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Wilf family from NFL's Minnesota Vikings join Nashville's franchise bid

Major League Soccer has come a long way from 10 teams that started in 1996 to the 22 that kicked off the 2017 season.

Nashville's bid for an MLS expansion franchise received a boost on Tuesday with the announcement that Mark, Zygi, and Leonard Wilf -- the majority owners of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings -- have joined the organization's ownership group.

John Ingram, CEO of Nashville Soccer Holdings, will remain the group's majority owner while the Wilf family has acquired a minority stake. The Wilf's expertise in a variety of areas connected to sports ownership bolsters NSH's expansion credentials.

"We are delighted to have the Wilf family join our group and our initiative to bring a new level of soccer to Nashville," said Ingram via a press release.

"They know sports and sports business, and they are well-known and respected for their professional sports experience. The Wilf family brings expertise in a number of areas like stadium development, fan experience, marketing, communications and ticket sales. They are a strong addition to our bid."

The Wilf family had previously attempted to bring an MLS expansion franchise to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, but lost out to a group led by Dr. Bill McGuire last summer. Dr. McGuire's team, Minnesota United, started play in MLS this season.

At the time of the Wilf's MLS effort, it was thought that they were merely trying to find another tenant for the NFL team's home venue, US Bank Stadium. But Ingram and Mark Wilf had a longstanding relationship due to the fact that both serve on the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust. That led to the beginning of talks between the two earlier this spring.

"We are excited to join John Ingram and Nashville Soccer Holdings as part of the ownership group dedicated to bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Nashville," said Mark Wilf.

"It is clear John and his group have a passion for soccer and a commitment to the Nashville community. We look forward to bringing our sports experience and background to the table, and we believe we can help secure an MLS franchise for Nashville."

Zygi Wilf
Zygi Wilf has joined Nashville's bid for an MLS expansion franchise.

The addition of the Wilf's to the ownership group is the latest development that strengthens Nashville's bid. The ties between the NFL and MLS run deep, with MLS commissioner Don Garber having previously worked as an NFL executive. There are also five NFL owners who have at least a minority stake in an MLS team.

Following a visit from Garber earlier this summer, Nashville hosted a pair of matches whose combined attendance exceeded 100,000 fans. One involved the U.S. national team at the Gold Cup, while the other was part of the International Champions Cup. While one-off events like the Gold Cup are no guarantee of week-to-week support of an MLS team, NSH hopes to confirm its market strength with an entrant in the USL that is scheduled to begin play next year.

NSH is also making progress towards building a stadium that involves a private-public partnership. The Fairgrounds Nashville has emerged as the favored location, one that has support of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, though details, including the exact site on the fairgrounds, still must be determined. An exact proposal on how the stadium construction will be funded is scheduled to be revealed this fall. But according to The Tennessean, the mayor's recently proposed 2017-18 capital improvements budget, has listed "$150 million in proposed revenue bonds for a new municipal soccer facility."

Nashville is currently one of 12 cities vying for four expansion spots in MLS, a list that includes Sacramento, Cincinnati, San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio, St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, N.C., and Indianapolis.

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