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Group bidding for MLS franchise in Detroit names Ford Field as 'ideal home' for soccer team

Ford family joins push to bring Major League Soccer team to Detroit

DETROIT – A group working to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Detroit has named Ford Field as the "ideal home" for an expansion soccer team.

Pistons owner Tom Gores and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert have partnered to bring a soccer team to Detroit, and now William Clay Ford has joined the effort.

The group has supplemented its application to the MLS with a planning study detailing Ford Field as the preferred stadium site in Downtown Detroit.

Group outlines why Ford Field is good fit for soccer team

Detroit Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem, who is coordinating the ownership group's communication with MLS officials, said the addition of the Ford family and the proposal to leverage existing resources by adapting Ford Field for MLS soccer would make a prospective MLS franchise in Detroit even more successful.

"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," Tellem said. "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."

Tellem pointed to the recent success of Atlanta United, which set MLS attendance records in its first season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The use of Ford Field, which has undergone more than $100 million in recent renovations paid for by the Lions, would both grow soccer locally and benefit the community by leveraging Detroit's existing resources to deliver top-tier soccer to the city. At the same time, it would create a new three-way alliance providing the Ford family an opportunity to potentially take a future equity stake in the franchise as part of the Gores-Gilbert ownership group.

"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 President Rod Wood said. "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.  As discussions with MLS progress, we look forward to working with Dan, Tom, and their respective organizations, who collectively embody the collaborative spirit at the heart of Detroit's rebirth."

Since beginning discussions with the Lions and Ford family, members of the Gores-Gilbert team along with Ford Field officials and ROSSETTI, a Detroit-based architectural firm with experience designing soccer venues around the globe, conducted a thorough analysis of Ford Field and developed a comprehensive plan to make it a state-of-the-art soccer facility.

Rock Ventures Principal Matt Cullen, who has been leading the stadium plan for the Detroit MLS bid, said that while the original focus was on developing a new stadium on Gratiot Avenue, the analysis of Ford Field's unique potential opened the group's eyes to an even better possibility.

"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," Cullen said. "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. We have made clear to the County that we are still fully committed to moving forward with our proposal to build out a new criminal justice complex on Warren and I-75.  We are also fully committed to a mixed-use development on the Gratiot site that will be an economic driver for our community."

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have been involved in the evaluation of stadium sites. Both County Executive Evans and Mayor Duggan have been strong advocates of the Ford Field proposal since discussions with the Ford family began.

Ford Field's Viability as an MLS Stadium Site

Several multi-purpose stadiums are currently being utilized around the league in New England, Atlanta, Seattle and Vancouver. The most successful stadiums and franchises in Major League Soccer operate in downtown settings, and Ford Field's location in the central business and entertainment district in downtown Detroit makes an optimal selection.  Detroit is the only city in the nation with four professional sports teams playing within blocks of each other inside the city's urban core. In Ford Field, the ownership group also benefits from a venue that has already undergone over $100 million in privately-financed capital improvements within the last year.

Additional attributes that make Ford Field a match for Major League Soccer:

  • Ford Field's seating pitch produces a fan sightline slope of 17 degrees in the lower level – among the best for current MLS multi-use stadiums
  • Ford Field's location inside the central business district and downtown setting bolsters the game-day experience with walkable entertainment and gathering spaces
  • Different seating configurations can support crowd sizes ranging from 26,000 to 64,000
  • Soccer-specific design will maximize usage of premium suite inventory and high-visibility sponsorship activation
  • Ford Field has hosted four USA Soccer international matches (2008, 2011, 2012, 2015)

Major League Soccer response

Major League Soccer released a statement on the changes to the application and the bidding group from Detroit. Here is the full statement:

"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."

Compelling opportunity for Detroit

Major League Soccer has experienced a period of unprecedented growth during the last 12 years, doubling in size from 10 to 20 clubs since 2004.

The addition of an MLS club would fuel the growing excitement building in Detroit and enhance the expanding entertainment district in the city. The team will serve the impressive soccer fan base in the state, which includes thousands of millennials and Michigan youth. Soccer has become one of the most popular sports in the state, with more than 92,000 registered youth players in Michigan.

Other economic and market-size indicators make Detroit a viable expansion location:

The metro Detroit market is home to a large base of soccer players, fans and supporters and has developed a passionate soccer culture. Detroiters support minor league soccer at a high level. An MLS team will complement the two lower division minor league soccer teams playing in metro Detroit.

Detroit and the State of Michigan have a strong corporate base capable of supporting MLS operations. Michigan is home to 21 Fortune 500 companies, ranking sixth among U.S. states. In addition, there are large private enterprises in the state such as Ilitch Holdings and Rock Ventures.

If Detroit is chosen for an MLS expansion team, it would augment the densest urban sports and entertainment district city in America with three major professional sports stadiums within a 10-minute walk: Ford Field, Comerica Park and Little Caesars Arena.

In 2014, the University of Michigan hosted the biggest soccer game ever played on American soil – a friendly match between Real Madrid and Manchester United. The game drew an astonishing 109,318 fans to Michigan Stadium, breaking the record of 101,799 set at the Rose Bowl for the 1984 Olympics final. Based on the success of that event, on July 30, 2016 Michigan again hosted two of the biggest teams in soccer when Real Madrid and Chelsea faced off at the Big House and Comerica Park in Detroit hosted Paris Saint-Germain and AS Roma on July 19, 2017.

Independent studies in comparable MLS franchise markets predict an economic impact to their respective regions of $1.2 billion over 30 years.

Wayne County Executive statement

Here is a statement from Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans:

"Using Ford Field rather than building a new soccer stadium on the Gratiot site makes sense and I applaud the collaborative effort.

"Today’s news could eventually open up other exciting options for Gratiot in the future. It would be great to land an MLS team at Ford Field and bring other new investment to Gratiot, but this doesn’t change the path forward for us to address our unfinished jail.  Wayne County’s focus is to complete negotiations with Rock Ventures on a new state-of-the-art criminal justice center on the DDOT property, which is the best option. Gratiot, however, is still in play and our mission is to get the result that is in the best interest of Wayne County’s 1.7 million residents. That is my first priority, and to that end I’m unwavering."

Detroit Mayor Duggan's statement

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan issued a statement in support of Ford Field as a site for a potential new Major League Soccer franchise. Here is the full statement:

"Detroit is fortunate to have a state of the art stadium like Ford Field and it makes perfect sense to utilize a stadium in the heart of downtown that's just undergone a $100 million renovation. 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 new stadium.

"I wholeheartedly support this proposal and thank Tom Gores, Dan Gilbert, and the Ford family for working together to make this happen."