MLS talks expansion at meeting, winning bids forthcoming

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber

Major League Soccer's Board of Governors met Thursday in New York City, with Detroit prominent on its agenda.

The board discussed the planned 2020 MLS expansion by two teams, along with a raft of other annual business. The announcement of the expansion cities is expected sometime next week.

It remained unclear whether the board voted on the four 2020 finalists: Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville and Sacramento.

“Today, Major League Soccer’s Board of Governors had a productive discussion about the bids from ownership groups representing Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento to become the next MLS expansion clubs,” the league said, in a written statement.

“League officials and the MLS Expansion Committee will continue to work with the four finalists and plan to have more details shortly.”

Officials declined to say whether a vote occurred.

More: GOP tax overhaul could aid Detroit bid for MLS team

The MLS board had a busy agenda, including the continuing consideration of a complicated 2019 expansion bid from Miami, a city the league greatly values.

The retired soccer star David Beckham this week offered new prospective partners with the high profile and deep pockets MLS officials say they are seeking.

The league Thursday approved Beckham’s new partners, Jorge and Jose Mas, prominent business executives in Miami, who were edged out this year by a group that included Derek Jeter for ownership of Major League Baseball's Marlins.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber said last week the Miami bid, though complex, will likely receive approval.

Driven by a powerful ownership group and a revitalizing, walkable downtown, Detroit is a finalist despite the local bidders’ late move away from one of the announced priorities of MLS: A new stadium designed specifically for soccer.

The three competing bids are offering outdoor soccer stadiums. Ford Field, an indoor NFL stadium, is the proposed venue in Detroit.

More: Ford Field pitch stirs debate on MLS expansion

But the local bidders hope that three billionaire owners who own franchises in other major sports and the burgeoning residential, cultural, sport and business district in a rebounding downtown will help lure MLS, nonetheless.

“After careful study and analysis, we concluded that the downtown location of an MLS stadium is paramount to an MLS team's success, and no MLS stadium sits in a better downtown location than Ford Field,” said Arn Tellem, the vice chairman of the Pistons, earlier this month.

“That, combined with the unrivaled strength and commitment of our ownership group and the strength of Detroit as an MLS market, is our case to MLS.”

Tellem is managing the bid on behalf of three prospective owners: Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers; Tom Gores, the founder and chief executive of Platinum Equity and owner of the Detroit Pistons; and Martha Firestone Ford, the majority owner and chairman of the Detroit Lions.

While retreating from Gilbert and Gores’ original plan to build a soccer stadium between Greektown and Gratiot on the site of a jail left unfinished by Wayne County, the two billionaire owners of sports teams brought on a third.

More: Detroit makes 'best pitch' for MLS expansion team

Ford brought Ford Field with her.

MLS offered a frank assessment of the change in plans last month.

“Although MLS has tremendous respect for all of the owners involved in the Detroit bid…  MLS continues to prioritize soccer-specific stadiums as a criterion for the selection of MLS expansion markets.”

It sounded definitive.

But after MLS talked at some length in Manhattan recently with Gilbert, Tellem and others involved in the bid, Garber offered some solace.

Asked after his State of the League address last week if the use of Ford Field as a venue would block MLS expansion in Detroit, Garber pointed to room for considerable consideration.

“You know, that question is going to get answered as we debate Detroit’s bid, which was very strong,” Garber said. “They had a very creative way of downsizing Ford Field.”

Although MLS had not requested it as part of the bid, Garber said the local proposal included a substantial briefing on a design by Rosetti, an architectural firm in Detroit with international experience designing soccer stadiums, to temporarily retrofit the stadium for soccer.

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

Kevin Grigg, as spokesman for the local bidders, declined comment Thursday.