The ongoing MLS expansion process will take a major step on Wednesday, when officials from the four leading bids make their cases to the league.
MLS recently announced that Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville, and Sacramento were the four finalists for two expansion slots. A decision is expected to be revealed later in the month, but Wednesday marks the day that representatives will get to make their pitches to MLS commissioner Don Garber and the league’s expansion committee.
FC Cincinnati is looking to move forward with its plan for a new soccer-specific stadium, a $200-million privately-financed venue that is slated to be constructed in Oakley. The club recently received a combined $51 million contribution from Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati for infrastructure improvements around the site, below the originally estimated $70-$75 million, and could seek $10 million in state funds to help cover remaining infrastructure costs. Over the past two years, FC Cincinnati has set USL attendance records at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, and is looking to carry that momentum into MLS entry. FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding and majority owner Carl Lindner III are among the club officials expected to be on hand for Wednesday’s meeting.
Detroit’s bid has the backing Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, and recently added the Ford family to the mix. The addition of the Ford family–owners of the NFL’s Lions–came after Gilbert and Gores changed course on the bid, shifting their focus from the construction of a new downtown stadium to renovating Ford Field to accommodate MLS. How the proposed use of the NFL stadium affects the bid remains to be seen, but the inclusion of experienced sports ownership in the Ford family and Gilbert and Gores–owners of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, respectively–could be intriguing for MLS. Representatives from Gilbert and Gores’ companies and Lions president Rod Wood are slated to attend Wednesday’s presentation.
In Nashville, the MLS expansion bid backed by John Ingram centers around the construction of a new soccer-specific stadium at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Last month, the Nashville Metro Council approved $225 million in bonding for the construction of the stadium, marking more momentum for the bid. A legal challenge has since surfaced, however, with a group of plaintiffs contending that the stadium and related changes to the area would interfere with existing functions at The Fairgrounds Nashville. Attorneys representing Nashville Metro have filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that, among other issues, the plaintiffs lack the sufficient standing to proceed with the case. It remains to be seen whether that will have any effect on the bid.
Sacramento Republic FC is looking to move forward with a bid that seemingly has several key components in place. The city has already signed off on a plan to construct a new privately-financed downtown stadium, and Republic FC is looking to make its jump to MLS after several successful USL seasons. Members of Republic FC’s ownership group as well as mayor Darrell Steinberg and former mayor Kevin Johnson–an advocate of MLS during his time in office–will be present for Wednesday’s pitch. Republic FC’s ownership group includes chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle, but whether the overall ownership contingent is able to sway MLS remains to be seen. More from The Sacramento Bee:
Nagle made his fortune as a pharmaceutical company executive and is among the most prominent of the local minority owners of the Sacramento Kings. Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, also has a stake, as does local developer and Kings co-owner Mark Friedman.
But Silicon Valley executive Meg Whitman, who agreed earlier this year to be part of the bid, recently said she will not invest in the team. Whitman announced last month she will step down in February as head of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Republic FC officials said she is assessing her personal investments after that decision.
Republic FC plans to bring on additional investors to its bid, but it’s unclear when those investors will be identified.
While Nagle’s fortune does not match up with those of the ownership groups leading the competing bids, Sacramento does have one thing MLS Commissioner Garber has said is important to him: ties to the local market. Garber has often spoken fondly of Nagle, telling reporters in Sacramento last year that the Republic FC group has “been able to check the boxes that are required” to land an expansion spot.
As noted, the two winning expansion bids are expected to be selected later this month. The four finalists emerged from a field of 12 submissions that were sent to MLS earlier in January of this year. Winners from this round will pay a $150 million expansion fee to join MLS.
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