Establishing the team on the pitch, the owners of FC Tucson are pricing out a move from the PDL to USL — and with a decent facility already in place in a community that’s embraced pro soccer, the move may be a smart one.
FC Tucson is already pretty intertwined in pro soccer in Tucson — the club runs training there for the MLS teams alighting in the spring — and the squad is currently the top-ranked PDL team, with plenty of talent on the roster.
But there’s no promotion or relegation in American soccer, which mean the team ownership is like every other pro-soccer front office and needs to buy their way into a desired level. For FC Tucson, it means raising money and raising the professional quality of the total fan package. Now, FC Tucson does have some advantages: the team plays out of a legitimate facility — Kino Sports Complex North Stadium, with training facilities (weight room, large clubhouses) that are a legacy of those Arizona Diamondbacks MLB spring-training days. But moving from PDL to USL will have some challenges, per the Arizona Daily Star:
FC Tucson’s management group, which includes Foster, GM Jon Pearlman and coach Rick Schantz, is in the process of forming a steering committee to identify investors for a move to the USL. That would require more than double their current budget and become something close to a $5 million a year operation.
“We have a huge head start because our venue, Kino Stadium, is already in place,” said Foster. Best case: If FC Tucson joins the 29-team USL and gains a MLS affiliation, the stadium could be expanded to perhaps 4,000 to 6,000 seats….
It makes sense: Tucson has been a high school soccer powerhouse for 20 years; the youth soccer organizations number more than 10,000 players; the first-class Tucson Soccer Academy is among the best of its kind anywhere; Pima College is a long-time NJCAA contender in men’s and women’s soccer; and the UA’s women’s soccer program has become a Pac-12 contender, reaching the Sweet 16 last season.
The big issues: USL teams play twice as many home games as do PDL teams, but that means higher travel costs and overhead. And while there have been plenty of headlines about FC Cincinnati shattering USL attendance records, most USL teams are more on the level of a potential FC Tucson level — 4,000-5,000 attendance and decent sponsorships in a decent-sized town.
Image courtesy FC Tucson.