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MLS expansion team in Las Vegas step closer to reality

Updated January 20, 2022 - 5:47 pm

Score another one for Las Vegas.

Billionaires Wes Edens and Naseef Sawiris have entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Major League Soccer to move toward bringing an expansion team to Southern Nevada.

Pending final agreement, Las Vegas is poised to become home to the MLS’ 30th team, winning out over competing bids from Phoenix and San Diego. It is unclear when the team could potentially begin play in Las Vegas, but in December MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the 30th team would not begin play before 2023.

“As one of the world’s premier sports and entertainment markets with a fast-growing and diverse community, Las Vegas is the ideal home for an MLS expansion team,” Edens and Sawiris said in a statement.

“We believe that the rising popularity of soccer and development of talent in the United States puts the MLS on a path to becoming one of the top leagues in the world. This is an important step to build on our relationship with the MLS. We’re optimistic we’ll reach a final agreement soon to bring a world-class franchise and significant economic and cultural benefits to the greater Las Vegas community.”

The exclusive agreement means the two sides will now work together, focusing on market analysis and planning for a practice facility, corporate offices and stadium in Las Vegas. The team would be jointly owned by Edens and Sawiris.

The two businessmen have pro sports ties. They co-own the Premier League’s Aston Villa soccer club. The two purchased the team in 2018 and in less than two seasons earned promotion from the English Football League Championship Division to the Premier League.

Edens is a co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. He and a group of partners purchased the team in 2014. Similar to the turnaround of Aston Villa, the Bucks went from having one of the league’s worst records to winning the 2021 NBA championship five seasons after Edens took control of the team.

Edens and the ownership group also landed the Bucks in a new arena, the $524 million Fiserv Forum, which is the centerpiece of a 27-acre entertainment district.

Edens is co-CEO of Fortress Investment Group, which also, through an affiliate, owns high-speed passenger rail line Brightline. Brightline is working on connecting Las Vegas and Southern California with high-speed passenger rail.

Plans call for the company’s Southern Nevada train station to be located on Las Vegas Boulevard and Warm Springs Road. Last year, Golden Knights owner Bill Foley said Edens’ group was looking to build a possible MLS stadium next to the planned rail station. That has yet to be confirmed by Edens or Sawiris.

“Bringing MLS to Clark County will be another major step in developing our significant sports economy,” said Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft. “I have worked with the potential ownership team and have met with MLS Commissioner Garber and I am confident that they can get it done. For Southern Nevada, professional soccer means new investment, jobs and opportunities.”

Sawiris has an extensive business background. He serves as executive chairman of NNS Sarl, executive chairman of Aston Villa FC, director of Adidas AG, is a member of the J.P. Morgan International Council and a member of the Cleveland Clinic’s International Leadership Board Executive Committee since 2011.

Edens and Sawiris were behind a group who filed in June to trademark the name “Las Vegas Villains” tied to a professional soccer franchise.

MLS is in the midst of expanding from 27 teams to 30 with Charlotte FC kicking off play this season and St. Louis in 2023.

“As we witnessed at this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup, at Leagues Cup and other marquee soccer matches in Las Vegas throughout the years, the city has a passionate soccer fan base, and we believe it could be a terrific MLS market,” Garber said. “We look forward to finalizing our agreement with Wes and Nassef.”

The Concacaf Gold Cup Final soccer match between the U.S. and Mexico drew 55,000 fans to Allegiant Stadium in August while the Leagues Cup showdown between the Seattle Sounders of the MLS and Liga MX’s Club Leon drew 16,014, according to Las Vegas Stadium Authority data.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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