The new year could yield answers on the viability of a Las Vegas MLS expansion team, as two separate efforts are active at the start of 2020.
Las Vegas has two intriguing expansion pitches in the works, including one that would see a new stadium anchor a larger redevelopment of the 62-acre Cashman Field site. Las Vegas launched formal negotiations in June with The Renaissance Companies on a master development plan for the 62-acre site on the edge of downtown Las Vegas, anchored by a 25,000-capacity retractable-roof MLS stadium. The stadium development would be led by billionaire hedge-fund manager Seth Klarman of the Boston-based Baupost Group, who has an option to buy USL Championship’s Las Vegas Lights. Initially, the two sides were locked into a 180-day negotiating period that was to end December 1, 2019, but they opted to extend that deadline to February 5, 2020.
That proposal is notable in a number of respects. Cashman Field, the Lights’ current venue and former home to Minor League Baseball in Las Vegas, sits on a site that is seen by city officials as ripe for redevelopment because of its proximity to downtown and freeway access. Furthermore, the concept could reflect the stadium/mixed-use development model that MLS owners and officials love.
Discussions about Cashman Field are where city officials, including mayor Carolyn Goodman, are focused right now, but that is not the only MLS proposal in the works. Bill Foley, owner of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, continues to separately explore an MLS expansion bid for Las Vegas. It was confirmed recently that that due diligence continues through ongoing discussions with league officials, but some details about what Foley might have in the works remain unknown. More from the Las Vegas Review-Journal:
“We are navigating the application process and look forward to unveiling a plan that will not only showcase Las Vegas as a dynamic market suitable for MLS, but will also outline the redevelopment of the Cashman District into a true live-work-play area that will economically benefit all parties,” Rensaissance chairman Floyd Kephart said in a statement.
Said bid, however, will need to trump any proposal by Foley and convince MLS it needs to keep expanding.
Scant details are available about Foley’s plan for a team, though the Knights said in a statement: “We continue to have discussions with league representatives on the possibility of bringing an MLS expansion franchise to Las Vegas and remain interested in the opportunity.”
A Foley-owned franchise could play at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders, or elsewhere. MLS prefers expansion proposals with soccer-specific stadiums, “all things being equal,” commissioner Don Garber said in July.
Keep in mind that MLS has not announced plans to expand beyond 30 teams. Still, if efforts in Las Vegas make progress, there could be a compelling case for commissioner Don Garber and other MLS officials to move forward with future expansion. The Lights have posted strong attendance numbers playing out of Cashman Field, showing an appetite for professional soccer in the market. Additionally, either Las Vegas effort could pique the interest of MLS. The Cashman Field proposal would involve deep-pocketed investors planning a stadium/mixed-use development concept that has become commonplace around MLS, while a Foley-backed club would represent the addition of an owner with a solid track record in major sports ownership, as the Golden Knights have been a success since their 2017 launch.
Another factor, too, could be the strength of other bids, as Phoenix or another formidable contender could rise to the level of being worthy of MLS approval. In tandem with a strong pitch in Las Vegas, that could make the case for a 32-team MLS more compelling. For now, there are still some unknowns about whether Las Vegas can make its way into MLS, but there should be some more certainty on that issue as 2020 develops.
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