A group led by Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert have put in a formal bid to get a Major League Soccer expansion team in Detroit.
Detroit is among 12 cities competing for four MLS expansion spots, the league said Tuesday. The Detroit group also must convince Wayne County officials it needs the Greektown site of a stalled jail project to build a $1 billion mixed-use development, which will include a new soccer stadium.
“We’ve completed an important first step in bringing Major League Soccer to Detroit, and together, we have the experience needed to make a new team successful,” Gores and Gilbert said in a joint statement. The two are billionaires with sizable investments in Metro Detroit.
The league expects to announce the first two expansion teams later this year followed by two additional teams at an unspecified later date. The fee to join the league for the first two expansion teams is $150 million. That may climb for the other two expansion teams. After the expansion, MLS will have 28 teams.
Gilbert and Gores are touting Metro Detroit’s passion for soccer, the rising popularity of downtown Detroit and the strength of the potential development the group aims to build to support a new soccer stadium.
In April, Gores and Gilbert announced their intentions to bid for a MLS franchise. They proposed building a $1 billion mixed-use stadium complex on the site of the stalled Wayne County jail project in Greektown. They have proposed a 23,000-seat stadium. In April, the group said the venue would be part of a development proposal that includes three skyscrapers — one hotel, one office building and one residential tower — ranging from 18 to 28 stories with retail, bars and restaurants.
“I think Detroit’s chances are tremendously strong,” said Roger Faulkner. He was a key member of the Detroit World Cup host committee in 1994 and a former general partner and executive director of the Detroit Express, which played in the North American Soccer League in 1978-80.
One of the primary factors in getting an expansion team is the financial strength of the potential ownership group and what they aim to build, Faulkner said. Another key measure is the size of the local television market.
Arn Tellem, vice chairman of Gores’ Palace Sports & Entertainment, described Gores and Gilbert as “the strongest ownership group not just for MLS, but for any sport” in a Tuesday sports interview. Tellem is a former sports agent.
MLS officials said the application process involved ownership, the potential stadium location, and overall financial projections, corporate support and local support for soccer.
Beyond convincing MLS officials, the Detroit group must also convince Wayne County officials it needs the 15-acre parcel on Gratiot where there is an unfinished jail facility. Last week, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said the county will issue on Feb. 10 a request for bids to finish the jail. After that date, the county “will not consider any alternative proposals,” he said.
Matt Cullen, president and CEO of Gilbert’s Rock Ventures, said in a written statement Monday, “The timing requirements put forward by County Executive Evans are clear and fully understood by our team. We have now completed enough of our initial due diligence that will allow us to submit our offer in advance of the county executive’s deadline.”
Gilbert, founder and chairman of Detroit-based Quicken Loans Inc., is a major force in redevelopment of downtown Detroit. Entities connected to his Bedrock Detroit control more than 90 downtown properties. Through Gilbert’s portfolio of companies, he’s also the largest employer in the city, with more than 17,000 full-time workers, according to Bedrock officials.
Gores is a Flint native and Michigan State alumnus who had made billions in the global private equity sphere.
Late last year, Gores announced he intends to move the Pistons franchise back to Detroit from Oakland County. Pending approval, the Pistons will play next season at the Little Caesars Arena being built just north of downtown. The arena will also be home to the Detroit Red Wings.
The Pistons also will move their corporate headquarters downtown and will build a practice facility, to open in 2018.
The other 11 cities that formally applied were Charlotte, Nashville, Indianapolis, Phoenix, St. Louis, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Sacramento and San Diego.