The four teams in the running for the next two MLS expansion slots have made their formal presentations to MLS commissioner Don Garber and the league’s expansion committee at MLS headquarters in New York City.
Teams from Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento are competing to win one of the two expansion slots due to be awarded before the end of the year.
The ownership groups are four of 12 markets to have submitted formal bids back in January, and are bidding for a total of four available expansion slots as part of the league’s planned expansion to 28 teams. Two further expansion teams will be announced at a later date.
“We had the opportunity to discuss the special things that are happening in our hometown,” said FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding. “What’s transpired over the last two years in Cincinnati has been remarkable, and we owe our supporters the credit for the tremendous excitement and energy that has occurred in a city not too many thought possible two years ago. We’re very proud of Cincinnati – it’s a major-league town.”
The team’s two seasons in the USL have included several second-division single-game attendance milestones, with a total of more than 500,000 fans attending – and figures of more than 21,000 spectators per game in 2017. The club’s US Open Cup semi-final against the New York Red Bulls drew a sellout crowd of 36,000 to Nippert Stadium. The club has also recently received city backing for its stadium plan.
Detroit’s presentation included Cleveland Cavaliers owner and Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert; Palace Sports & Entertainment vice chairman Arn Tellem (representing Pistons owner Tom Gores); and Detroit Lions president Ron Wood (on behalf of the Ford Family); as well as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
Detroit’s bid was announced in 2016, and recently incorporated the Ford Family into the efforts of the ownership group.
“I think it’s huge,” Gilbert said. “Ford’s the brand name and family name most aligned with Detroit, more than any name. To have that credibility and the credibility of Ford Field [is an asset]; they’ve always run a first-class operation.”
“We believe we’re going to be like Atlanta,” Tellem added. “We believe that there is such strong interest in Detroit and the region, we’re going to be able to support crowds of 30-to-40,000 once we have an MLS team.”
The Nashville Group believes the team would fill a geographic void for MLS, potentially serving as the closest league club for 13 million fans across nine states. With a stadium plan in place at the Nashville Fairgrounds that could be open as early as 2021, Nashville2MLS Committee chairman Will Alexander is confident their efforts will prove competitive.
“We have a great soccer culture, there’s a lot of excitement around the bid, and people are going to turn out for this team,” he said. “We presented evidence to support that.
“One thing we pointed out is that Nashville as an entertainment hub has a global brand, and that’s unique, really – very few cities around the world are recognizable like that, and we talked about how we’d leverage that. And then we talked about our geographic location and how having a team in the Mid-South would reach a lot of new potential fans for MLS and set up a rivalry with Atlanta, which had such a successful launch this year.”
Sacramento’s bid presentation included: chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle; Mayor Darrell Steinberg; his predecessor, Kevin Johnson; and Sacramento Soccer & Entertainment Holdings COO and chief advisor Ben Gumpert.
“We knew that this was a step along in the process, and a step far along in the process,” Gumpert said. “And our goal and commitment from Day 1, with Mayor Steinberg and Kevin’s leadership, has been to sprint through the finish line, and that’s what we are going to continue to do.
“Make no mistake, the entire committee and really the entire MLS community has been blown away by what is going on in Sacramento. That is clear today, that was clear, and that has been clear all along.”
Sacramento Republic FC also announced the addition of two owners to the prospective group, as Meg Whitman and Griffith Harsh revealed their investment in the bid, wishing “Kevin Nagle and the team great success today”.