Could Major League Soccer be headed to Sin City?
A spokesman for the initiative to bring an MLS franchise in Las Vegas certainly thinks so, telling soccer supporters recently that bringing a team to the city is “really, really possible” and adding that Las Vegas is on the league’s short list for a potential future franchise.
The comments came after a recent visit to Las Vegas by league president and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott, who met with Mayor Carolyn Goodman and other city officials, toured downtown and got a sense of how MLS might work in Las Vegas.
A league spokesman confirmed to MLSsoccer.com on Monday that Las Vegas is in the picture for a future franchise, but there is no short list of future markets under consideration.
“We are in preliminary discussions with a potential ownership group for an expansion team in Las Vegas,” the spokesman said. “Also, there is no short list of potential expansion cities. There are many cities interested in bringing a future MLS expansion team to their market."
Justin Findlay is the managing partner of Las Vegas-based Findlay Sports and Entertainment, a company founded earlier this year with the vision of bringing an MLS franchise to Las Vegas by 2017.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said last summer that the league intends to expand to 24 teams by 2020, and MLS has since awarded expansion franchises to Orlando (2015) and Atlanta (2017). The league also added New York City (2015) and is awaiting a solidified stadium plan to award a franchise to Miami (2017), leaving one market remaining for the 24-team threshold.
“Hearing right from the horse's mouth, this is really a possibility,” Findlay told a crowd on Saturday. “We just have to convert on our plan. There are no reasons why these big, big dreams can’t happen.”
Findlay’s group and Baltimore-based real estate developer Cordish Companies went public in May with their plans to develop a 24-000 seat open-ended stadium in downtown Las Vegas (above) that will feature artificial turf, a retractable roof and air-conditioning ducts every three rows in the stands to combat sweltering summertime temps in Las Vegas.
The stadium site is located on the 61-acre Symphony Park, roughly six miles north of the heart of the Strip, the city’s famed row of iconic hotels and casinos on Las Vegas Blvd.
The project is estimated to cost between $150-200 million – substantially more than the reported $110 million price tag for Orlando’s new downtown stadium, set to open in 2016 – and is expected to require partial public funding.
The group has until Sept. 1 to come up with its stadium financing plan and will seek approval from the Las Vegas City Council in order to move forward. If the plan is approved, the group expects to hear from MLS by the end of the year.
“We always hear about pro sports teams [coming to Las Vegas] and venues being built, but nothing materialized,” Findlay said in May. “I really felt compelled to chase the vision and this dream. I really believe Las Vegas deserves it.”
Findlay comes from a long line of one of the most successful automotive families in Nevada. His grandfather, Pete Findlay, was the founder of the Findlay Automotive Group, which operates 32 dealerships across Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Idaho, according to the company’s website.
His father, Cliff Findlay, is the CEO of the Findley Automotive group and a well-known booster for UNLV, as well as a former basketball player for the Runnin’ Rebels in the 1960s.
“He can see, you know, what I can see in what these other cities are doing,” Justin Findlay said of his father in May. “This is the time do this. He is fully supporting me. He knows what MLS is looking for.”
A number of other cities have expressed their interest in the coveted 24th franchise, including Minneapolis, San Antonio and Sacramento.
“It will be a race to see who can put the best package together,” Justin Findlay said in May. “A lot of people are vying for the last spot. There are a few cities working on it longer. But like I told the league, it’s one thing to work on it longer, but who is coming up with the best plan?”
An MLS franchise would be the first major professional sports team in Las Vegas, but not the first soccer team in the area. The Las Vegas Legends currently compete in the Major Arena Soccer League.