, ESPN2 to broadcast 25, and ABC to televise the Championship game. MLS and ESPN were going to share ad revenue, while MLS would buy time on ABC to air the championship. Of those 10 games on ESPN, four were going to be primetime games and the other six Saturday afternoons. ESPN2 was set to air a weeknight primetime game of the week.
In 1999, there was an announcement that the TV package with ESPN was expanded to include a Monday highlight show, and games on all three channels on Saturday on a three-year contract. In 2002, ESPN signed a five year broadcast arrangement that included the rights to broadcast the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2003 Women’s World Cup. This was a negotiation with the newly formed Soccer United Management. One of Don Garber’s big contributions, with SUM MLS broadcast rights were now bundled with US and World Cup broadcast rights.
In 2006, ESPN signed a new contract with SUM for 8 years, which included a Thursday Game of the Week.
Univision was also announced as a broadcast partner prior to the 1996 season, broadcasting 26 Sunday games.
Fox Soccer joined the MLS national broadcast team in 2003, then known as Fox Sports World. The four year contract allows Fox Sports World (a part of Fox Sports International) to televise 25 regular season and 8 playoff games. These broadcasts could be extended to Fox affiliates in Latin America and the Middle East. Fox Sports World rebranded as Fox Soccer Channel in 2005. In 2006, another five year contract was signed, which brought back the Saturday Night Game of the Week. In 2011, the contract was renewed for one year, and then the rights were sold to NBC Sports.
NBC Sports plans to make MLS an integral part of Versus’ rebranding as the NBC Sports Network. There will also be four games during the year broadcast on NBC.
Budweiser has been the official beer of MLS, Pepsi the official soft drink, and Aquafina the official water since 1996.
The Columbus Crew Stadium is finished and stands as MLS’s first soccer specific stadium in 1999. Built by the Hunt Family, the stadium seats 22,555.
While the Crew Stadium was the first built in America for soccer, the Home Depot Center in Carson, the second soccer specific stadium built for the LA Galaxy by AEG entered into a 10 year partnership with the Home Depot in 2002 in anticipation of the 85 acre, $150 million, 27,000 stadium complex on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills.
The Hunt Group, which built the stadium in Columbus, announced the building of a soccer specific stadium in Frisco, TX for the Dallas Burn in 2003; the stadium and entertainment complex broke ground in 2004. Pizza Hut Park opened in 2005.
After purchasing the Colorado Rapids, Kroenke Sports Entertainment announced plans to build a new stadium in 2003. In 2004 saw the announcement of plans to build the stadium in Commerce City, to be completed in 2007.
In 2004, AEG announced plans to build a soccer specific stadium in Bridgeview, IL for the Chicago Fire.
In 2007, ground was broken on a stadium in Harrison, NJ for the New York Red Bulls.