Detroit — As two billionaires added a third to their bid to bring a Major League Soccer expansion franchise to Detroit, the potential ownership group again has drawn the ire of the uber-popular club team, Hamtramck-based Detroit City Football Club.
In renderings unveiled by Tom Gores, Dan Gilbert and the Ford family, as mocked up by architecture firm Rossetti, DCFC's colors, maroon and gold, are used throughout the images, as are DCFC fan-group flags and DCFC scarves.
DCFC was not contacted by the potential MLS ownership, and never gave permission for their colors or likeness to be used. Neither was its fan groups, including Northern Guard.
"We were unaware of that situation and we were surprised," said Alex Wright, one of DCFC's owners. "I see they are 'selling' our 2013 scarf in their merchandise hut.
"I would add, if anyone would like to get one of those scarves before 2020, they can visit our team store in Hamtramck."
This is the second time Gores and Gilbert have been accused of encroaching on DCFC's territory.
Last year, Gores and Gilbert began buying up website domains in varying forms of "Detroit City Soccer Club," and then this year applied for the rights to the name through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The government recently denied them the rights to "Detroit City Soccer Club" because it's too close to "Detroit City Football Club."
Anticipating the move, Gores and Gilbert started buying up website names in varying forms of "Motor City Soccer Club," and are trying to secure those trademark rights. That request is pending.
"It's very disappointing, especially with all the money that they have invested in focus groups and whatnot that, at the end of the day, this is what they come up with," said Drew Gentry, a leader of the Northern Guard, DCFC's largest fan group. "And it could probably be a good litmus test for how the (MLS) club would be run this were to go through."
MLS officials are scheduled to visit Detroit later this month, ahead of an announcement in December when the league will announce two new expansion cities, to begin play in 2020. The league will announce two more expansion cities next year, to begin play in 2021.
The relationship between Detroit's potential MLS ownership group and DCFC supporters always has been fantastically frosty. DCFC has been a grassroots effort, built from nothing into the phenomenon it is today, six years later, where thousands of fans attend home matches at historic Keyworth Stadium. DCFC fans view Gores, Gilbert and, now, the Fords, as three billionaires swooping in, haphazardly, to take what DCFC spent years building.
The latest act, the renderings, does nothing to smooth things over.
"We worked six years to build a brand from nothing that is, at this point, recognized not just nationally but internationally in soccer circles," Wright said. "It's an identity we built out of respect for our community, the support and this city and its history.
"We're extremely proud of the value of that identity, and I think the only people that might be even prouder are our supports. So we're disappointed, more than anything. These are folks that gave their blood, sweat and tears to support the club, win or lose, no matter what.
"And it's frustrating to them to see their sweat and equity sort of being used that way. That seems unfair."
On Thursday night, Rossetti apologized on Twitter for using DCFC's likeness, and said new renderings would be produced shortly.
Wright added that he didn't think it was overly malicious on the part of Gores, Gilbert and the Fords, who own the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Lions, respectively.
Rather, Wright said, this is what happens when things are hastily thrown together, as this latest pitch seems to be. News broke quickly Thursday that the Fords were in, as was Ford Field.
That's zero comfort for DCFC supporters, of course.
"The Northern Guard has never, does not currently, nor will ever be in support of the current Detroit MLS bid," Gentry said. "To use our imagery to promote an agenda we have taken a hard stance against is, in a print-friendly word, wrong."