The four finalists competing for the next two MLS expansion slots made formal presentations on Wednesday to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league's Expansion Committee at MLS headquarters in New York City.
Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento are all vying for two expansion slots which are expected to be awarded before the end of the year.
The four ownership groups above were among 12 markets that submitted formal bids in January for a total of four available expansion slots as part of the league's expansion to 28 teams. Another two expansion teams will be announced at a later date.
Updates presented in alphabetical order:
One of American soccer's surging soccer markets took a turn presenting to the MLS Expansion Committee on Wednesday, with FC Cincinnati owner and CEO Carl H. Lindner III leading a group that included FCC President and General Manager Jeff Berding and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.
"We had the opportunity to discuss the special things that are happening in our hometown," Berding said. "What's transpired over the last two years in Cincinnati has been remarkable, and we owe our supporters the credit for really the tremendous excitement and energy that has occurred in a city not too many thought possible two years ago. We're very proud of Cincinnati - it's a major-league town."
Cincinnati's two seasons in the USL have included several second-division single-game attendance marks, with more than 500,000 fans crossing through the turnstyles, with more than 21,000 per game in 2017. Their U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the New York Red Bulls drew a sellout crowd of 36,000 to Nippert Stadium.
The club recently received city backing for their stadium plan.
"There's no pressure – really," Berding said. "We worked real hard for two years. We're standing on the shoulders of a lot of people who built in this country and our region for decades. Our job today was just to tell our story."
Left to right: (Detroit reporter); Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; Cavs owner/Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert; Palace Sports & Entertainment Vice Chairman Arn Tellem
The afternoon presentations brought an expansive ownership group to the table with Detroit's presentation, which included Cleveland Cavaliers owner and Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert, Palace Sports & Entertainment Vice Chairman Arn Tellem (representing Pistons owner Tom Gores) and Detroit Lions President Ron Wood (on behalf of the Ford Family), as well as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
Detroit native Gilbert and Gores co-announced their bid in 2016, and recently incorporated the Ford Family into their efforts.
"I think it's huge," Gilbert said. "Ford's the brand name and family name most aligned with Detroit, more than any name. To have that credibility and the credibility of Ford Field [is an asset]; they've always run a first-class operation."
As their efforts furthered, research led the Detroit group to believe there exists an untapped audience in market; Michigan has more than 100,000 registered youth players, and Mayor Duggan wields experience raising – and coaching – a pair of them.
"We believe we're going to be like Atlanta," Tellem said. "We believe that there is such strong interest in Detroit and the region, we're going to be able to support crowds of 30-to-40,000 once we have an MLS team."
Tellem acknowledged that possibility is enticing, but out of their control: "I think all four cities are going to make strong cases, and I think we've made a very good case, and a compelling one why we should be chosen. I think we were able to answer all their questions."
Nashville2MLS Committee chairman Will Alexander (in video above) spoke to media after their presentation about the highlights of the Music City's bid: the ownership group, the market and the stadium plan.
The group believes Nashville would fill a geographic void for MLS, potentially serving as the closest league club for 13 million fans across nine states. With a stadium plan in place at the Nashville Fairgrounds that would see the team on the field there as early as 2021, Alexander is confident their efforts will prove competitive.
"We have a great soccer culture, there's a lot of excitement around the bid, and people are going to turn out for this team," Alexander said. "We presented evidence to support that.
"One thing we pointed out is that Nashville as an entertainment hub has a global brand, and that's unique, really – very few cities around the world are recognizable like that, and we talked about how we'd leverage that. And then we talked about our geographic location and how having a team in the mid-South would reach a lot of new potential fans for MLS and set up a rivalry with Atlanta, which had such a successful launch this year."
Alexander, who is a Senior Director of Private Equity at Hall Capital, was accompanied during the presentation by John Ingram, CEO of Nashville Soccer Holdings; Mary Cavarra, EVP and CFO, Ingram Industries; Eleanor McDonald, EVP and General Counsel, Ingram Industries; Jay Turner (Managing Director) and Dirk Melton (Development Director) of MarketStreet, as well as Mark Wilf, President and Co-Owner, Minnesota Vikings.
Sacramento found a receptive welcome outside the MLS league offices, as dozens of supporters marched down Fifth Avenue chanting "Glory, Glory Sacramento" amidst the AM commute. Republic FC fans then proceeded to set up a cheering section near the building's entrance.
The bid presentation included Chairman and CEO Kevin Nagle, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, his predecessor, Kevin Johnson, and Sacramento Soccer & Entertainment Holdings COO and Chief Advisor Ben Gumpert.
"We knew that this was a step along in the process, and a step far along in the process," Gumpert said. "And our goal and commitment from Day One, from Mayor Steinberg and Kevin's leadership, has been to sprint through the finish line, and that's what we are going to continue to do.
"Make no mistake, the entire committee and really the entire MLS community has been blown away by what is going on in Sacramento. That is clear today, that was clear and that has been clear all along."
Coinciding with Wednesday's presentation, Sacramento Republic FC also announced the addition of two owners to the prospective group, as Meg Whitman and Griffith Harsh revealed their investment in the bid, wishing "Kevin Nagle and the team great success today."