MLS team appears headed to Nashville; Detroit waits

The Detroit News

Detroit’s bid to land a Major League Soccer franchise appears to have just become tougher.

Major League Soccer has called a press conference for Wednesday for “an important announcement on the future of soccer in Nashville.”

If Detroit lands an MLS franchise, the team would play its home games at Ford Field.

It will take place at 5 p.m. at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Attending will be Don Garber, MLS commissioner; John R. Ingram of Nashville Soccer Holdings LLC; Bill Haslam, Tennessee governor; and Megan Barry, Nashville mayor.

That seems to make crystal clear Music City has secured one of two spots when MLS expands in 2020, leaving remaining finalists Detroit, Cincinnati and Sacramento to fight for the remaining spot.

On Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan's office said he hadn't "heard anything" about a potential MLS announcment in Detroit.

The MLS board discussed last week the planned 2020 MLS expansion by two teams, along with a raft of other annual business.

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.

More: Miami MLS bid change could affect Detroit timeline

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

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

Detroit’s bid was managed by Arn Tellem, the vice chairman of the Detroit Pistons, 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 in Ford, who brought Ford Field – home of the Detroit Lions – with her.

It appears to be a sticking point for MLS, which said last month in a statement: “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.”

Garber appeared to soften that stance last week, calling Detroit’s bid “very strong.

“They had a very creative way of downsizing Ford Field,” Garber said.