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Knights owner Bill Foley enters billionaire fray for MLS team

Updated June 5, 2019 - 7:02 pm

If Bill Foley told me there was a way to sell tens of thousands of dollars in Wagyu beef to a lifelong vegetarian, I might believe him.

Midas knows few better touches than that of the Golden Knights owner.

So when he professes a strong desire in bringing a Major League Soccer expansion franchise to Las Vegas and housing it as a tenant in the new Raiders Stadium, consider it serious stuff.

Which means a town with no MLS team now has two billionaires competing for one.

“I’m very interested in this and we are working on making it happen,” Foley told the Review-Journal. “I think we could be just as successful with soccer as we have been with hockey. We already have infrastructure and staffing in place to make it very successful in all areas.

“I believe the Raiders stadium in a controlled temperature environment would be the best venue, but if that didn’t work, I would consider (building) a soccer-specific stadium. I’ve already been shown five sites in and around the tourist district where it could work. We would need tourists for the soccer (as fans).

“We don’t want them for the hockey.”

Wow. How’s that for a 40-ounce Big Gulp on a Wednesday?

Political fans

Foley spoke just minutes after the City Council voted to approve a 180-day exclusive negotiating agreement with Renaissance Companies Inc. for 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 franchise while developing the 62 or so acres at the Cashman complex.

It’s not surprising the Fanfest that posed as a council meeting — don’t you just love politicians wearing soccer scarves while praising and then voting on such a massive soccer-related issue, one that could include public funds? — decided unanimously to pursue negotiating a deal.

“Godspeed,” mayor Carolyn Goodman said after announcing the all-in-favor vote. “Bring it home.”

My goodness. The only thing missing was a makeshift goal and each council member taking penalty kicks.

It makes sense, though, because it’s not as if others have come pounding on the city’s door with redevelopment plans for urban housing and retail and an entertainment district for the area.

There is no harm in negotiating, although I would suggest given the council’s obvious bias to get this done, Klarman is about to own more leverage than at any time in his business career.

Isn’t that what this is about, really?

In the Foley-Klarman competition to impress the MLS, the downtown plan for a smaller, soccer-specific venue, even an open-air one, fits the mold of what the league wants from new teams better than playing in a 65,000-seat NFL stadium, set to open in 2020.

Such an edge might disappear, however, if Foley teamed with another — say, um, the MGM — to build their own venue.

He’s also Bill Foley, owning a fairly sizable amount of evidence when it comes to local support. It’s called the Golden Knights.

For now, it appears Foley believes he could make things work with the Raiders. He declined comment on any specific conversations with the team, instead referring to comments Raiders owner Mark Davis gave the Review-Journal on Tuesday night.

“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 off our list to help fill those dates.”

So many angles are still to be researched and reported on regarding both ventures, beginning with an exact dollar figure of any public money the downtown project would include. You also hope the council does its due diligence and dives into really important matters, such as can the nation’s 39th media market truly support yet another pro sports team?

This isn’t an anti-soccer take. I love soccer. Go, Cray Wanderers.

This is a pro-responsible take.

Take off the scarves for a minute and ask some tough questions.

Race is on

The MLS doesn’t make money as a whole, and as much as I like the fact Lights owner Brett Lashbrook can’t utter a sentence without ending in “Viva Lights!” who would you trust more on the matter: A person with a vested and financial interest in the downtown deal getting done or some of the world’s leading economists, people with absolutely no skin in the game, who have researched and defined the league as nothing more than a Ponzi scheme?

Essentially, though, the race between two billionaires is on, and you know the MLS is loving every bit of it, believing it can merely sit back and eventually take the best deal for its league.

Fact: At this point, given the reputations and financial stability of the two central figures, Las Vegas has likely never been so close to landing an MLS franchise.

“I would be the majority (owner) of the team, but we already have several interested investors wanting to be part of this,” Foley said. “I wouldn’t get into a (bidding war) with anyone. We would never do something that would cause any amount of animosity.

“It will all get figured out, but we are pursuing this, and I do believe the best option is having an MLS team play at the Raiders stadium.”

On your mark, get set …

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com 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.

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