Gores-Gilbert MLS push puts Detroit City FC in an awkward spot

This image was the lead story on MLSsoccer.com, the league's official website.
This image was the lead story on MLSsoccer.com, the league’s official website.

Detroit soccerdom was rocked today with the bombshell announcement that billionaire sports-team owners Tom Gores and Dan Gilbert plan to assemble a team of investors to lure a Major League Soccer expansion franchise to Detroit. Left uncertain is what this means for Detroit City FC, the semi-pro club that has ridden passionate grassroots support to the cusp of a fifth season in a new and renovated home stadium in Hamtramck.

Tom Gores
Tom Gores

By bringing their collective wealth to the table, Gores, a private equity investor who owns the Detroit Pistons, and Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, Detroit real estate magnate and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, have completely changed the tenor of the MLS-to-Detroit chatter in the blink of an eye. A news conference with MLS commissioner Don Garber to discuss the proposed Detroit MLS franchise was reportedly scheduled Wednesday.

Dan Gilbert
Dan Gilbert

It could cost at least $100 million to launch an expansion MLS team, according to Crain’s Detroit Business, not including the costs of constructing a soccer-specific stadium. Gores and Gilbert, who are supported by Mayor Mike Duggan, have said their preferred site would be in walking distance of existing pro stadiums and is believed to be the site of the partially built but long abandoned Wayne County Jail, a.k.a. #FailJail.

A rendering of the proposed enhancements to Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck. Detroit City FC plans to make the historic stadium its home beginning this spring.
A rendering of the proposed enhancements to Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck. Detroit City FC plans to make the historic stadium its home beginning this spring.

City, of course, just opened a combination storefront-business office in Hamtramck, just blocks from their new home at historic Keyworth Stadium. The team is renovating the 80-year-old facility following a crowdfunding investment drive that netted $741,000.

“Detroit City FC has had initial contact with the interested parties regarding the possibility of Major League Soccer in Detroit, and we look forward to carrying on more conversations with those groups as the soccer scene evolves,” the team said in a statement today.

“We have always believed that for soccer to live up to its full potential in southeast Michigan, a team must be connected to the community and focused on soccer supporter culture. The founding of a professional team is a golden opportunity, but in an already crowded market, success is never guaranteed.”


Outwardly, City said it believes that Detroit can support both the semi-pro Le Rouge and an MLS squad. But many of its most rabid supporters won’t be happy and are already accusing Gores and Gilbert of carpetbaggery.

You have to believe that Gores and Gilbert have at least entertained the idea of purchasing City FC outright for its strong and widely recognized brand. If they offered, would the current owners sell?

Alternately, if they decide to start a new franchise anew, then what does that mean for City’s organic growth? Here’s how Detroit YES user Junjie put it in a thread:

“I hope they can work something out – not even sure what the range of possibilities is here, but it would be terrible to destroy DCFC in favor of a new pro team. You want the 3,000 committed DCFC people to be the core of your MLS fan base, not ticked off and disaffected from the Detroit MLS club for life.”

This will be a fascinating storyline to watch unfold.

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