Major Indoor Soccer League (1979-1980)
Born: 1979 – MISL expansion franchise
Moved: May 28, 1980 (San Francisco Fog)
Arena: Cobo Arena (10,048)
Team Colors: Black & Silver
The Detroit Lightning were a one-year wonder in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). The television production team of Jerry Perenchio and Norman Lear purchased an expansion franchise in the two-year old MISL. Perenchio was a former talent agent who had a background in sports promotions as well. He promoted the “Fight of the Century” heavyweight title bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in 1971 and the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis exhibition between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Lear developed some of the most popular and critically acclaimed situation comedies of the 1970’s, including All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, One Day At A Time and Sanford & Son.
Indoor soccer was an unfamiliar sport in 1979, in many ways more similar to hockey than soccer. Compounding the challenge of introducing a new sport and an unfamiliar league, the Lightning also faced local competition in the form of the Detroit Express of the North American Soccer League (NASL). The NASL was a traditional outdoor soccer league, but had experimented with the indoor exhibitions for several years. After the NASL watched the upstart MISL draw large crowds at the Philadelphia Spectrum, Madison Square Garden and other major arenas during its debut season in the winter of 1978-79, the older league decided to launch an indoor season of its own in the winter of 1979-80.
The Lightning played at the downtown Cobo Arena. The Express stayed out in suburban Pontiac, staging their indoor games in a tiny corner of the 80,000-seat Silverdome, where they played conventional soccer in the summertime.
The Lightning finished their only season at 15-17, good for third place in the MISL’s Central Division and enough to squeak into the sixth and final playoff spot. Pat Ercoli – known locally as “Patrick the Hat Trick” – led the Lightning in scoring and finished fifth overall in the MISL with 44 goals and 24 assists in 32 matches.
Detroit travelled to Kansas for a single-game Divisional semi-final playoff against the Wichita Wings on March 11th, 1980. The Wings eliminated the Lightning 6-5 and that would prove to be the franchise’s final game as the Lightning.
Perenchio and Lear sold the Lightning to Dr. David Schoenstadt in the spring of 1980 and he officially relocated the club to San Francisco on May 28th, 1980.
After a single season of play as the San Francisco Fog, Schoenstadt relocated the team once again to Kansas City, Missouri for the 1981-82 season. The Kansas City Comets proved one of the most popular draws in the MISL throughout the 1980’s. The franchise that began life as the Detroit Lightning in 1979 finally went out of business in Kansas City in the spring of 1991.
Perenchio and Lear sold their film and television properties to Coca-Cola/Columbia Pictures for $485 million. Perenchio later purchased and eventually sold Spanish-language television giant Univision, earning billionaire status. In 2004 Perenchio ranked #186 on Forbes‘ list of the wealthiest individuals in the world.