Money talks. But is Major League Soccer listening?
Three Detroit billionaires want to bring an MLS expansion team to the city. Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert owns the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Tom Gores owns the Detroit Pistons. The Ford family owns the Detroit Lions and their indoor stadium, Ford Field. Gilbert and Gores had planned to build a soccer stadium downtown. They shelved that idea when the Fords offered to make Ford Field available as an alternative.
On Dec. 6, 2017, a group representing Gilbert, Gores, and the City of Detroit made their pitch to MLS officials in New York. The 22-team league plans expand to 26 in 2020. Detroit, Nashville, Cincinnati, and Sacramento are competing for two clubs that will be awarded soon.
MLS prefers teams with stadiums specifically designed for soccer. The original plan for Detroit was to build a 21-thousand seat arena on the site of the unfinished Wayne County jail on Gratiot Ave. downtown. Ford Field is much larger, with a capacity of 65,000. The league’s average attendance in 2017 was 22,112. A crowd that size would leave a lot of empty seats for Detroit’s home matches. But that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for the league.
Bill Shea covers sports for Crain’s Detroit Business. He has been following the MLS bid closely. Shea says Detroit’s bid carries a lot of financial clout that is hard for the league to ignore.
“Major League Soccer publicly says they’re losing money,” Shea tells WDET’s Pat Batcheller. “Having two billionaire owners, and a potential third billionaire owner in the Ford family, has too look attractive to MLS.”
Other MLS teams, notably Atlanta United FC, play in NFL stadiums. But unlike Ford Field, Georgia’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a retractable roof, allowing the Atlanta club to play matches outdoors. That’s also something the league prefers. Shea says Ford Field’s location, however, could be an advantage for Gilbert and Gores.
“They made the case that Ford Field is the ideal location because of the proximity to everything that’s going on,” Shea says.
If MLS doesn’t choose Detroit this time, it will remain in the mix for two more clubs that would expand the league to 28 teams.
Click on the audio player to hear the conversation.