MLS has heard all it needs to hear in order to make its decision on its next two franchises.
Representatives of the four finalists for MLS expansion were in New York on Tuesday to make their final presentations to Don Garber and the MLS expansion committee. Each of the bids had several hours to impress the league with stadium plans, market sizes, and anything else they could present to strengthen their case. One bid even had a gaggle of chanting fans outside MLS headquarters cheering them on.
None of the meetings were open to the public and the bids were rather tight-lipped about how each meeting went. Here’s a roundup of the news from each bid to come out of league headquarters yesterday.
Nashville’s representatives left MLS headquarters optimistic, according to the Tennessean.
“We’re satisfied that we’ve made our best case possible,” Will Alexander of the MLS2Nashville Steering Committee said afterwards. “We’re leaving here today thinking that we’ve made a strong, compelling pitch on all the elements that MLS is looking at. Now it’s in their hands to make a decision.”
Lead investor John Ingram and his counterparts were the first presentation of the day and they spoke with Garber and the expansion committee for more than two hours. Their presentation was heavy on their solid stadium plan, which aims to be completed for the 2021 season.
Nashville has long been considered a favorite for one of these two spots since securing that stadium plan last month, although there are still lawsuits to be settled over the use of their site, which would involve significant changes to the Nashville Fairgrounds.
Sacramento was the second market to present on the day and they had the backing of a small contingent of Sacramento Republic FC supporters outside MLS headquarters. Dozens of fans stood outside the building chanting and singing, hoping it would bolster their city’s case for MLS expansion.
Present for Sacramento were the city’s Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Republic FC chairman Kevin Nagle. They also spoke for about two hours and focused primarily on their shovel ready stadium. Steinberg was highly satisfied with the meeting, telling the Sacramento Bee afterwards that the group was “very, very excited about our prospects; it couldn’t have gone better.”
“We were very well received and appreciated the committee’s recognition about how prepared we were and are as a city,” he continued. “In two hours, there was a lot of back and forth and a lot of very good questions and we feel very, very good about it. We feel great about it.”
The bid received other good news yesterday as they learned Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and her husband had rejoined the investment group after seeming to withdraw earlier in the process.
Next up came Detroit and their trio of billionaire investors. Their bid was supported in person by Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, and Detroit Lions president Rod Wood. “It will be very important for the city of Detroit to land an MLS franchise,” the mayor told the Detroit News. “We made our best pitch and we’re gonna see what happens.”
The bid had to explain their rationale for abandoning their initial plan to build a soccer specific stadium at the site of an unfinished county jail, which is very close to being turned over to Gilbert and his colleagues. Instead, the prospective team would play their home matches at 65,000 seat Ford Field, which clashes with MLS’s preference for soccer-specific facilities.
Tellem referenced the success of Atlanta United and how he doesn’t want an undersized stadium for a club he thinks will outgrow such a venue.
“The average downtown stadium in the MLS draws 30,000. The one thing we didn’t want to do was build a soccer stadium for 20,000 and all of a sudden have fan interest of 30,000 or 40,000,” he said, “so Ford Field is adaptable. And that was another key point for us. It could adapt to any size of crowd and we believe we’re gonna be like Atlanta. We believe there is such strong interest in Detroit and the region that we’re gonna be able to support crowds of 30,000 to 40,000 once we have an MLS team.”
Detroit is considered by many to be a distant fourth in this initial race, but they are relying on their significant financial advantage over the other three choices to attract MLS to their bid.
Cincinnati’s two hour presentation wrapped things up for the day. FC Cincinnati president Jeff Bearding was calm leaving proceedings, according to Cincinnati.com.
“There’s no pressure, really,” he said. “We’ve worked real hard for two (seasons).”
Bearding and the rest of his delegation spoke of his group’s recently approved privately financed stadium plan and the government support behind it. The club recently learned the city approved infrastructure funding around their stadium site, clearing the way for them to get moving on the project. “I don’t think there’s any question that our bid can check the box of a soccer-specific stadium,” he said.
He also praised the success of the club at the USL level and the developments they’ve taken to further strengthen the club, such as their development academy.
The expansion committee, consisting of six league owners: Jonathan Kraft (New England Revolution), Cliff Illig (Sporting Kansas City), Bill McGuire (Minnesota United), Andrew Hauptman (Chicago Fire), Jay Sugarman (Philadelphia Union) and Joe Roth (Seattle Sounders), will take what they learned today and make their decision on the next two teams to join MLS. A vote is expected on December 14 and an announcement shortly thereafter.