MLS is going full-steam ahead with their expansion plans, aiming to field 28 teams in 2020. Several cities have been touted as sites for expansion teams, including Sacramento, Miami, and St. Louis. But thanks to two NBA team owners, Detroit may be jumping to the head of the line.
Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert, owners of the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers respectively, announced plans for an MLS franchise in Detroit. The centerpiece of their bid includes a new stadium located downtown.
In a statement released by the pair, Gores and Gilbert said an MLS franchise would be a shot in the arm for Detroit’s revitalization.
The Detroit Free Press reports that MLS Commissioner Don Garber is in Detroit today to talk about the plan.
Mayor Mike Duggan released a statement saying he welcomed the bid with open arms.
Like other cities MLS is considering for expansion, Detroit already has a soccer team with a strong base of support. Detroit City FC has played in the National Premier Soccer League (the fourth tier in American soccer) since 2012 and boasts a fan culture that puts some MLS supporter groups to shame. If an MLS team in Detroit were to develop, it’s unclear how they would interact with DCFC and their supporters. The league (in conjunction with the ownership/investment group leading the bid) could take the Minnesota approach and try to work with the pre-existing supporters to get them on board. Or they could do what they did in Atlanta, and go about their business with no mind paid to the soccer culture already in place. (It’s also unclear whether Detroit supporter groups like the Northern Guard would even want to play ball.)
Judging by today’s proceedings, it doesn’t look like MLS is interested in building bridges with DCFC supporters.
(DCFC supporters were finally told the location of the press conference, but only a few minutes before its scheduled start. At press time, the livestream for the event was down.)
The early years of MLS growth and expansion were defined by a need to build from the ground up, to sow soccer seeds in a field that had lain fallow for too long. The success of MLS has been characterized by the growth of a thriving soccer culture in the US, but there’s a not-insignificant segment of that growth that has happened outside of MLS. As the Division 1 league in the US looks to grow even more, their expansion plans have taken on something of a colonialist bent as they move into communities with beloved soccer teams and essentially take over. MLS has always tried to walk a thin line by advocating for the success and growth of the sport in America and trying to link that ostensibly noble goal with the league’s business objectives. If a Detroit MLS franchise comes to fruition, it may shed further light on where the league’s priorities really lie.