MLS' Four Expansion Finalists Make Final Pitches; Sacramento Gets Big Investor Boost
Representatives from the four finalist bids for the next two MLS expansion clubs -- including mayors from three of the four cities -- "made presentations to MLS" yesterday at the league's HQ in N.Y., according to Paul Kennedy of SOCCER AMERICA. Current Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and former mayor Kevin Johnson were part of the group that "was cheered by Republic FC fans" outside MLS' offices and "brought boxes containing materials on the city's Railyards soccer stadium plus bottles of Northern California wine." Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan also "took part in the meetings." Only Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, the "key figure who took Nashville from the back of the pack to the favorite's position in less than a year, was not present." The four bidders "will get back to the expansion committee on issues raised during the talks," and the committee will report to MLS' BOG, which will "meet next Thursday to select the two cities slated to begin play" in '20. The announcement of the winners "will come some time after that" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 12/7).
CALIFORNIA LOVE: In Sacramento, Ryan Lillis in a front-page piece notes Republic FC fans "showed up outside MLS headquarters for an early morning rally, cheering as league Commissioner Don Garber arrived for the day." Steinberg said that the expansion committee "had a series of questions the Sacramento bid would address over the following week." He added, "It couldn’t have gone better." Steinberg "would not say which questions MLS needs answered before awarding an expansion bid." One concern about the depth of Sacramento’s ownership group was "addressed during the meeting" when Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman announced she and her husband, Griffith Harsh, had "rejoined the Republic FC investor team." Whitman had "initially agreed to invest in the team earlier this year, then withdrew after announcing last month she would retire in February." The couple joins Sac Soccer Chair & CEO Kevin Nagle, 49ers CEO Jed York and Kings investor Mark Friedman as "lead investors in Republic FC." Whitman "brings not only her deep pockets, but also some name recognition" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 12/7).
PLAY ME A COUNTRY SONG: In Nashville, Joey Garrison in a front-page piece notes after making their final pitch to league officials at a closed-door meeting yesterday, the Nashville SC ownership team led by Owner John Ingram "wasn’t ready to crown themselves just yet." Garrison: "Optimistic, yes. But no premature celebrating." MLS2Nashville Committee co-Founder Will Alexander said, "We're satisfied that we've made our best case possible. We’re leaving here today thinking that we’ve made a strong, compelling pitch on all the elements that MLS is looking at." Garrison notes Nashville’s group was the "first to present their expansion proposal to the league." Alexander said that the group "highlighted Nashville’s strongest selling points: a booming economy; a red-hot market with the right demographics, including a growing millennial population; a budding soccer community; and the successes of the city's existing pro sports franchises." He said that the ownership group also "stressed Nashville’s secured stadium plan, ability to open a stadium in time" for the '21 season (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 12/7).
PLAYING IT COOL: In Cincinnati, Patrick Brennan notes FC Cincinnati President & GM Jeff Berding "seemed loose" yesterday and "gave the appearance of a successful presentation" before Garber and the league's expansion committee. Berding said that there "wasn't much need for intensive preparation for his remarks to MLS." Berding spoke with "enthusiasm on the team's proposed soccer-specific stadium, which last week gained the necessary governmental support in Cincinnati and Hamilton County." He also "broadened out the conversation, shifting from known areas of success to further undertakings that would strengthen the club, such as a development academy." Brennan notes FC Cincinnati was the "last to make its presentation" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 12/7).
MIRACLE IN MOTOWN? In Detroit, Matt Charboneau notes Duggan, Cavaliers Owner Dan Gilbert, Palace Sports & Entertainment Vice Chair Arn Tellem and Lions President Rod Wood "were on hand to present the final effort from the Detroit group." The idea of using the 65,000-seat Ford Field "doesn’t align with what MLS typically looks for," but Atlanta United had "great success in its debut season this year playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium." Tellem said, "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, so Ford Field is adaptable" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/7). Also in Detroit, George Sipple notes the city "remains a long shot among the four" due to MLS' preference for soccer-specific stadiums. Gilbert said Detroit is the "best location." He added, "Ford Field works so well and the Rossetti architectural firm has a lot of ideas on how to make it really good on game day, too." While MLS "covets the nation's 13th-largest media market, it may frown upon an closed-roof NFL stadium being a home venue." Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a "retractable roof" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/7).