MLS commish acknowledges Detroit momentum

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber

Representatives for Detroit's bullish bid to land a Major League Soccer franchise were in Chicago on Wednesday for the league's All-Star Game, and to meet with league brass and ownership.

And while there remains no decisions on which cities will get the next two expansion teams, the 25th and 26th clubs, Detroit at least seemed to get an endorsement, or two, from commissioner Don Garber. Twice, once during an afternoon interview on MLS's website and later during a press conference, he mentioned by name four bidders of the 12 that have submitted applications. And both times, he mentioned Detroit.

“There are four that over the last couple of months have been really very energized,” Garber said in his pre-All-Star Game news conference. “We’re not ranking markets."

But ...

“Detroit just got one step closer to having access to the jail site," said Garber, "the preferred site for an MLS expansion team.”

Billionaire sports owners Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons) are teaming up to land an MLS franchise in the coming years.

In January, they submitted their formal application, listing just one possible site  and this week, news broke that the county seems finally ready to negotiate over that site, of the failed jail, at Gratiot Avenue and I-375.

Gilbert's Rock Ventures have offered more than $500 million to build a jail at a different site.

MLS currently has 22 franchises, with more coming  another Los Angeles team next season, and almost certainly a team in Miami. On Wednesday, Garber said the league is nearing the finish on a team in Miami, to be co-owned by soccer royalty David Beckham, with a final approval and announcement possibly coming sometime in the next month.

MLS then plans to select two more expansion teams in Detroit, at the MLS Cup, and two more at an unknown later date, to bring the league to 28 teams.

"The interest in becoming an investor in Major League Soccer has never been higher," said Garber, "We're very encouraged by the interest."

The 11 other cities vying for a team are Raleigh, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; St. Louis; Nashville; San Antonio; Phoenix; San Diego; and Sacramento, Calif. The three other cities singled out by Garber along with Detroit were Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville.

Miami, Phoenix and Detroit are the only three cities in the United States with a team in each of the four major professional sports, but not an MLS franchise.

Gilbert and Gores in April 2016 announced plans to go after an MLS franchise, to be housed in a 20,000- to 25,000-seat stadium, insisting Detroit would support soccer. And there is evidence to support that, starting with the wild success of Detroit City FC, a built-from-the-ground-up club team that routinely draws between 5,000 and 7,000 a match in Hamtramck, and recently just had a weekend of soccer that drew some tens of thousands of viewers via its live stream.

Comerica Park also recently held an International Champions Cup match that drew nearly 37,000 fans on a weekday evening.

"It just continues to demonstrate that this is a great soccer market," Arn Tellem, vice chairman of the Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment, told The Detroit News last week.

Gilbert and Gores and crossing their t's and dotting their i's in anticipation of an expansion team, even buying up all domain names for the name "Detroit City Soccer Club." A Pistons spokesman, though, said no team name has been decided, because, after all, no team has been awarded.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984