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MLS Expansion Bid Review Part 2: Detroit and Cincinnati

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As far back as they can remember, they always wanted to be an MLS owner

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-New York Red Bulls at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the week we looked at the bids submitted by Shelbyville, Tennessee and Veron, California to join MLS. Today we examine a duel of rust belt heavyweights, and ask: which city will forsake much needed infrastructure improvements in favor of subsidies for billionaires to build stadiums with public money as roads and sidewalks crumble under their residents’ feet? The answer, of course, is both of them, but less Detroit it would seem.

Anyway, without much further babbling, lets get to know the contenders.

Cincinnati

Pros - An incredible story of grassroots support, FC Cincinnati has built something truly unique in American soccer and has done it in a few short years. They even managed to make a little noise in the U.S. Open Cup this year. All that attention and all those fans have made Cincinnati irresistible to MLS. The team also already has a generic soccer sounding name so it won’t need a re-brand when it comes into the league. What’s more, with that “community” star fading in the MLS logo as the league looks to be set to allow Anthony Precourt to move the Crew to Austin, adding a team in Ohio be a chance for the league to sell the treacherous story that they care about the fans beyond just marketing purposes in the state again.

Cons - There isn’t a lot of downside to this bid. If FC Cincinnati can get people to watch minor league soccer in the numbers that they do it’s hard to think that even with higher ticket prices, the team can’t retain its core fans and find new ones with added MLS star power. The biggest challenge to the team, that Ohio already has a team, might be conveniently removed by the time 2019 rolls around. Still, the league will have to think long and hard if it wants to subject yet more people to the abject culinary horror that is Skyline Chili.

Detroit

Pros - Detroit is home to some of the best music that has ever been produced. It really doesn’t get much better than Eminem and the Insane Clown Posse. Aside from that, the Detroit ownership group has already showed that they have what it takes to convince the league that they would be a good fit for the league. Things were lining up with a downtown soccer specific stadium and the deep pockets of the owners made it seem like Detroit would be a perfect fit. MLS was impressed, and Detroit shot straight to the top of the list. Then everything changed, it looked like Dan Gilbert and co. pulled a bait and switch, got the land they wanted and then decided that actually, Ford Field would be a fine place to have an MLS team play. Those are the pros. The team has billionaire owners and a place to play.

Cons - Cons for the Gilbert led bid are numerous. The idea that the team in Detroit could play in an NFL stadium because Atlanta United does, as some have suggested, is about as bad as the logic that the #MLStoATX group uses to suggest that Atlanta’s success means the Crew have to move. Gilbert’s other flaws, that he bases his business on rent seeking and predatory mortgages also aren’t an asset either. Though in a league sponsored by a multi-level marketing agency, that being a con is debatable.

Whoever the league ends up picking, they’ll be joining a league that is bigger. Not only that, but they will be relied upon to take the next steps in the future of MLS. With the end of the expansion era in the league approaching, the league won’t be able to count on getting a few hundred million dollars every few years from the newest expansion side and will have to, you know, start relying on the product on the field (in addition to everything that SUM does to act as a lifeboat to a league that constantly claims to be losing money) to keep MLS afloat.