MLS Expansion: The four sales pitches -- and questions that will be asked

MLS headquarters at 420 5th Avenue in Manhattan will be a busy place on Wednesday.

Groups representing four cities -- Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento -- will make presentations to MLS commissioner Don Garber and the league's expansion committee.

A decision on the two cities that will be awarded expansion spots should be made at a meeting of MLS's board of governors on Dec. 14 in New York.

Cincinnati:
Investor group: Carl H. Lindner III – co-CEO of American Financial Group and owner, chairman and CEO of FC Cincinnati; Scott Farmer - CEO of Cintas Corporation.
Pro team: FC Cincinnati (four seasons in USL, 2017 average attendance: 21,199).
Stadium plan:
-- 21,000-seat soccer stadium to be built in Oakley neighborhood.
-- Cost: stadium -- $200 million; infrastructure -- $75 million.
-- Funding: Public-private

Sales pitch: No group seeking an MLS expansion team has ever demonstrated the fan support FC Cincinnati has shown in its first two USL season. Garber was on hand for the Open Cup semifinal against the New York Red Bulls that drew 33,250 fans, one of three 30,000-plus crowds FC Cincinnati drew for the Open Cup. Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said it was an honor to have played in front of Cincinnati's fans. That tells you a lot.

Questions: Is local government sufficiently behind the bid? Hamilton County wouldn't contribute to the cost of constructing a stadium, so FC Cincinnati will pay for it by itself. Mayor John Cranleyhad to step in to cobble together partial funding on infrastructure work when Hamilton County commissioners rejected his idea for using revenues from a hotel tax to pay for the work around the stadium. (It is chipping in the cost of a parking garage.) Also: Is the Cincinnati market -- the No. 36 Nielsen market -- big enough?



Detroit:
Investor group: Dan Gilbert – owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, Inc.; Tom Gores – owner of the Detroit Pistons and founder, chairman and CEO of Platinum Equity.
Pro team: none associated with bid group (amateur Detroit City FC averaged 5,498 in the NPSL).
Stadium plan: Ford Field (NFL Lions' home stadium).

Sales pitch: Tom Gores (Detroit Pistons), Dan Gilbert (Cleveland Cavaliers) and the Ford family (Lions) are just the kind of owners MLS covets. Billionaire sports owners with lots connections. At No. 13, Detroit is the largest Nielsen market on the expansion short list.

Questions: Why abandon a soccer stadium being pitched as part of a downtown development project for more than a year and propose at the last minute to play in an NFL stadium? A 15-year-old stadium at that. Detroit has shown no signs of being another Atlanta United, which had the advantage of opening in a new domed stadium and having an NFL owner who was deeply committed to soccer. Also: why no alliance with Detroit City FC, the most successful amateur club in the country?



Nashville
Investor group: John Ingram – chairman of Ingram Industries Inc. and CEO of Nashville Soccer Holdings; Wilf Family – owners of the Minnesota Vikings; Turner Family – managing partners of MarketStreet Enterprises.
Pro team: Nashville SC (to begin play in USL in 2018).
Stadium plan:
-- 27,500-seat soccer stadium to be built at the Fairgrounds Nashville.
-- Cost: stadium -- $225 million; infrastructure -- $50 million.
-- Funding: Public-private

Sales pitch: It's not how you start the race that's important, but how you finish it. A year ago, Nashville wouldn't have been on anyone's top 10 expansion list. It now has momentum and checks a lot of boxes. Big-time owners in local businessmen John Ingram and the Minnesota Vikings’ Wilf family, who lost their bid for an MLS team in Minnesota. A mayor and city council that in a matter of months collaborated on public support for a soccer stadium when so many other more fancied cities failed. That can-do attitude counts for a lot.

Questions: Is there the soccer support to sustain a team week in and week out? Nashville drew two big crowds over the summer -- 47,662 fans for a USA-Panama Gold Cup match and 56,232 fans for Manchester City-Tottenham in the International Champions Cup at Nissan Stadium -- but they were one-off games promoted during the bid campaign. Also: The Save Our Fairgrounds lawsuit seeking to block the stadium at the Fairgrounds Nashville. (Metro Nashville is trying to get the suit thrown out.)



Sacramento
Investor group: Kevin Nagle -- managing partner of Sac Soccer & Entertainment Holdings and minority owner of the Sacramento Kings. Jed York – CEO of the San Francisco 49ers. Mark Friedman – president of Fulcrum Property Group and minority owner of the Sacramento Kings, and other limited partners.
Pro team: Sacramento Republic FC (four seasons in USL, 2017 average attendance: 11,569).
Stadium plan:
-- 20,000-seat soccer stadium to be built at the Railyards.
-- Cost: stadium -- $245 million; infrastructure: $46 million.
-- Funding: Public-private.

Sales pitch:  In 2016, Garber visited Sacramento and declared, “It’s not if, but when.” By then, Sacramento already had its stadium plans approved by the city. It has since begun getting the site at the Railyards ready for construction. If MLS wants "downtown," none of the bids is better than Sacramento's. UC Davis Health is on board as jersey sponsor of an MLS team, as are 10,000 season-ticket holders. Sacramento is just waiting for the green light.

Questions: "If not by now, when?" Some are worried Sacramento will get passed over again -- even if in retrospect MLS probably should have gone with Sacramento as the 24th team in 2015 or 2016 to join LAFC next season when it became clear Miami wasn't going to be ready any time soon. Also: Hewlett-Packard's Meg Whitman is no longer listed as one of the lead partners.

5 comments about "MLS Expansion: The four sales pitches -- and questions that will be asked".
  1. I w Nowozeniuk, December 6, 2017 at 10:31 a.m.

    Only if it's a natural grass pitch.

  2. Wooden Ships replied, December 6, 2017 at 11:28 a.m.

    Exactly, I w.

  3. Wooden Ships replied, December 6, 2017 at 11:30 a.m.

    I don't believe people understand how turf negatively effects the skill level of our players. Plus, the injuries.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, December 6, 2017 at 4:11 p.m.

    Few young people actually get to play on quality grass fields. Most often the grass fields have no loft and are beaten down so that it is like playing on dirt. Outside of scholastic soccer or professional soccer, I don't see good grass fields. 

  5. R2 Dad, December 6, 2017 at 9:25 p.m.

    Cinci & Sac can grow grass April thru November, but I don't think actual grass is a determining factor in the bid, is it Teflon Don?

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