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MLS lays down timeline for expansion franchises

Al Willman
The Detroit News
Dan Gilbert has unveiled a plan that will transform the stalled Wayne County jail project at Gratiot near Interstate 375 into a Major League Soccer facility.

Major League Soccer on Thursday took one step closer to announcing its next four members.

In an hour-long teleconference, MLS commissioner Don Garber provided the timeline for the next two teams, Nos. 25 and 26, as well as their fee to join the league.

Detroit, along with nine other markets, is a candidate for one of four new clubs, which would bring the league to 28 teams.

Teams 25 and 26, Garber said, will be announced sometime in the second or third quarter of 2017. They will each pay $150 million and begin play by the 2020 season.

Interested markets have until Jan. 31 to formally apply for franchises.

Detroit’s leadership group consists of Quicken Loans founder and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, Pistons owner Tom Gores and Arn Tellem, the vice-chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment.

Tellem has been serving as the point-person for Detroit’s bid.

“Ownership, and a committed ownership group that is passionate about our sport, believes in the league and also has the resources to invest in infrastructure to build the sport at all levels in their market is first and foremost,” Garber said, referring to the key points for cities hoping to earn a franchise. “Second is the market. We look for a market that has a history of strong fan support for soccer overall, at all levels, from the bottom all the way up to the professional level.”

The Seattle Sounders, which won the MLS Cup on Saturday night, paid $30 million to join the league before the 2009 season. Toronto FC, which Seattle defeated for the title, paid $10 million two years prior.

Should Detroit win one of those bids, it hopes the team will play on the former Wayne County jail site on Gratiot — near Greektown and I-375, and in close proximity to Ford Field and the Little Caesars Arena.

Garber said the efforts of Gores and Tellem — whom Garber calls a close friend — to move the Pistons from Auburn Hills back to downtown Detroit, have stood out to him.

“Tom is a guy that I think is really great, and smart, (and) really experienced in professional sports,” he said. “He’d make a great owner in MLS and his move with Arn Tellem, who is a good friend of mine, or his planned move to take (the Pistons) to the city speaks wonders for where Detroit is hoping to get to, which is this continuation of a city on the rise. It’s got a lot of urban energy and more and more people are moving down to the city core. I look it as a positive, not a negative.”

The growing soccer culture in Metro Detroit, as evidenced by passionate fan bases such as the hyper-loyal Northern Guard — which supports the National Premier Soccer League’s Detroit City FC — is something Garber also sees as a plus.

“I think what Detroit City FC is doing is fantastic,” he said. “I think it speaks to where Soccer America is going, that you could have something that is almost a kickstarter business. I know that they are very passionate about their team and I wish them great success, and would love to see something like that in every market.”

The MLS has stated previously that regional rivalries are important.

“We certainly look at market size,” Garber said. “We look at geographic location as we think of the geographic footprint in rolling out and fan support for our league. We certainly look at, and it’s crucial to our success, the level of corporate support that exists in the market for other sports teams, but also the corporate support of both national and international headquarters in those markets, as well as regional television footprints, if you will.”

As for teams 27 and 28, those will be announced at a later date, which Garber would not specify. Their expansion fees are also yet to be determined, but could be as high as $200 million.

Al Willman is a freelance writer.

Next stops for MLS expansion

New teams for 2017: Minneapolis United FC, Atlanta United FC

New team for 2018: Los Angeles

Approved but pending: Miami

Candidates for teams No. 25-28

(In alphabetical order)

Charlotte, N.C.

Cincinnati

Detroit

Nashville, Tenn.

Raleigh/Durham, N.C.

Sacramento, Calif.

St. Louis

San Antonio

San Diego.

Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.