Tellem makes case for MLS franchise in Lions stadium

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — The folks trying to bring Major League Soccer to town say they believe Ford Field offers more intimacy and better sightlines than some NFL stadiums that are venues for MLS franchises.

If their argument carries the day with the league, it might be the key to a fifth professional sports franchise playing near the intersection of Woodward and I-75.

“It’s the right result,” Arn Tellem, the vice chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment, who is among those leading the initiative, told The Detroit News on Friday. “This was done after careful study and analysis over the past year.

“To build another stadium in Detroit when we can better serve these facilities by maximizing their use, and when they are already perfectly situated, is not the right answer for Detroit and for its community and for the fans.”

MLS commissioner Don Garber and other league officials have made plain, as they seek to expand by four teams, that soccer-specific stadiums are their priority.

Most of the stadiums currently in the league are designed and used for soccer alone, and most of the 12 candidates for expansion cities in the MLS are proposing to play in soccer specific stadiums.

But franchises are playing with success and before large crowds, in mixed use stadiums in Atlanta, Foxboro, New York City and Seattle.

“Intimacy and sightlines we can satisfy,” Tellem said.

Rosetti, an architectural firm in Detroit with international experience designing soccer stadiums, has developed a plan to make Ford Field a soccer venue.

“Rosetti spent a lot of time on this, and I think we have as intimate an atmosphere and good sight lines that are probably superior to any of the other m multipurpose stadiums in MLS,” Tellem said.

“Ford Field is an incredible venue. It satisfies, really, all the needs that we have for a potential soccer franchise.

“It has hosted soccer events.”

The entire soccer pitch, wider than an NFL field, will nonetheless fit into Ford Field, Tellum said.

“It has the perfect dimensions for the pitch. It’s an intimate setting. And it gives us the ability to adapt the stadium, because we do believe that Atlanta’s success is an excellent parallel, and is one that we look to, and that emerged over this past year as we were looking at other soccer teams that have done well. And Atlanta has.

“The Ford family has put in $100 million in renovations,” he said, of recent, significant renovations of the 15-year-old stadium. There is great entertaining space.

“It’s a great place to watch a game. It’s loud. It will be a raucous environment for soccer.”

While soccer-specific stadiums remain a priority for MLS, and it reiterated that position the wake of the announcement Thursday the preferred site of the prospective owners in Detroit is Ford Field, Garber recently expressed some flexibility.

If substantial ownership groups present a different option, especially if it controls the venue as Fords own Ford Field, MLS could make other considerations, as it did when Arthur Blank, a founder of Home Depot and owner of the Falcons and Atlanta United approached them with his new NFL stadium.

“We really wanted a soccer stadium here and Arthur said, ‘Hey, this stadium I’m going to build is going to be the best in the world, it’s going to be world class, we’re going to fill it up.’ And he did,” Garber told the Orlando Sentinel in September.

“So, I don’t know that that changes our point of view in any other market, but certainly when I see what’s happening here and in Seattle I’m happy that we have stadiums that can have 70,000 people in them.”

Tellem said MLS also seeks stadiums in the urban core, and that is where the best attended MLS stadiums are located.

“The key to all the success of the MLS franchises that have good attendance is playing in the urban core. They’re not in the suburbs, they’re not in the outskirts of the city, they’re in the heart of the city.”

Meanwhile, the announcement in Detroit on Thursday might have repercussions in Nashville.

On Tuesday, county commissioners are expected to vote on $250 million in financing for a soccer-specific stadium the MLS has indicated the city needs to be awarded a franchise.

But now, Detroit is going about in using an NFL stadium which Nashville already has, Nissan Stadium.

The 12 cities in the running for the four expansion franchises MLS intends to award, two in December and two in December 2018, have various ideas about where they would play:

Sacramento, soccer-specific stadium plans in place, ground broken.

Nashville, approval of $275 million soccer-specific stadium up for vote Tuesday.

Miami, 25,000-seat soccer-specific plans in place, site approval not secured.

Cincinnati, financing not in place for proposed soccer-specific stadium in Newport, Kentucky.

Phoenix, have not released plans for proposed soccer-specific stadium; looking for more money in ownership.

Detroit, proposing to play at Ford Field.

Tampa, venerable Al Lang Stadium, a former baseball stadium, in place, but USL attendance low and MLS seeking something better.

San Diego, vote in November soccer specific.

St. Louis, no proposal.

San Antonio, soccer specific stadium in place, but small.

North Carolina, soccer specific stadium in place, but would likely require renovation, while competing bids duel.

Indianapolis, collegiate track and field and North American Soccer League stadium in place, but seeking money for renovations.