Michigan Bucks owner Dan Duggan (middle), shown here after a victory in 2012, is heading to Brazil in part to try to bring a minor league soccer team to Detroit. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Michigan Bucks soccer team owner Dan Duggan left Wednesday night for a 12-day, 10-city tour of Brazil, where he plans to watch five World Cup games, including Monday night’s United States-Ghana game at Natal, Rio Grande do Norte.
This trip is not all pleasure. Meetings are planned with high-profile and influential soccer people. And he hopes to return with news of professional soccer coming to Detroit.
It won’t be a Major League Soccer team just yet. Duggan and others are attempting to bring a franchise to Detroit. However, most acknowledge Detroit won’t be part of MLS’s next round of expansion, which will pad the league from 19 to 24 teams by 2020.
Detroit is well behind a number of other cities that are bidding for a franchise. This area lacks a soccer enthused sponsor willing to sink at least $200 million into a team and a 20,000-seat stadium.
Duggan plans on submitting final paperwork to apply for a USL Pro franchise, which is a minor league professional model. Duggan hopes that if a USL Pro team generates soccer interest, Detroit can attract an MLS team during the next round of expansion.
The USL Pro league recently awarded Austin, Texas, its 18th franchise, and it will join the league in 2015 along with new teams in Colorado Springs, Tulsa, St. Louis and Louisville. Dayton is the closest team to Detroit.
Duggan talked to local business leaders about investing in the team and has his eye on several properties to build a 5,000-seat soccer stadium that he says could be ready by March 2015. Most of the land runs along the proposed M-1 rail route off Woodward, but he also said a stadium could be built on the riverfront, the abandoned Wayne County jail site or Belle Isle.
“We are going to submit to (the USL Pro) league where our status is,” Duggan said. “We have a very aggressive plan and we hope the league looks at our potential investors. We have gotten a lot of positive outside reinforcement.”
Roger Faulkner, president of the Michigan Soccer Association, believes a minor league team would be popular in Detroit, but he does not think it would help to bring a MLS team to Detroit.
“I don’t think that takes you any closer to the MLS,” Faulkner said. “I think the MLS would come here whether he does that or not if we had the stadium and the money. Right now we don’t have either.”
Duggan agrees with Faulkner but said: “If you are confident that the MLS is going to cap its league at 24, then he is right. But I also believe that this country is big enough to have 28 or 30 teams, or even 40. ... If you have the right city, the right ownership group and the right support, then it can work.”
Four of the five expansion franchises have been approved by the MLS. Atlanta begins play at the new Falcons football facility, which will seat 71,000 for football and 29,000 for soccer. New York will play at least three seasons at Yankee Stadium until a new stadium is built.
Orlando will also join the league and Miami has approval contingent on the David Beckham group building a soccer specific stadium. That means Las Vegas, Sacramento, San Diego and Minneapolis are fighting for the final spot with Detroit.
Although Vegas recently announced it will build a soccer stadium, downtown Minneapolis appears to be the favorite. Vikings owner Mark Wilf met with MLS officials and said he would put the team in the team’s new stadium which is under construction.
A number of NFL owners are looking into soccer franchises. They have deep pockets. The franchise fee for the New York team cost $100 million. It is estimated Detroit would get off cheaper but the estimated $70 million fee is still steep.
That means individual ownership here would be limited to Tom Gores, Mike Ilitch, Dan Gilbert and Bill Ford Jr.
Faulkner has met with many of the ownership groups but said: “They have not bit.”
“The MLS wants to come to Detroit,” Faulkner said. “They know they need this market. They need the advertising from this market and the TV aspect of it. MLS would come here in a flash if we had someone to put up $200 million to $300 million but nobody wants to do that. That is a big problem.”