Garber: Detroit MLS Expansion Bid Hampered by Ford Field Pitch

Ford Field MLS

When addressing the proposal recently, MLS commissioner Don Garber indicated that the Detroit MLS expansion bid was hampered by a plan to use Ford Field.

Throughout the expansion process, Detroit’s bid has carried some intrigue. Led by experienced sports owners in Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores–owners the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, respectively–the pitch would have placed an MLS expansion club in a strong sports market with a growing soccer scene.

Those factors remain strengths in Detroit’s favor, but its stadium proposal has raised some questions. At one point, Gilbert and Gores were pitching the construction of a new soccer-specific stadium on the site of an unfinished jail in the city’s downtown. However, that proposal was scrapped last November, with the bid modified to call for the use of the existing Ford Field–home to the NFL’s Lions. In that scenario, Ford Field would be renovated to accommodate MLS, while the wealthy Ford family–owner of the Lions–would be added to the club’s ownership.

Detroit still managed to qualify as a finalist in December–along with Sacramento, and the ultimately successful bids from Nashville and Cincinnati–but MLS is passing on the city for now. While Garber has emphasized that Detroit remains an option for the next round of expansion, he acknowledged that the Ford Field proposal prompted some concerns that will need to be resolved. More from The Detroit Free Press:

Garber was clear that Detroit remains in the mix when the league awards two additional franchises to start play in 2022 — if concerns over the venue are addressed.

“It set them back,” Garber said at Rhinegeist Brewery, a downtown joint located a short distance from where FC Cincinnati will build a soccer stadium.

“But in many ways, they have come together to retrofit Ford Field, which could make it very MLS-ready and they can talk about what those ideas might be, but they were really front runners when they were looking at the jail site.”

The latest round for expansion unfolded on a longer schedule than originally expected. MLS was initially slated to select two of the four finalists in December, but selected only Nashville and held off on decisions regarding the other bids. The long period of uncertainty ended Tuesday, when the league announced that it had approved Cincinnati’s bid.

Ultimately, the Ford Field proposal was not in line with those in Nashville and Cincinnati–both of which include plans for soccer-specific stadiums. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and CenturyLink Field in Seattle are examples of where teams are thriving in dual use NFL/MLS venues, but clearly the soccer-specific stadium model from the competing expansion bids was more appealing to MLS. Still, if the bid remains in the mix, Detroit will have some strengths that could be heightened if it generates a stadium plan to MLS’s liking.

Renderings courtesy Rossetti.

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