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MLS team may be playing in Las Vegas ‘long before’ 2026 World Cup

Billionaire Wes Edens hopes to have his potential Major League Soccer franchise on a field and playing in Las Vegas before FIFA World Cup 2026.

Edens and billionaire business partner Naseef Sawiris entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement with MLS last week to potentially bring an expansion franchise to Las Vegas. If a deal comes to fruition, Las Vegas would be the league’s 30th team.

With Edens hoping to get things going before 2026, he said there is a possibility the team could play at a temporary site if need be until a stadium is built. He did identify a possible temporary home for the team.

“There’s definitely a possibility that we could have some kind of bridge to it,” Edens told the Review-Journal. “It takes a couple of years to build a stadium if you’re all set to go. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get to that place. We are very eager to start as soon as we can.”

Edens, who co-owns the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, said he couldn’t think of a better city to bring a new professional sports franchise to.

“I think Las Vegas is, in my opinion, maybe the best market in the entire United States,” he said. “We have obviously spent quite a bit of time there in the last four or five years on the train project (Brightline West’s high-speed rail between Las Vegas and Southern California) and the more time I spent there, the more I believe in the future of it as a city and as a city for sports and entertainment.”

Conversations with Golden Knights owner Bill Foley and Raiders owner Mark Davis helped reinforce the potential of Southern Nevada as a pro sports city, Edens said. And seeing the initial success of both teams in Las Vegas hasn’t hurt either.

Edens and Nawiris have moved to trademark the name “Las Vegas Villains,” but Edens wouldn’t discuss details involving a possible team name.

Stadium site search

Although Edens and company don’t have finalized plans yet for a Las Vegas stadium, they have an idea of what they would look for in a facility in Southern Nevada.

“If you look at the MLS stadiums that have been built around the country … they all seem to be in that sweet spot of 25,000 to 30,000 people,” Edens said. “Big enough where you get the vibrancy of a home crowd and yet small enough to feel intimate and you feel a big part of the game and on the pitch. We don’t have finalized plans for a stadium yet, but I suspect it will end up in that range.”

Edens’ group and the MLS are now conducting market feasibility studies and exploring what a stadium and practice facility would look like and where those would fit in the area.

“I have some views of where to put it (stadium) in Las Vegas but now we’re going to do the work with an open mind and try to find the best possible circumstance, because it’s not just the stadium, it’s also the development that is around it that is very important,” Edens said.

One possible location, as previously reported by the Review-Journal, is on a portion of a 110-acre lot located on Las Vegas Boulevard and Warm Springs Road. Edens is already looking to construct a 65,000-square-foot train station on a portion of that land tied to the Brightline West rail project. Brightline is owned by Fortress Investment Group, of which Edes is co-CEO.

Brightline will eye building a mixed use development around the station, similar to what it did in Florida and its high-speed rail project there. That would include retail, office, residential and commercial space.

“The land that we acquired to look to build that station is a phenomenal site for lots of development and one of the potential uses could be a stadium, for sure,” Edens said. “A lot of the elements that make it desirable for a train station also would make it desirable for a stadium.”

But Edens said there are other sites around the valley that could be suitable for a stadium.

“I don’t want to jump the gun and just pick one,” he said.

Edens declined to discuss how the stadium would be financed, as he said it’s too early to determine financing options.

Edens said he has had brief, but positive interactions with local and state politicians and he looks forward to those ramping up as the process plays out.

“I think it’s a really positive development for Las Vegas,” he said. “It’s a big investment and a big economic step forward and you would expect politicians to be welcoming of that. Not in every place do they react that way, but in Vegas they certainly seem to, so we’re excited to spend more time with them.”

Las Vegas’ allure

With tourism ramping up to pre-pandemic levels, Las Vegas has become a destination for pro sports, with Raiders games at Allegiant Stadium seeing a healthy mix of locals and visitors. Edens noted that is a factor in his vision of the potential success of an MLS team in Las Vegas.

“I saw some statistics that said 50 percent of people that visited there (Las Vegas), that they would be likely to extend their stay if there’s sporting events to go to,” Edens said. “I think the local population in Las Vegas is obviously important to the fan base for something like a soccer team, but then also the tourists that come to town. Soccer is incredibly popular, not just in the country, but around the world. And having a world-class franchise there is going to be a real broad-based appeal.”

Aside from the team’s games, Edens said that a soccer stadium in Las Vegas could host offseason events such as exhibition games, World Cup qualifiers and the World Cup as well as other major soccer events.

Community involvement

Edens was part of a group that purchased the NBA’s Bucks in 2014 and then brought in a group of local business owners to cement their status in the city. A similar scenario is possible with an MLS team in Las Vegas.

“I think it’s very important for people to be really invested in the team that are the local community. I don’t live in Las Vegas — maybe that’s a yet, as opposed to an absolute, because you never know — but I think that’s something that we’ll certainly consider.”

Additionally, plans call for setting up soccer academies locally as Edens and Sawiris have done with their Premier League soccer team, Aston Villa.

The academies serve to ready the next generation of soccer players, providing them with the best facilities to work on the game and also assist them educationally.

“Las Vegas is the perfect place to have a broad-based academy program,” Edens said.

“I think there are opportunities to really integrate into the community and make it be a meaningful part of the success of Las Vegas as a community, as much as a sports franchise.”

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

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