The Ford family has joined Detroit Pistons Owner Tom Gores and Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert in a joint bid to bring a Major League Soccer team to the city of Detroit.
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On top of them joining the bid, the family has also offered up Ford Field as a home for the new team. The new focus would put Ford Field as the preferred stadium site for downtown Detroit.
“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,” Detroit Pistons Vice Chair Arn Tellem said in a release. “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.
The plan to use Ford Field now erases Gilbert's plan for the soccer stadium on the site of the failed Wayne County Gratiot Jail site. Wayne County has working with Gilbert and the city of Detroit to get Gilbert the land in downtown Detroit near Greektown.
Ford Field underwent more than $100 million in renovations before the 2017-18 NFL season, which they believe will help grow soccer and benefit the community.
In August, MLS Commissioner Dan Garber said Detroit is energized for soccer, and they are expanding with four new teams. Two of the cities will be announced in December with the other two possibly coming next year.
Detroit is one of several cities bidding for an MLS team, which includes Nashville, San Antonio, St. Louis, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Indianapolis and more.
“The Lions and Ford Field have had active and ongoing discussions with Dan Gilbert and Tom Gores about their vision to bring a Major League Soccer expansion team to Detroit,” Detroit Lions team President Rod Wood said in a release. “The result is a compelling plan to present Ford Field as a state-of-the-art soccer stadium; a plan which reflects not just a shared vision to bring MLS to Detroit, but a desire to do so in a way that will both preserve Ford Field as one of the city’s great assets and benefit the broader community.”
Both Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have been strong advocates of the Ford Field proposals since discussions with the Ford Family began, according to a press release.
Rock Ventures Principal Matt Cullen said they will still work with the city and county to build a new criminal justice center in Midtown and bring mixed-use development on the Gratiot Ave. site.
The MLS has previously favored cities with soccer-specific stadiums, but Garber's comments in September to the Orlando Sentinel may signal a change in that thought.
"The good thing about being new and trying to figure it out as you go along is you have a specific plan and then there are times when you have to modify that plan," he said to the Sentinel. "I think good business leaders and good businesses, ya know, don't just get stuck in their previous strategies but try to evolve and see how things develop."
A few MLS teams already play in football stadiums, including the Seattle Sounders, New England Revolution and Atlanta United. New York FC plays their game at Yankee Stadium.
The Sounders averaged 42,636 fans per game in 2016 at CenturyLink Field. That led the MLS in attendance. New York City FC was third with 27,196 per game while the New England Revolution had 20,185.
In Atlanta United's first season, they're playing at the all-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and are breaking attendance records. They're averaging 48,200 people per game.
According to the group, using Ford Field "satisfies many of the characteristics that make Major League Soccer successful."
Those attributes include being directly in downtown Detroit, giving fans a sight line slop of 17 degrees in the lower level, different seating configurations for crowds ranging from 26,000 to 64,000 and the fact that they've previously hosted four US Soccer international matches.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he "wholeheartedly" supports the proposal and thanked Gores, Gilbert and the Ford family.
"This partnership allows us to bring major league soccer to a first-class facility inside our growing sports and entertainment district and eliminates the potential request for Detroit tax dollars to construct another stadium," he said in a statement.