The Silverdome, Major League Soccer, and Detroit

>> 2.17.2011

The Silverdome, ready to host the World Cup on its grass soccer field.
 
Last August, the new owners of the Lions’ old hunting grounds turned heads with a radical proposal: tear the roof off the Silverdome, build a field at the club level, and convert the upper deck into a world-class open-air soccer facility. This would provide the dedicated stadium required to lure the MLS to Detroit. The proposal created a lot of buzz, as did the “Match of the Titans” exhibition between top European club teams AC Milan and Panathinaikos F.C.
Recently, GQ UK wrote about the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union supporters group who basically willed their MLS franchise into existence. The article wasn’t particularly flattering, which is why GQ UK invited Match Fit USA’s Jason Davis to respond. The whole controversy got me thinking about my friends, the Motor City Supporters, and their efforts to will our MLS franchise into existence . . . and what’s going on with that whole Silverdome renovation plan, anyway?
I went right to the source: The Triple Group’s President of Sports, Steve Apostolopoulos. “When we made the deal, some said, ‘Soccer? In Detroit? Really?’” He laughed, but it was clear that he and his family are serious. “Some thought it was just a real estate deal, but we have no intentions of ‘flipping’ the Silverdome.” He believes they’re investing in the right community. “If you ask me, ‘Is there room for another pro sports franchise?’ the answer is definitely yes. But, you’ve got to put the product on the field.” He spoke passionately about his company’s dedication and commitment to building a quality soccer organization from the playing ground up.
Mr. Apostolopoulos’s company has literal construction to do, too. In another life, I was a structural steel estimator; I have a basic understanding of how buildings are put together. What they envision for the Silverdome borders on the fantastic. “Nothing exactly like this has ever been done before,” he admitted—but in the same breath, he noted that Madison Square Garden is also a multi-level, multi-use facility. If a large theatre, expo hall, and dual-purpose NHL/NBA arena can sit on top of a train station, maybe this new ‘Dome isn’t so outlandish.
“We’re going to split the ‘Dome in half, vertically and horizontally,” he said. The club level will be removed and become a service area, with locker rooms and other facilities. Below the club level will be a multi-use concert/expo hall, and an indoor sports arena. That arena sounds perfect for basketball, and the Silverdome team is already negotiating with professional lacrosse leagues. Above the ceiling of the arena will be the centerpiece: a soccer field, surrounded by the renovated upper deck, and open to the sky.
There will be seating for twenty to thirty thousand fans, with a canopy to cover the fan seating areas. “It will have a feel,” said Apostolopoulos, “like Red Bull Arena,” citing the beautiful new home of the New York Red Bulls:
Red Bull Arena: Interview View. From Wikipedia Commons, credit Tak Hung Yeung.
But even if they build it, will anyone come? Steve told me a story, illustrating how important he thinks it is to build relationships with fans: “A friend of mine once built a skate park. It was really nice, a great facility, but no one was using it. He asked me what I could do, and I said, ‘You’ve got to make connections, you’ve got to pound pavement.’” That’s exactly what Apostolopoulos has been doing in Detroit. Shortly after purchasing the Silverdome, he called up Motor City Supporters President Andrew Kruz.
“It was the most surreal moment of my life,” Kruz told me. “My phone rang and he was like, ‘Hi, this is Steve . . . and I own the Silverdome.’” Kruz spoke enthusiastically about the potential Detroit MLS owners, and their active engagement with the fan community. “I think that they are doing an excellent job,” he said, “and we are doing anything we can do to help them make Detroit the 20th team in MLS.”
Ah, but ours is not the only bid for that 20th spot. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has been frank about wanting to place a second team in New York City, and give the Red Bulls a turnpike rival:

"Our attention is very focused on a 20th team as we speak. We'd like that team to be in New York City representing a second team in the Tri-State area," Garber said. "The Red Bulls are very supportive of that and believe that rivalry will help grow the popularity of the sport in the New York metropolitan area. So we're going to work hard and try to get something done perhaps as early as 2013."
That sounds grim for Detroit—but the New York bid is in flux. MLS had been working with the owners of the Mets, the Wilpons, but building Citi Field—and getting scammed by Bernie Madoff—has apparently put the Wilpons' interest on hold. Meanwhile, an English-backed group, bearing the name of the old New York Cosmos, is angling to take their spot. Much as the original Cosmos were led by Pelé to on-field success and international media attention, the new Cosmos have hired retired Manchester United superstar Eric Cantona to run their (theoretical) soccer operations—and have gotten a lot of international media attention for it.
But there’s something missing from the New York bid: a stadium, or even the land to build one. Meanwhile, The Triple Group owns the Silverdome, and all 127 acres around it, free and clear. It’s not a dedicated soccer facility yet, but the Silverdome’s owners are “taking out tenders with different architectural firms; soliciting designs.” In the meantime, Detroit sports fans will have plenty of chances to prove they can support another top-level pro sports team.
I asked Steve if the Silverdome will continue to host matches between elite international club teams, as in the Match of the Titans. “Yes, absolutely,” he told me. “We’ve been in discussions, we’ve been in negotiations. It’s a matter of when, not if.” Further, the Gold Cup—a tournament between North American countries’ national teams—is being played in the US this year, and Ford Field will host a doubleheader. If Michigan sports fans can pack that house, we’ll definitely turn some heads. “People ask me if I’m mad because Ford Field got the Gold Cup,” Apostolopoulos told me, “but I’m not at all; I’m happy!” Those games will be a crucial showcase for southeast Michigan’s support for elite soccer. Plus, the USMNT might be playing; there’s no way I’ll be passing up the opportunity to see them play live!
Meanwhile, Kruz tells me, the Motor City Supporters “Will travel and cause problems elsewhere in MLS,” just as the Sons of Ben did to get their franchise. Steve Apostolopoulos and the rest of the Triple Group will keep doing everything they can to secure an MLS franchise that will call the Silverdome home. “We are talking with MLS, we’re in negotations with MLS, and we hope to be able to announce something soon,” he said.
What can you do? Well, besides showing up and cheering whenever top-level soccer comes around, or joining the Motor City Supporters for a meetup or pickup soccer game, you can do something quick and easy right now: pledge to join me and my family at the renovated Silverdome.

Update: I interviewed Mr. Apostolopoulos again prior to the Gold Cup match, click for the latest!

18 comments:

Andrew February 17, 2011 at 1:51 PM  

Growing up my friends and I always thought Great Lakes United had a nice ring to it. Would make for an awesome crest, too. It would be so great to bring soccer to Detroit. Seeing the Detroit Neon play and attending their camp was always a summer highlight growing up.

Anonymous,  February 17, 2011 at 2:27 PM  

I've always thought "Racing Club Detroit" has a nice ring to it, being the Motor City and all.

February 17, 2011 at 3:26 PM  

I'm a bit partial to "Detroit City" or "Detroit 1701". I'm not an Arsenal fan but "Detroit Arsenal" would also work due to our WWII nickname 'arsenal of democracy'

Ty February 17, 2011 at 3:39 PM  

I tend to favor American-style names like "Detroit Wheels" or "Detroit Steel," something like that, rather than a redux of a famous European team, like "Atletico Detroit".

I know a lot of supporters favor "Motor City FC," and that'd be fine by me too--but that shortens to "MCFC," which I think Manchester City has a pretty strong claim to.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  February 17, 2011 at 4:05 PM  

Cool article. Too bad soccer sucks.

Anonymous,  February 17, 2011 at 4:29 PM  

Awesome. I'd love to see some professional soccer in Michigan.

Ty February 17, 2011 at 4:45 PM  

Anon 2--

Yeah, bummer about that, eh? LOL

Anon 3--

Yeah, me too. As a new soccer fan, I feel disenfranchised. I can't root for the Chicago or Ohio teams, that's just wrong.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  February 17, 2011 at 7:05 PM  

Detroit Apollos FC. That's my pick for a name. I'm usually against American soccer teams having Americanized names like San Jose Earthquakes but I think Detroit Apollos sounds pretty cool. The Silverdome owners are Greek so I think they would appreciate the name, too.

Michigan February 18, 2011 at 3:15 AM  

The Michigan Ultras and a great number of soccer enthusiasts at the University of Michigan support the push for the Silverdome and greater Detroit to secure an M.L.S. team in the near future. The wave of support shown towards the U-M team this season shows the incredible potential of this market.

Go Blue!

-Ryan Strauss
President, Michigan Ultras

Ty February 18, 2011 at 4:11 PM  

Anon 4--

"Detroit Apollos FC" definitely has a ring to it--and you're right, the Apostolopouloses (not to mention the Detroit Greek community) would probably take a shine to it as well.

Peace
Ty

Ty February 18, 2011 at 4:23 PM  

Ryan--

Awesome! Thanks for commenting.

Yeah, with the momentum from the incredible showing by the U-M side (MSU didn't do too badly, either), there should be a lot of anticipation for this upcoming NCAA season. Combined with the Gold Cup, etc., this could be the summer when Michigan soccer fans really come out of the woodwork and show their strength. Anything your group can do to help grow soccer fandom in this parts is A-okay by me.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  February 23, 2011 at 7:57 PM  

I just wanted to say that this would be great if this happens the area is well served it has a great soccer (sports) history. you can get to the stadium from all of GDA. The family who owns this place really knows how to put on great events just like the Ac game I was there and WOW Soccer really is waiting to explode here!! The Apostolopoulos family we support you !!!! Thank you for supporting and being there us (DETROIT)

Footie Phantom February 25, 2011 at 9:32 PM  

Great writeup, I'm hoping the MLS can make it to Detroit and If not I hope the Apstolopoulos family keeps putting on some great international matches! I first thought tearing the roof off was an awesome idea but after being down on the pitch after the Milan game I loved the feel of it being covered. Maybe an idea is to have a motorized pitch that travels into the stadium for games! I hope they've considered this and I don't care if they steal my idea!!! 

Besmir deromemaj,  March 2, 2011 at 9:08 PM  

regardless if you like soccer or not you should support this because this would be great for Detroit and for Michigan on all levels.

Anonymous,  March 10, 2011 at 6:19 PM  

WHAT!!! We can't bring soccer to Detroit by bringing it to Pontiac! I'm all for a professional team and the benefits it'll bring to southeast Michigan, but we should be talking about how to get soccer in the actual city of Detroit!

How bout the old Tiger Stadium site? there's already a field there and redevelopment wouldn't be quite as involved as the proposed plans for the Silverdome...

just some input from a lifetime soccer fan and Detroit Native!

Anonymous,  May 3, 2011 at 7:21 PM  

I am hoping the facility is free from toxic mold? My kids have been practicing soccer there for a few weeks and we are all sick and antibiotics don't seem to be working? I am hoping that the people who bought it made sure the facility is free from toxic pollutants such as mold.

Jonny r3N0 August 4, 2011 at 3:09 AM  

The owners of the Pontiac Silverdome are planning on launching a Major League Soccer team in Detroit's near future. What would be a suitable name for this new team?
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=question&id=10150724720175012

Jril77,  February 22, 2012 at 2:52 PM  

Any update on this? I really hope they bring MLS to the Detroit area!

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