Brian Wilson should be so proud: It’s shaping up to be Heroes and Villains in the Las Vegas MLS race we’re witnessing between Bill Foley, Wes Edens and Seth Klarman, as they all pursue an expansion team.
Things are changing rapidly in the Las Vegas MLS race. It’s no secret that Foley, the owner of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, is interested in owning a Las Vegas MLS team, originally pitching a team playing out of Allegiant Stadium. Also contending is Seth Klarman, who had been working with the city of Las Vegas via Renaissance Companies on a plan for the Cashman Field site for a stadium and residential/office/retail development. His exclusive negotiating period with the city for the site has ended, but city leaders love his vision of an MLS stadium anchoring a major develop on an underused site near downtown Las Vegas, and his firm remains very interested in an MLS team.
His vision is also the kind of vision that appeals to MLS, which is perhaps why Foley has changed his plans to be more in line with that vision. The Vegas Golden Knights emerged from NHL expansion to be a model for franchise development. T-Mobile Arena is now positioned as a major venue in a city filled with major venues, and his expansion across the entire market–a fan-centric practice facility on the west side in Summerlin, and a secondary arena and AHL team on the east side in Henderson–has cemented his leadership in the local sports community, even with the opening of Allegiant Stadium and the move of the Las Vegas Raiders. He’s trademarked Las Vegas Heroes–named for first responders–as the name of a potential MLS team and has dumped a plan to play at Allegiant Stadium in favor of a new soccer stadium. (Yeah, Summerlin would make a nice location for a new $250-million MLS stadium.)
His trademarking of Heroes might have had a little to do with Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris emerging on the scene with their own Las Vegas MLS aspirations. The pair co-own the Premier League’s Aston Villa, while Edens co-owns the NBA champions Milwaukee Bucks with Marc Lasry. Edens and Sawiris have been successful with the first-division Aston Villa team, and their vision include the MLS team working with Aston Villa. He also has some Vegas ties: his Fortress Investment Group owns Brightline, seeking, which is building a train line between Vegas and San Bernardino County. The Edens/Sawiris group has trademarked Villains as the name of an MLS team. He’s also reportedly in favor of a new soccer-specific stadium.
So you have three contenders. MLS tends to judge expansion candidates by the size of their pocketbooks, and on that level the three would seem to qualify, with all three easily billionaires. While MLS has not officially announce plans for a 30th team to replace Sacramento, such a move is expected in the next six-eight months, leaving the three to make their plans to known in expansion applications. MLS Commissioner Don Garber addressed this during the MLS All-Star Game break with ESPN, specifically commenting on the emergence of Edens as a potential league investor:
“That market, it continues to explode from a population growth perspective,” he said. “We’ve seen the success of certainly the [NHL’s Vegas Golden] Knights and big events. We tested a couple of events with the Gold Cup final. The Leagues Cup final will be there. The Gold Cup final sold out in minutes. Las Vegas is an interesting market. We do want to secure our 30th team so that we can have a fully expanded league by the World Cup in 2026, so we’ll continue to focus on that market.”…
“I wouldn’t say there’s any [leading candidate] at this point,” Garber said about the competing bids in Vegas. “Wes Eden’s is one of the most respected investors and operators, and clearly a really, really successful sports team owner. I happen to like him a lot personally. We’ve been intrigued by what a possibility could be with him, but it’s way too premature to talk about it anymore than that.”
Photos courtesy Las Vegas Lights.
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