In the current issue of Stadia, Jake Edwards outlines the USL’s plans to increase the number of soccer-specific stadia across the league’s team roster.
As a component of the United Soccer League’s (USL) 2020 vision – which aims to establish a financially sustainable, globally recognized and admired second-division soccer league – we plan to solidify all USL teams as owners or primary tenants of 8,000- to 10,000-seat soccer-specific stadia in the next four years.
With 29 teams across 19 states and three Canadian provinces, the USL has long recognized the importance of soccer-specific stadia – to maximize revenue generation, give fans the best matchday experience, and provide players with a professional playing environment.
The USL boasts a strong national footprint, spanning from coast to coast, with teams competing in a model that promotes rivalries within geographic regions. These highly contested games become even more competitive when played in venues specific to the sport.
For the 2016 season, the USL has 12 soccer stadia, and over US$100m has been invested in the past 18 months on stadium construction and improvements – including new playing surfaces, fan amenities and video boards.
As part of the 2020 initiative, the USL has a number of upcoming stadium projects.
Rio Grande Valley FC is constructing a 10,000-seat soccer-specific stadium in south Texas, slated for 2017. H-E-B Park will feature suites, a sports bar, a full-service restaurant, and fan and VIP amenities. The Toros serve as the development affiliate of MLS’s Houston Dynamo.
Since joining USL for the 2014 season, Oklahoma City Energy FC has played its home games at Taft Stadium, which was renovated and reopened in 2015 with a seating capacity of 7,500.
Recently the team purchased 37 acres of downtown land to build a soccer-specific venue with a capacity of up to 20,000. The club’s supporter group, The Grid, is one of the most passionate in the league, especially during the Black Gold Derby versus in-state rivals Tulsa Roughnecks FC.
After joining the league as an expansion franchise in 2014, Charlotte Independence is currently working to modernize Memorial Stadium, in the city’s center. The US$24.8m project would modernize the entire stadium with updated concourses and seating for nearly 11,000.
To execute the league’s 2020 stadium initiative, USL also formed a partnership with architecture firm HOK. The design experts will lead venue development for expansion teams and guide renovation for current USL stadia. HOK and USL will collaborate to increase stadium capacities and amenities, maximize revenues, develop ancillary programming and create operational efficiencies.
Beginning with the 2016 season, all potential expansion markets are required to present a stadium plan as part of an application for a USL franchise. Nashville SC, set to join the USL in 2018, is currently evaluating locations in the downtown area to build a soccer-specific stadium.
The 12 current USL soccer-specific stadia are: MUSC Health Stadium, Memorial Stadium, Switchbacks Stadium, Highmark Stadium, H-E-B Park, City Stadium, Rochester Rhinos Stadium, Bonney Field, World Wide Technology Soccer Park, Starfire Stadium, Merlo Field and Toyota Field.
The USL has doubled in size since 2014. Along with this growth comes the league’s commitment to drive stadium development in North America. Of the 29 stadia in the USL, 18 seat more than 5,000, with the remaining 11 contractually set to exceed that capacity by 2017.
A graduate of James Madison University and the University of Warwick Business School, Jake Edwards played professional soccer in the UK and the USA for more than 10 years. He was hired as USL vice president in June 2013 and promoted to serve as its president in March 2015.
December 1, 2016