San Antonio Struggles To Find Soccer Identity

Pro soccer is on the way to San Antonio and long time soccer fans might be getting two teams to support.  But, will this cause a crisis in soccer identity?

The San Antonio Scorpions FC are scheduled to begin play in April later this year.  Their home opener will occur April 15th at Heroes Stadium on the Northeaset side of town against the Puerto Rico islanders.

Heroes Stadium holds 11,000 and is owned and operated by the Northeast Independent School District specifically for high school sports and athletics.  The Scorpions FC have plans to build a 6,000-seat stadium to begin hosting NASL league matches in 2013.

Meanwhile, Spurs Sports & Entertainment, parent company of the NBA San Antonio Spurs, have been locked in a battle with the Southside Independent School District over the eventual use of Alamo Stadium.  The SAISD recently allocated $35 million dollars from a bond to renovate Alamo Stadium with the focus on expanding the grounds to accommodate a FIFA regulation sized soccer field.

With a vote in favor of expanding the field and preserving the track for high school track and field, the door for SS&E has been opened to proceed with their plans to establish San Antonio’s second pro soccer franchise.  The SS&E pro soccer team will compete in the USL and will play their home games in the 23,000-seat Alamo Stadium.

If SS&E are successful in establishing a pro soccer team and the SA Scorpions FC build their new stadium, soccer supporters might face a dilemma.  Do they choose to remain loyal to the Spurs franchise or do they continue to support ‘soccer for a cause?’

For some clarity perhaps, one might want to ponder a few things before making any snap judgements.  Both teams will be competing in two different leagues considered by US Soccer as Division 2, one step removed from Major League Soccer.

The Scorpions will compete in the NASL (North American Soccer League) and SS&E will compete in the USL (United Soccer Leagues).  Both leagues have a significant history with each other and were once one league.

Although the USL has been operating for 30 years and boasts 12 teams expanding into San Antonio has long been talked about.  The NASL, however, has a more colorful past and will infamously be remembered for the wild ride it took us on in the ‘70s and bringing Pele to America.

The leagues these two teams compete in is a minor detail, although, it is a fact that the USL will offer more league matches per season than the NASL, which only has 9 teams including the Scorpions.

What I’m wondering is, which team will make an easier transition into the MLS?

By all indications the Scorpions FC and Gordon Hartman have all the intention in the world to move forward with establishing a pro soccer franchise in San Antonio.  They are very close to making that dream a reality.  So I ask, how much longer will it take for them to get into the MLS?

As much as I hate using school district funded stadiums for professional sports, when I make the comparison between organizations, it does appear that SS&E have taken the fast track to becoming an MLS expansion team.

Don Garber, MLS Commissioner, has already indicated that San Antonio is a viable option, recently stating that a minor league team “might be good prospects to virtually promote up into MLS.”  This coming from a man who we already have a rocky history with, given our last dealings with the commissioner.

That being said, SS&E’s final direction has yet to be discovered and a team has yet to be announced.  Should there be an announcement in the near future, I would like both clubs/organizations to remember the original focus of the supporters in San Antonio, and that is Major League Soccer.

SAISD Approve Alamo Stadium Development: FIFA Regulation Sized Field To Be Added

 

For those of you who may not be following this story, I believe it has come to an end, all be it, a controversial one. The San Antonio Independent School District Board of Trustees voted 4-2 in favor of redeveloping Alamo Stadium. The proposed plans for development include adding an olympic sized track encompassing a FIFA standard regulation sized field.

The SAISD Board of Trustees was approved for a $500 million bond recently, $35 million of which would go toward renovating Alamo Stadium. SAISD is the sole managing proprietor of the facility, deeded from the city decades ago.

The renovations are well overdue, as the stadium has slipped into misuse and decay without a true purpose for this once regal facility. Although utilized by the school district, it has never truly reached its full potential.

The controversy started when SAISD was given a proposition by Spurs Sports & Entertainment LLC (SS&E) to host a pro-soccer team owned and operated by them. The deal would include all home games to be played at Alamo Stadium with a portion of the ticket concessions going to SAISD.

There were three plans to be considered by the board, one of which included getting rid of the track surrounding the field and laying the facade for a FIFA regulation sized soccer field effectively making it the first soccer specific stadium in the history of San Antonio. The second, was to keep the track and expand the field to a collegiate regulation sized field most often utilized by college and high school and the school district in this case. The third option, was to make the field FIFA regulation sized and keep the surrounding track, thereby demolishing a few rows of seating, but striking a compromise none the less.

The third option is what the Board ultimately decided on, seeing the expansion of the field and retention of the track surface surrounding it as a grand deal. Only time will tell whether or not SAISD and SS&E will benefit from this mutual partnership.

Suffice to say, it may be a failure all around but if SS&E has an ultimate goal of landing an MLS expansion team this deal may prove to be a masterstroke.

Alamo stadium currently holds 23,000 seats and when you compare that to the other leading soccer-specific stadiums around the US, that isn’t too far off the mark. The Home Depot Center, home to the LA Galaxy, seats 27,000 at capacity. While Red Bull Arena, home to the New York Red Bulls, seats 25,000 at capacity, and so is the case for many other soccer-specific stadiums around the country. What does this mean?

That if SS&E manage to be competitive for a decade or so, and lobby to be established as an MLS expansion team, in the meantime, they could possibly stay in the same stadium without having the burden of filling the Alamodome to the capacity of a George Strait concert, which might prove to be difficult in one of America’s smaller sports markets. Which is why the move might prove to be more than we can quantify at the moment. More importantly, the possibility of US Men’s and Women’s National Teams playing international friendlies becomes more feasible. This means having a national audience giving attention to the city for something other than basketball or football and will be a guaranteed sell out with people coming from allover the region to see the red, white and blue. Not to mention hosting top club teams from around the world like Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Tottenham, Everton, all clubs who have historically visited the United States, not to mention the top Mexican and Latin American clubs as well.

Think of it from a competitive standpoint, SS&E will be able to attract top soccer talent because they’ll want to come and live in our city and will want to be affiliated with a top organization like the Spurs. The professional environment of being an established sports franchise in America will be a top draw for world class professional athletes. SS&E will me more likely to develop partnerships with European or Latin American clubs, much like MLS clubs already have in place.

The original detractors to the stadium development spoke out against removing the track from the stadium. They feared that public money might be going toward something other than the public interest and that of their children’s interest. Which is understandable, but hardly the case. I feel that while allowing the front door to be opened by SS&E to establish a pro-soccer team in San Antonio, I don’t feel that a total compromise on the public’s interest was the idea. It is clear the vote by the board reflects that.

Only time will tell how long it will take SS&E to act, or how long it will take them to move things along. They have already been sitting on the sidelines for way too long, in my opinion. But I can’t help but feeling more positive about a pro-soccer team being established by one of the classiest organizations in all of sports. It’s a team I know I’ll support, because what it means to be a Spurs fan is what it means to be from San Antonio. This inevitably will benefit, not only SAISD, but the city and the region, as well for years to come. The sport is already so popular in San Antonio, the amount of revenue that potentially could be earned could, dare I say it, make this deal a win-win situation. Just give it some time, and believe in the vision, the return on investment will be unmeasurable.