The future of USL Championship‘s Fresno FC is being called into question, as facility issues reportedly put the club’s status beyond 2019 in doubt.
Fresno FC began play in 2018 as an expansion team, with home matches staged at downtown Fresno’s Chukchansi Park–a Minor League Baseball facility that first opened for the Fresno Grizzlies (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) in 2002. Two years into Fresno FC’s operations at Chukchansi Park, concerns are being raised about the economic implications of the arrangement and how they will affect the team’s future.
The Athletic, citing “sources with knowledge of the USL’s bylaws,” reported that “teams are allowed to launch in baseball stadiums, provided they either move to a soccer-specific stadium by their third season or have plans in action to move into such a venue.” Fresno FC has not moved forward with plans for a soccer-specific stadium as of yet, and the club is making the case that a long-term solution is needed because of unfavorable lease conditions at Chukchansi Park.
In a statement to the local press, Fresno FC general manager Frank Yallop acknowledged that playing at Chukchansi Park comes with unfavorable economic conditions and that the club is trying to settle on a plan for 2020 and beyond. More from KMPH.com:
“Fresno Football Club is working around the clock with USL HQ to plan out our future for 2020 and beyond. We are honored and proud to call the San Joaquin Valley our home, however, it is imperative to our survival that we secure a soccer-specific stadium. As it stands today, the unfavorable economic realities of our Chukchansi Park lease agreement, as well as the lack of progress – and political support – we’ve seen in finding a proper site in the City of Fresno, have given us serious cause for concern. We’re working non-stop, every single day to find a solution, but until that solution is found, we hope the focus can stay fixed on our fight to win a USL Championship. Our fans, players, and technical staff need your support, and with a win [Wednesday night] in El Paso, we clinch home-field advantage through the Western Conference Quarterfinals. We want nothing more than to lift a trophy for this club, and this community.”
The model of shared MiLB-USL facilities is one that has evolved in recent years, and not all situations follow the same blueprint. Some are inherently designed to be more lasting, such as Reno, where the Reno Aces (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and Reno 1868 FC have shared Greater Nevada Field since the USL Championship club began play in 2017. In this case, both teams fall under the same ownership and the design of Greater Nevada Field allows for MiLB and professional soccer to be easily accommodated.
In Fresno, however, Fresno FC’s ownership is led by businessman Ray Beshoff, while the Grizzlies are controlled by the separate Fresno Sports and Events ownership group. Having a soccer-specific stadium would allow Fresno FC the ability to be a primary tenant, thus giving it total control over revenues and potentially boosting its bottom line. What remains to be seen is whether the club can generate the political support it is seeking for a new soccer-specific stadium, which it clearly feels is essential to reversing a currently unfavorable economic situation.
Image courtesy Fresno FC.