A Detroit Lions executive has confirmed the team’s involvement in discussions about a Ford Field retractable roof, a concept that is being explored for an MLS expansion club.
Detroit’s MLS expansion pitch continues to be centered around the use of the presently fixed-roof Ford Field, the downtown Detroit home of the NFL’s Lions. If the proposal moves forward, the Ford family–owners of the Lions–would be added to an MLS group that is currently headed by Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores, owners the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, respectively.
Detroit is looking to make Ford Field more intriguing to MLS as it bolsters its case for the next round of expansion, and Gilbert indicated recently that adding a retractable roof to the venue was one option that was being explored. In a radio interview this week, Lions president Rod Wood confirmed that the team is working to explore that possibility as discussions about a potential MLS club continue. More from The Detroit Free Press:
Detroit Lions president Rod Wood said on WJR-AM (760) Monday morning that he and other Lions executives are looking into a retractable roof to help bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.
“It’s something we’re looking at. We’re going to have a meeting later this week,” Wood said on “The Frank Beckmann Show.” “It’s been an interesting process working with Dan (Gilbert) and Tom Gores and their teams, and Arn Tellem is pretty much leading this pitch with MLS.”
The MLS has been looking at Detroit as one of the main cities considered for an expansion team for the 2020 season. The issue Detroit faces is the games have to be played outdoors and players prefer to play on grass — Ford Field offers neither and a new stadium is most likely out of the question.
“Building another stadium makes no sense with the three that we have,” Wood said. “I think there’s a purest wing in the MLS and they like to play on grass, they like to play outside. They have preferred smaller stadiums, although the two most successful franchises play in football stadiums, in Atlanta and Seattle. They regularly draw 40, 50, 60,000 fans and I think we might have a shot at doing the same thing downtown.
In Detroit’s case, the group is looking to succeed in the upcoming round of expansion after missing out in the previous round. It made a field of four finalists there were considered by MLS in December, but was passed over in favor of Nashville and later Cincinnati–two bids with proposals for new soccer-specific stadiums.
Soccer-specific stadiums have been growing trend in MLS, but Detroit seems to be casting itself as a potential success story in the mold of Atlanta and Seattle, two cities where teams are thriving in shared NFL/MLS venues. Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium in particular would seem to be a model for Detroit, as the retractable-roof facility opened last year and has been a major factor in Atlanta United FC’s success in setting attendance records. It is worth noting that Detroit’s bid previously included plans for a soccer-specific stadium in the city’s downtown, but that concept was scrapped last fall in favor of Ford Field. A new soccer-specific stadium would have added to an increasingly crowded venue landscape in downtown Detroit, which already features Ford Field, the Tigers’ Comerica Park, and the Red Wings’ and Pistons’ Little Caesars Arena.
It remains to be seen if the idea of a retractable roof at Ford Field will come to fruition, as several factors will have to be considered, including costs and financing. We took a closer look at the next round of MLS expansion in a feature last month.
Renderings courtesy Rossetti.
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