USL Rising: USL Stadium Development Taking The League To The Next Level

SACRAMENTO, CA - JULY 18: Jack Colback #14 of Newcastle United dribbles the ball during the first half of his pre-season friendly against Sacramento Republic FC at Bonney Field on July 18, 2015 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Stephen Lam - NUFC/Getty Images)

Editorial (April 10, 2017) – The 2017 USL season is well underway. The league has entered into a new era since rebranding from the USL Pro days. The league gained provisional Division II status in the off-season. Now President Jake Edwards and the league owners are taking it to the next level with a push for soccer-specific stadiums.

USL Rising: USL Stadium Development Taking The League To The Next Level

It took MLS almost a decade to figure out the right model for stadium development: Build them and have them team owned to control revenue streams. Have them in a central or downtown location to make them accessible to the soccer fan of the 21st Century. Construct and operate them with fan culture and in-stadium atmosphere in mind.

The USL is taking what MLS has learned and applying it to their league. They might not be able to check all the boxes MLS is looking for with stadium deals for their expansion teams. But they can go after several of them in the goal of achieving true Division II status. One of those pillars will be facilities and stadiums.

“We want to try and build towards a landscape of 8-10 thousand seat stadium. It makes such a difference for the match day experience,” USL President Jake Edwards told Last Word on Soccer. He added that the league wants every club to have a “pathway to build a soccer-specific stadium of 8,500 to 10,000 seats. That seems to be the ideal number in terms of where our attendance is trending and that’s the number that creates a tremendous atmosphere,” because “it creates a sustainable business.”

Finding Every Club A Home:

Four USL teams still play in minor league baseball stadiums. Almost half the league plays in a venue they do not own and/or share with an American football team in some capacity. Getting ownership groups (present and future) to build venues boosts their club and the league as a whole.

It’s been reported that Louisville City FC pays $5,000 a game just to use Louisville Slugger Field. This resulted in a reported $1 million operating loss for the 2016 season. Edwards made parallels to the USL with minor league baseball: “The game changed for minor league baseball when they started investing in stadiums,” allowing teams to be more secure and stable revenue stream.

The league is well on their way however. Some of the league’s strongest markets are those that have or started with their own stadium. Furthermore, they’re already adding more. Phoenix Rising FC build a pop up stadium with 8,700 seats in two months. Rio Grande Valley FC built a beautiful new stadium that could be the crown jewel of USL.

“We have about twelve soccer-specific stadiums that have been built. We’re working on no less than six being built at the moment,” said Edwards. They’re also eyeing stadium plans for potential expansion cities: “For us it is very important that we can identify a local ownership group that are committed and have the where with all to invest in a stadium if it doesn’t exist.”

Partnership With HOK:

The league started this initiative when they partnered with HOK a few years ago. “It’s a tremendously important initiative for us. We set out about 18 months to two years ago. It’s a long term project. We’ve challenged all of our teams to work towards building a soccer-specific stadium,” said Edwards.

With the completion stadiums currently under construction, the USL will have 22 teams as the owner and operator, primary tenant, or MLS II team in an MLS owned soccer-specific stadium. Their goal in partnering with HOK was to have every team in one of those three categories by 2020.

Nashville SC will be joining the league. Their stadium plans are still in the works.

If and when the USL is able to get 31 teams into their own soccer-specific stadium with an average capacity of 8,500-10,000, it will be well on its way to full DII status. Regardless, it will create stability for the league and its clubs.