MLS Expansion: Bidders show off political muscle in final push

Representatives from expansion bidders -- including mayors from three of the four cities -- made presentations to MLS on Wednesday at the league's headquarters on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The current mayor -- Darrell Steinberg -- and former mayor -- former NBA star Kevin Johnson -- were part of the Sacramento group that was cheered by Republic FC fans outside MLS's offices and brought boxes containing materials on the city's Railyards soccer stadium plus bottles of Northern California wine.

Cincinnati mayor John Cranley and Detroit mayor Mike Duggan (whose brother Dan owns the PDL Michigan Bucks) took part in the meetings. Only Nashville mayor Megan Barry, the key figure who took Nashville from the back of the pack to the favorite's position in less than a year, was not present.

Owners from the world of American pro sports came in support of their efforts: Quicken Loans founder and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for Detroit and real estate mogul Mark Wilf of the Minnesota Vikings, part of the Nashville ownership group.

The representatives from Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento each got two hours to make their pitch to MLS commissioner Don Garber and the six members of the league’s expansion committee chaired by the New England Revolution's Jonathan Kraft.

The committee is considering four criteria in evaluating the bids of the four cities:

-- Ownership (wealth and connections);
-- Stadium (preferably urban soccer stadium);
-- Market (corporate support and media size); and
-- Soccer (history of fan support).

The four bidders will get back to the expansion committee on issues raised during the talks, and the committee will report to MLS's board of governors, which will meet next Thursday to select the two cities slated to begin play in 2020. The announcement of the winners will come some time after that.

MLS expansion committee:
Jonathan Kraft (chairman), New England Revolution
Bill McGuire, Minnesota United
Joe Roth, Seattle Sounders
Andrew Hauptman, Chicago Fire
Jay Sugarman, Philadelphia Union
Cliff Illig, Sporting KC

The one bit of news came when Sacramento, which has been in the hunt for an MLS team almost since its successful launch in the USL in 2014, told MLS that Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and her husband, Griffith Harsh, had rejoined the Republic FC group.

Whitman's name was included on the initial investor list when the 12 expansion candidates were announced in January but she was not on the investor list when the four expansion finalists were revealed in November.
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