Folks, today we’re gonna talk about something I’m sure (only) some of you are interested in: minor league soccer.
In an interview with the SF Business Times’ Ron Leuty, East Bay developer Mark Hall made a full throated pitch to add not one, but up to two USL soccer franchises in the East Bay. One would be in Concord, the other in Oakland at the Coliseum.
The strategy is smart in that it has a built-in hedge. Perhaps Hall, who was granted both franchises, is only able to execute on one. So be it. If Hall can get two sites in the highly competitive Bay Area and get the support needed to fill both sets of stands, bully for him. He’s also bidding for the Coliseum arena, where futsal, the indoor soccer variant played on a court the size of a basketball court, could be a winner.
Hall could prove his teams’ worth now. The problem is all his talk so far is speculative. There is no USL team actively playing in Oakland or Concord, no futsal or lacrosse clubs. Hall doesn’t say if the clubs would start up right away or wait until their venues are built, whenever that is. Beyond that, these teams are decidedly peripheral or minor league. USL is the second tier pro soccer league in the US, and it is already experiencing growing pains given what’s happening in Cincinnati and Phoenix. There are success stories, such as Seattle and Portland. Even so, FC Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Sacramento have their eyes on a higher prize, an MLS expansion franchise, and roadblocks have been put up to stop them. FCC plays in the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium. Phoenix Rising and Sacramento Republic play in pop-up stadiums. All three franchises’ move to MLS (Major League Soccer) are pending the completion of new, permanent venues.
Does Hall endeavor to have a MLS team in the East Bay? Or stick with one or two teams that average 7k fans per game. The community cluster plan that Hall espouses has been done for decades – but not in American soccer. It’s the domain of high school football. That’s America’s community grown, grass roots sport. I admire the soccer crowd for trying to advance a community-based version of their sport, but it shouldn’t aim for 18-20,000-seat stadiums like Avaya Stadium or what Hall wants in Oakland. Manchester United just announced the 2018 pre-season tour, which will include a match and San Jose. At Levi’s. Which, when you think about, is the only stadium whose size and amenities could properly hold the match.
And with this soccer-related interest in the Coliseum site, there is interest from Tesla, which already has the 310 acres of the NUMMI plant in South Fremont. They want to expand, but they can’t make enough Model 3 cars to fend off their furious cash bonfire. What about the two groups who want to launch new pro football leagues, the reborn Vince McMahon-led XFL and the Alliance of American Football? Should Oakland and Alameda County keep options open for the Oakland Invaders? The AAFL will try to launch in 2019 after they pick their first eight franchise cities.