Deal in works to bring pro soccer — and potential 5,000-seat stadium — to Detroit

Posted on April 2, 2014

A local soccer impresario has a deal in the works to bring a new pro soccer team to downtown Detroit, and his goal to have it absorbed by Major League Soccer within five years.

A preliminary agreement has been reached for a Detroit team to join the USL Professional Division soccer league in 2015, according to a statement released Tuesday afternoon by Dan Duggan, owner of the successful semi-pro Michigan Bucks team in Pontiac.

Duggan said his deal is subject to approval of the league’s ownership group, and he’s seeking up to 7 acres in Detroit for a 5,000-seat stadium. His deadline is June 15, he said.

“Dan Duggan has received preliminarily approval from USL Pro for the acquisition of an expansion franchise in the Detroit market — subject to our review of his final ownership group and stadium plans,” said Jay Preble, USL’s director of communications, via email.

“Final approval of prospective ownership groups and their applications are made by United Soccer Leagues.”

Preble said the league doesn’t disclose financial details about expansion teams. Such teams reportedly have been bought for more than $500,000. Duggan said the team would cost about $2 million to operate annually. The semi-pro Bucks run on a $150,000 yearly budget.

“I am using the next 45 days to meet with all the potential investors and builders to see what options I have to make this happen,” Duggan told Crain’s via email Tuesday night. “I have had some very positive feedback prior to the (news) release but not able to set any concrete meetings until now.”

The professional developmental league, known informally as USL Pro, is two steps below Major League Soccer and one below the North American Soccer League within the Chicago-based United States Soccer Federation’s organizational pyramid. The federation is the U.S. soccer system’s governing body, for amateur and pro soccer.

Duggan said he’s been working on a deal for the “past several seasons” and looked at stadium locations in Pontiac, Livonia and Canton Township before deciding to focus on downtown Detroit.

The stadium would seat 5,000 with room for 8,000 on open hills in the end zones. He said he expected the stadium could be built for $2 million, but expects to spend $5 million.

“The stadium could be incorporated into an existing developed area or be a standalone project, depending on the neighborhood,” Duggan said in the statement.

Land needed is 2.5-7 acres, which would include two outdoor practice fields for adult and youth soccer use.

“The only missing piece of the puzzle is where the team will play,” Duggan said, adding that he hoped to know soon.

The last outdoor pro soccer team in Detroit was the Detroit Cougars of the now-defunct United Soccer Association playing games at Tiger Stadium in 1968, according to Duggan.

Duggan’s bid represents the latest attempt to bring pro soccer to Detroit.

Last fall, the Apostolopoulos family proposed a 25,000-seat soccer stadium for an MLS team on the unfinished Wayne County jail site in downtown as part of a $1 billion redevelopment plan for the location. Wayne County chose a Dan Gilbert retail-residential plan instead.

MLS didn’t comment on the Apostolopoulos plan other than to confirm it was aware of the situation and is interested in Detroit as a possible market. The Apostolopoulos family owns the Pontiac Silverdome.

The USL Pro development could be a step closer to MLS affiliation for Detroit.

MLS and USL Pro agreed in January 2013 that the third-tier league would eventually integrate into MLS’ reserve team system. Every USL Pro team will be owned and operated by MLS teams or have a formalized affiliation.

Last season’s US Pro league champion, Orlando City, will join the MLS as a first-tier team in 2015. Orlando City, which averaged 8,056 fans per game last season, began play in 2010.

USL Pro, leaguewide, averaged 2,611 fans per game in 2013. MLS’ 19 teams averaged a collective 18,807 fans per game last season.

“The plan is to make sure we have a solid product that will make money from Day 1, win on and off the field, and draw enough fan support, corporate and civic support to follow (Orlando to becoming an MLS team)” Duggan said. “Our plan is to show MLS within five years that we have all the necessary components to be considered for a franchise.

“MLS will not come to Detroit just because someone builds a stadium. MLS has made it very clear that without proven fan and corporate support, there will be no team. This is Detroit’s one opportunity to show the soccer world that we are ready, willing and able to support pro soccer as a passionate sport and not just a hobby to many.”

MLS is a single-entity league, meaning the league owns all the teams and pays all salaries. Investors buy into the league for a right to operate a team in a certain market.

In addition to Detroit (if approved), the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and Tulsa Roughnecks will also join USL Pro in 2015.

The Bucks, founded in 1996 in Saginaw as the Mid Michigan Bucks, are part of the 64-team USL Premier Development League, the fourth tier of the soccer pyramid and the top amateur level of U.S. soccer.

The team, which has an affiliation with the Columbus Crew of MLS, has won four league titles, qualified for the playoffs in 16 of 18 seasons and has never had a losing record, Duggan said.

The Bucks play at 5,000-seat Ultimate Soccer Arenas in Pontiac, where the team relocated in 2008. Duggan is the team’s chairman and CEO.

Detroit City FC of the semi-pro National Premier Soccer League also is a fourth-tier amateur team. The team plays at Cass Technical High School in Detroit and averages nearly 2,000 fans a game.