Top Stories

Report: Ford family joins Detroit’s MLS expansion bid, offers Ford Field as venue

The Detroit MLS expansion bid already had the backing of two billionaires, and another appears to be joining the equation.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the Ford family, owners of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, are throwing their financial weight into the city’s bid to bring MLS to Michigan. To sweeten the deal, they are offering to use Ford Field as a potential venue for the team.

The bid is already spearheaded by a pair of NBA owners. Dan Gilbert, Detroit native and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers already joined forced with Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores.

Their original plan called for a 23,000 seat soccer specific stadium to be built on the site of an uncompleted county jail, which Gilbert’s Rock Ventures is close to acquiring.

“Partnering with the Ford family bolsters our powerhouse group and provides a perfect stadium solution in the heart of Detroit’s central business and sports and entertainment districts,” said Detroit Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, who has led the potential ownership group’s contact with MLS officials. “Over the last two years, we have invested significant time, effort and resources into our bid to bring MLS to Detroit.

“After careful study and analysis, we concluded that the downtown location of an MLS stadium is paramount to an MLS team’s success. And no MLS stadium sits in a better downtown location than Ford Field.  We also saw additional evidence that multi-use stadiums can be very successful in the right situation and we believe our new proposal is superior for the city and for MLS in every way.”

This plan supersedes the original jail site, which would present a more intimate, soccer specific experience that MLS usually favors. However, the Detroit bid is hoping the success of Atlanta United, who set an MLS record when 70,425 fans attended their regular season finale, will change their tone.

“From the time we started working on the Gratiot site, we have always been focused on the importance of a great mixed-use development at the gateway to downtown Detroit, soccer was just a potential component of our vision,” said Rock Ventures Principal Matt Cullen, who has led the bid’s stadium plan. “But once we better understood Ford Field’s unique attributes, including the recent renovations and a bowl design that is perfectly suited for soccer, we decided to change course.”

As part of ongoing talks with the Fords and the Detroit Lions, the MLS bid committee has worked with ROSSETTI, a Detroit based architectural firm that has designed soccer stadiums around the world, to assess Ford Field’s viability as an MLS stadium. They concluded that the facility has great sight lines, various seating configurations that can handle crowds as small as 26,000 up to the maximum capacity of 64,000. The firm also praised its prime downtown location and ability to utilize luxury suites for soccer games.

They have also developed a comprehensive plan for converting the football stadium into an MLS quality soccer facility.

If the bid is accepted, it wouldn’t be Ford Field’s first experience with soccer. The stadium has hosted four international matches in its history. It hosted the U.S. Men’s National Team in the group stage of the 2011 Gold Cup, as well as three U.S. Women’s National Team friendlies in 2008, 2012, and 2015.

Tellem, who is aiming to see Detroit as one of the two cities granted a franchise for the 2020 season, hopes that representatives from the MLS expansion committee will visit the city this month.

MLS released a statement regarding the new stadium proposal:

“We were recently informed that the partnership between Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert to bring a Major League Soccer expansion club to Detroit has amended its application to include the William Clay Ford family. The amended application also states that Ford Field is the group’s preferred stadium site.

“Although MLS has tremendous respect for all of the owners involved in the Detroit bid, we have not had an opportunity to evaluate the amended application and it would be premature for MLS to offer a specific comment on it.

“MLS continues to prioritize soccer-specific stadiums as a criteria for the selection of MLS expansion markets.”


  1. turf. as much as I want to stand up and be a purist about soccer should be played on grass i feel as though it is something that we have learn to accept. the amount of soccer from the youth to the amateur to rec to the professional ranks being played on turf in the US and Canada is overwhelming. the next generation of soccer players are more likely to grow up on turf fields than finely manicured grass fields. plus all of our big new nfl stadiums have it, unfortunately nobody is building new american football stadiums with grass.

    currently games in Atlanta and Seattle look a bit like watching baseball 20-30 years ago in the old Veteran’s Field, Three Rivers Stadium, MetroDome and the King Dome. looks like crap on tv, balls bouncing and skipping around everywhere, players hating it. the current style of field turf is much improved over the old astroturf but I am hoping the technology keeps improving with soccer in mind.

    if these billionaire nfl owners and garber want to get involved in soccer how about making that their big project? the Philadelphia Eagles stadium and Lambeau Field switched over to the turf/grass hybrid like they have at Wembley, Nou Camp, others; make that common practice in the NFL and in community fields around the country and then we won’t be so hesitant to let them in.

  2. I get that people don’t want turf ( and football lines ). The rest just seems like noise to me.

    Sure it would be great if MLS could build soccer stadiums of 40k, expandable when we need them to be, but that isn’t happening in my lifetime. So getting a stadium downtown is desirable. Too many failures where that didn’t happen to ignore.

    Pro/Rel ain’t happening in MLS. Ever. You can hate Garber and Sunni all you want, blame whoever you want. The fact is, is the Sounders, Whitecaps and Portland were all in the league that actually could have been expanded to Pro/Rel….it failed, it changed repeatedly. To the point that all three left and went where the success was….MLS….which isn’t going to Pro/Rel ever.

  3. Multi use stadiums are only successful in creating revenue. Houston has grass and multi use stadium and there surface is a mess.

    • Well, promotion/relegation is going to happen…eventually.

      What’s going to happen is that professional soccer is going to continue to expand. Too many people love the game now; too many people with means would like to own a club; too many cities want clubs. MLS can either continue to expand or other leagues will. Right now SUM is doing its best (with regrettable success) to crush NASL but at the end of the day the demand will only grow and these clubs are going to have to play SOMEWHERE.

      So does MLS expand into MLS 2, MLS 3, etc, and a promotion/relegation model, or does it allow the formation of parallel, rival leagues? Those are really the only two choices, long-term. Right now there are only 22 big-time organizations but there are far more coming and so is the moment when MLS will have to decide.

      • If it ever happens, it will be because it was forced on MLS (like through a lawsuit) rather than approved by the league. Why? Some of the more recent expansion teams have shelled out big bucks ( $100 million or more I believe). They are not going to allow their investment to fizzle into a second division league when some USL or NASL team that cost a tenth of what it took them to start a team wins promotion. Greed will win out and we will not have promotion/Relegation in the foreseeable future.

    • I think you are correct that there will be pushback from some of the owners for exactly that reason…but the problem for them will become: do we allow parallel – and competitor – leagues to start popping up around us?

      They’re in the process of killing NASL, sure, but I think most people underestimate the sheer size of the prospective pyramid. MLS seems locked into NFL/NBA thinking but what they’re missing is that the second, third, fourth, etc. links are filled by college sports, which isn’t going to happen with soccer. Considering there are well over 350 college football teams, for instance, and 60+ of them can draw 30K-plus a game (the top ones draw 100,000+) that gives you an idea how large soccer’s potential ceiling is in the USA. If MLS tries to cap that at 30 first-division teams, for instance, all they’re doing is opening the doors for competition.

      There’s more than ample room for 100+ big pro clubs in the USA eventually. Where will they all play?

      • You sound like the guys on Shark Tank. I am as big a soccer in the US guy as they get, but let’s get back to soccer rather than quoting football attendance. The bottom 3 teams in MLS were below 16k average for this season. That is pathetic.

        You go further down than that. You are talking one off situations at random times, most of which have fans that are hoping to make MLS if they support enough, rather than just enjoying their league.

        MLS will get 30 teams if they can keep the bottom teams from being lower than those attendance numbers, then we can start to worry about having two first divisions of 30 teams OR Pro/Rel ( which will never happen )

      • Not really. What you see is as much as anything the keywords are “location” and “infrastructure”.

        You build it too far away from town or in a little rickety stadium (or both), the fans don’t show up. See: Columbus, Dallas, Chicago, even Red Bulls.

        If you build it downtown in some hot digs, they do.

        I’m pretty much of the opinion you could build an entire 20-team league down the I-5 alone, as long as you were building your stadiums downtown and they were competitive with NBA or NFL digs in terms of amenities. Teams like SKC and Orlando kind of have the model there. Portland’s already outgrown their digs. Atlanta’s the Mother Lode of what you want: downtown, hot digs, sexy product on the field from Minute 1 built by actual football people.

    • I think that comment is weird. The teams making boat loads of money, are playing in real stadiums, not stadiums that are the best a rising but lower budget league can afford.

      Investors will flock to that…making money. To say the teams like with ownership like the Sounders aren’t true soccer investors is just dumb. The guy who got the ball rolling for Sounders in MLS, followed the team a kid and bought an A-League/USL team with 5k of us showing up to watch. Zero money in it. The city had build a stadium for football and soccer. 40k where there last night. 60k have been there before. Nothing wrong with any of that.

      I don’t profess to know the Fords, or the other investors, but even if they aren’t like Adrian Hanauer…..people do become soccer fans at different times. Not all of them needed to start in the 70s like Adrian and me.

  4. Ford Field would be step backward for MLS.

    Maybe it’s because many of these owners never played soccer, but they just don’t seem to get that artificial turf changes the game dramatically, and not in a good way. The sport isn’t played as well, and it doesn’t look as good, on artificial turf.

    I guess Atlanta is the hot thing now in MLS, but let’s see where they are in 5 years, when the newness has worn off. As great as they drew this year, the field was horrible, and imagine how it will look in front of 15K fans and 60K empty seats. Not saying that’s definitely going to happen, but some MLS teams haven’t been able to sustain the momentum they generated in their first year. Others, like Seattle, have been able to, so we’ll see where Atlanta falls.

    It would be better to sell out a 30K seat stadium and play on real grass then draw 40K in a 75K stadium and play on turf.

    Baseball owners figured out that playing on turf altered the game significantly, and now most baseball stadiums have real grass. Soccer owners, or prospective owners, don’t seem to get it.

    Having said all that, that ownership group in Detroit is powerful, and I’m sure that Garber would love to bring them into the league.

    • The only post-2006 teams that were not able to sustain the initial momentum are: a) Philadelphia and only then it’s marginal and they never won a playoff game in 8 years and b) NYCFC – a team with a fake fanbase that dislikes MLS and no stadium on the horizon.

    • 15k fans?

      Based on what exactly? Barely any teams are in that stratosphere now, much less in the amount of year it will take Atlanta drops from 50k to 15k.

      I can get not wanting turf, but bring up almost items that almost certainly wont happen?

  5. I think they need to evaluate the Fords, even more than the stadium. NFL stadium + an Arthur Blank type = good. NFL stadium + Robert Kraft type = bad. Which would this more closely resemble?


Leave a Comment