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NBA team co-owner emerges in bid to bring MLS to Las Vegas

Updated August 11, 2021 - 4:48 pm

Las Vegas has another group trying to bring an Major League Soccer expansion franchise to town.

Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wes Edens is attempting to secure a team, sports business website Sportico reported Wednesday. Edens joins Golden Knights owner Bill Foley and billionaire Seth Klarman, who have previously expressed interest.

A representative for Edens and an MLS spokesperson declined to comment on the report.

MLS is exploring options for its 30th franchise. Sacramento was slated to fill that slot, but key investor Ron Burkle backed out in February and the league re-opened its search. Commissioner Don Garber said in April that Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix were three markets on his radar.

Edens, a private equity investor, is fresh off an NBA championship with the Bucks and has ties to soccer and Las Vegas. The billionaire became a co-owner of the English club Aston Villa in 2018. The team was promoted to the English Premier League in 2019 and has remained there since.

Edens’ Fortress Investment Group also is behind Brightline, the company planning a high-speed rail line from Las Vegas to Victorville, California.

It remains to be seen whether Edens’ pitch for an expansion team will be able to top Foley’s or Klarman’s.

The city of Las Vegas talked to The Renaissance Companies Inc., which is backed by Klarman, about a stadium plan downtown near Cashman Field, bit its exclusive negotiating agreement expired in April. That gives the city the ability to talk to other interested parties, such as the Oakland Athletics, about the area.

Renaissance chairman Floyd Kephart said in an email to the Review-Journal he does not know that an MLS franchise is available right now, but he believes one will be granted to Las Vegas in the next 24 months.

“We continue to monitor the situation; remain in touch with the City; believe Cashman is the best site for a new arena for the location of a MLS team and continue to be prepared to address the development opportunity when one becomes available,” Kephart said.

Foley has looked into having a team play at Allegiant Stadium or elsewhere. The Knights said Wednesday they remain interested in bringing an MLS franchise to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas has shown plenty of potential as a soccer town in recent years by hosting large events and the United Soccer League Championship’s Lights FC. The 2019 Leagues Cup Final took place at Sam Boyd Stadium and the 2021 Gold Cup final was held at Allegiant Stadium on Aug. 1 in front of a sold-out crowd. Also, the Lights were fifth in USL average attendance in 2019.

“There clearly is a lot of interest in the Las Vegas market,” said Lights owner Brett Lashbrook, who would sell the team if the city and The Renaissance Companies Inc. came to an agreement. “It’s a testament to how well this city supports sports, how well it’s welcomed professional sports and how well they’ve taken to the sport of soccer, including the Lights, including the Gold Cup.”

MLS has 27 teams and will grow in each of the next two seasons. Charlotte will join the league in 2022 and St. Louis will follow in 2023.

It will likely be expensive for any Las Vegas group to get in the mix. Garber said Charlotte paid between $300 and $325 million to become MLS’ 29th team, according to The Associated Press. But paying that price means Las Vegas would get the chance to add another big-league team to go with the Knights, Raiders and Aces.

“The world’s most popular game in the world’s most entertaining city, there has always been a great marriage there,” Lashbrook said.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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