June 4, 2019 - 11:46 pm
Updated June 5, 2019 - 7:46 am
A hedge fund manager from Boston might not be the only billionaire interested in bringing a Major League Soccer expansion franchise to Las Vegas.
Two independent sources confirmed to the Review-Journal on Tuesday night that Golden Knights owner Bill Foley has engaged in discussions the past several months to land an MLS team that would play in the new Raiders stadium.
Foley could not be reached for comment, but Raiders owner Mark Davis did not discount the idea of the team’s 65,000-seat domed stadium, set to open in 2020, being home to the MLS.
“We have 365 days a year to fill in the stadium,” Davis said. “We will be using it for eight (regular-season) dates plus, hopefully, all our playoff games. So that leaves around 353, and then there is (UNLV football).
“Major League Soccer and other events would be at the top of our list to help fill those remaining dates. We are open to listening to anything. We owe that to ourselves and the community.”
When asked if the Raiders and Foley had engaged in talks about an MLS franchise playing in the stadium, Davis said: “I’d prefer not to speak about anyone who has approached us.”
A third source told the Review-Journal that Foley could potentially partner with another party — not the Raiders — on the MLS deal.
This news comes just days after it was announced the City Council will consider on Wednesday whether or not to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Renaissance Companies Inc. on a deal to build a new MLS stadium on the site of Cashman Field.
In that instance, billionaire Seth Klarman of the Baupost Group, a Boston-based private investment partnership he founded in 1982, would purchase the Las Vegas Lights and then pursue an MLS team.
That would entail Klarman paying a league expansion fee in the range of $250 million and then building the soccer-specific stadium, which would be at least another $200 million.
If approved Wednesday, the agreement would be with Renaissance, representing Klarman’s interests, for a 180-day negotiating period to create a master plan to develop the 62 acres where Cashman Field exists.
Your typical MLS stadium sits on 10 to 15 acres.
The situation of two competing parties for an MLS team has precedent, as the league entertained two competing expansion bids in Minnesota in 2015.
Dr. Bill McGuire, owner of then second-division Minnesota United of the North American Soccer League, centered his pitch on building a soccer-specific stadium. Minnesota Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf pitched housing the expansion team in a NFL venue: U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016 and hosted the 2018 Super Bowl.
McGuire won out, and the $250 million, privately financed, 19,500-seat Allianz Field opened in April during Minnesota United’s third MLS season.
Team would be tenant
Davis said any MLS team that would play in the NFL stadium would be considered a tenant and have to negotiate any potential revenue streams with the Raiders.
“We have been tenants in the (Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum) and you have seen how that worked out,” Davis said. “It’s one of the reasons we wanted this new stadium, to be in control of it, whether it’s for football or soccer or a concert.
“I don’t know very much about the MLS as a league, because I have been so focused on the Raiders and Las Vegas, but I think pro soccer as a complimentary event would be fantastic. Along with the MLS, you could have international games with some great teams playing games in the stadium.
“Listen, if the deal with the city works out and it’s decided the best thing is for an MLS stadium to be built downtown, I think that’s great, too. We want whatever is best for Las Vegas. It seems as though the Lights have done a really good job with their fan base. But we also have over 300 dates to fill, so I’m not dissuaded at all to listen to anyone who approaches us.”
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.