Take the first stadium to host a FIFA World Cup game indoors (on natural grass), remove the roof, and raise the field level to the bottom of the upper deck…and we have MLS in Detroit.
That is the plan of the owners of the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, purchased by a Canadian investment group with Greek roots last November for $583,000, with the stadium in the spotlight this week as host to AC Milan vs. Panathanaikos this Friday.
It’s certainly, as the ownership group’s Senior Soccer Advisor puts it to Josh Hakala, thinking outside the box:
To achieve a reasonable stadium size, the Apostolopoulos family plans to remove the dome and divide the stadium into three sections. At the stadium’s ground level, will be a concert hall and a multi-purpose arena, capable of hosting hockey, basketball, and other indoor sports.
Resting on top of those two indoor facilities, will be a roughly 30,000-seat soccer stadium with natural grass. The current upper deck will essentially act as a lower bowl for the outdoor stadium.
It’s difficult to imagine, but maybe this will help.
If you have a ticket in the front row of the upper deck, with this proposed layout, you could lean over the railing and get an autograph, or catch a player doing a “Lambeau Leap.”
“It’s thinking outside the box,” said Roger Faulkner, Triple Sports and Entertainment’s Senior Soccer Advisor. “When the Apostolopoulos family bought the Silverdome, they bought it because they are soccer people, passionate soccer people. They want to make the Silverdome a major player on the world stage.”
This would be a first in MLS’ relatively short history (the league played its inaugural season in 1996), where the owner is retrofitting a stadium to attract an expansion team.
So, on the one hand, Triple Sports and Entertainment got the Silverdome for a ridiculous knock-down price, meaning they have their own stadium, checking off a key box for MLS ownership. On the other hand, retrofitting it for MLS and the other events mentioned will surely run into tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, in costs.
Roger Faulkner is an interesting character here, and a smart hire by the Apostolopoulos family as their key advisor — British-born, he has been promoting soccer in the United States and Detroit area since the 1960s, and was the general manager of the NASL’s Detroit Express from 1978 to 1980, the team playing at the 80,500 capacity Silverdome and featuring Trevor Francis and (on an overseas tour) George Best, though crowds never came close to filling the cavernous venue. Faulkner later was a key member of the Detroit World Cup Host Committee in 1994.
Faulkner most recently popped up here in 2008, as a part of the Michigan-based General Sports and Entertainment group who purchased Derby County in England, a club Faulkner had supported as a boy. Derby County are now partnered with a leading Michigan-based youth soccer club renamed the Derby County Wolves, who play in the elite US Soccer Development Academy. Derby County, meanwhile, seem to have been managed prudently by GSE, not achieving great success, but not flushing down the future for the present with the kind of fiscal indiscipline that has brought numerous English clubs to their knees in recent years.
In any case, it appears Faulkner’s main goal now will be to bring MLS to the Motor City: an ambitious plan, but one that will at least get some support from these guys.