FC Cincinnati won the expansion race on Tuesday, but they weren’t always the favorite to land one of the first two of four planned MLS expansion slots.
Detroit’s bid was once favored by the league, but their efforts were thwarted when they switched up their stadium plan from an abandoned jail site in downtown to a retrofitted Ford Field, the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions.
“It set them back,” MLS commissioner Don Garber told the Detroit Free Press at Rhinegeist Brewery after inviting Cincinnati to join his league.
“But in many ways, they have come together to retrofit Ford Field, which could make it very MLS-ready and they can talk about what those ideas might be, but they were really front runners when they were looking at the jail site.”
Garber insists the city remains in the running for the next set of two expansion slots that aim to begin play for the 2022 season, but they may need to address their current stadium plan.
“That was a gateway location to the city of Detroit,” Garber said. “A great ownership group with Dan Gilbert, the Pistons family with Tom Gores and a market that we’re excited about.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on, but you got to have good facilities. We’ve learned over the last 20 years that facilities matter, location matters and they have a great location, but ensuring that the facility works for their fans long term — not just short term — is a necessity for us. That’s where they are for us.”
When prospective owners Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert first announced their MLS intentions, they planned to build a soccer specific stadium on the site of an unfinished county jail at the heart of downtown Detroit. As negotiations stalled to acquire that site, they modified their bid to have the team play at Ford Field, a 65,000 seat capacity indoor football stadium.
The move was coupled with the addition of the Ford family, owners of the Lions, as additional investors.