We end 2019 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Soccer Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #9: Historic Breese Stevens Field provides a blueprint for USL League One in its debut season.
Launching a new professional league is always a crapshoot, even when you have the backing of an established circuit like USL Championship. And while there were certainly highs and lows in the first season of the third-division USL League One, one squad launched operations in a way that can be emulated by the rest of the league: Breese Stevens Field debuted as home of Forward Madison FC and immediately became a blueprint for USL League One teams, averaging 4,292 fans in league matches.
Opening in 1926 and expanded in 1934 with Civil Works Administration funding, Breese Stevens Field hosted professional baseball and high-school football for decades, including the 1982 Madison Muskies of the Low-A Midwest League. But with the opening of Warner Park on Madison’s North Side, which included a new ballpark and an adjacent football field, Breese Stevens Field fell into disuse.
By the time Big Top Sports and Entertainment took over Breese Stevens Field management in 2015, the city had started putting money back into the facility, including the installation of artificial turf in 2014. Instead of being targeted for sale or demolition, Breese Stevens Field had become a city showcase, and the launch of Forward Madison FC was a huge event.
Breese Stevens Field works as a soccer venue because it was adapted to be a soccer venue: the sightlines are set up for great views of the pitch throughout the facility, while the best seats are as close to the action as FIFA rules allow. In addition, owner Big Top Events created a series of discrete “neighborhood” seating areas, ranging from a rowdy supporters section on one end and all-you-care-to-eat socializing spaces on the other. You can read more about the adaptation here.
As noted, there were certainly highs and lows in the first season of USL League One: a Lansing team dropped out after only one year, and the MLS-owned teams certainly failed to register at the box office or the sporting imagination. But with new Chattanooga Red Wolves and Tormenta FC facilities in the works, a move by North Texas SC to a renovated Globe Life Park and Orlando City B to a renovated Osceola County Stadium, and MLS clubs Inter Miami CF and New England Revolution launching new teams, USL League One should see some solid growth in 2020.
Here’s the rest of our Top Ten of 2019: