Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber announced last week during the MLS All Star Game that the league would be expanding to 24 teams by the year 2020. Who will these additional 4 franchises be? We reached out to a number of people in the know from prospective MLS cities and asked them, why their city? It's a series we're calling MLS2020. You can join in on the conversation on Twitter using #MLS2020. Next up, we talk to Steve Arters and James Hope from the Crocketteers about San Antonio, Texas.
Total-MLS (TMLS): The league has released a number of criteria that they will base their expansion decision on. Let’s hit on each of the criteria.
Committed and engaged ownership: How does the current ownership of the San Antonio Scorpions feel about bringing MLS to San Antonio and what have they done to make their intentions known?
Steve and James (SJ): Recently Gordon Hartman was asked by the San Antonio Express-News on what his feeling were about bringing MLS to San Antonio. “Most teams don't make the jump immediately; they define their fan base and build their brand. That's what I've said from Day 1. With that said, we've been very successful with that, so successful that people are looking at us to move quicker. I think we can be serious (candidates) if we continue to see our fan base grow, our season-ticket sales grow. We put all this together because we felt this is an extremely strong soccer city.”
Hartman stated he maintains casual contact with the MLS home office, describing the league as “very intrigued and happy” with the Scorpions' development in the midst of their second season. Hartman is open to adding partners or selling the franchise outright as long as it aides his charitable mission. He said he's been contacted by numerous parties, describing one as serious. “If there are others who want to move this forward in a more aggressive fashion,” Hartman said, “and we can achieve our goals, I am open to having discussions with anyone.” Tell me an owner in any other market has done what Gordon has done in three years. He has fielded a competitive club, built a state-of-the-art stadium in Toyota Field with private funding and rallied a community of soccer fans behind the team.
TMLS: A comprehensive stadium plan: San Antonio is in a great position as far as stadium with Toyota Field recently being built. Tell us about Toyota Field and its ability to be expanded.
SJ: Toyota Field is the best Division 2 soccer stadium in the country. Toyota Field currently has 8,000 seats and 16 suites, with room to expand to about 18,500 seats and 32 suites. The goal of the stadium was to include the necessary characteristics for expansion in the current infrastructure so the team would not have to transfer to a new stadium if expansion, possibly to the MLS, were to occur. The infrastructure, including the amount of water and electricity at the site, was put in to support an 18,500-capacity stadium, in part to keep expansion phases affordable.
“Expandability was one of the key features we designed into Toyota Field, and maybe the biggest success,” said Project Designer and Project Manager Adam Gill, of Pro Sports Developments for Luna Architecture and Design. “Building a smaller facility just to later move to another site and start over again bigger does not make monetary sense to us, nor does it makes sense for a fan base to move stadium homes and leave the traditions they started there.” Toyota Field was designed to be very loud and intimidating to opposing teams. It was also designed to keep the spectator as close to the action as possible. The furthest seat in the stadium is only 55 feet away from the field. The stadium also features the Sky Suite observation deck on the Suite Level and a beer garden 20 feet from the back of the south goal.
The game-day atmosphere at Toyota Field is outstanding. Fans are close to action, stay engaged and have access to all the amenities in a new stadium.
TMLS: Demonstrated fan support for professional soccer in the market: How has the fan support in San Antonio been for the Scorpions and how do you think it would be affected by a MLS franchise coming to town?
SJ: Since its inception, San Antonio has led the NASL in attendance. Averaging nearly 7,100 fans a game, (89% capacity) shows the city clearly has an appetite for soccer. A recent exhibition match with Tigres of Monterrey drew a standing-room-only crowd of 8,255 with hundreds turned away. San Antonio also has staged highly successful exhibition matches with MLS clubs back in 2005 and 2008. Back in 2005, the Colorado Rapids and NY MetroStars played in a sold-out Blossom Athletic Center. There were fans lined up for more than three city blocks waiting for the gates to open to the stadium. In 2008, the Texas Pro Soccer festival brought DC United, Chivas USA, Houston Dynamo and the Toronto FC to a week-long pre-season training session. Hundreds came out to watch the team practices and train throughout the week. Matches were played on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday which drew nearly 9,000 fans for the matches. The Scorpions have three supporters groups. One in particular, the Crocketteers, has more than 1,150 members and consistently fills out the “Garrison” section of the stadium. They are the largest soccer supporters group in the state of Texas. Before the match they can be seen in the tailgate section drinking beer, eating BBQ and practicing chants before the march to the stadium. The Crocketteers’ tailgates have been known to have 300 to 400 fans in attendance. When in the stands you can hear the capos leading the stadium chants, coordinating the drums and getting the whole stadium singing and chanting for the Scorpions. The atmosphere inside Toyota Field rivals that of many other soccer stadiums across the United States.
If San Antonio can muster more than 7,000 fans to minor league soccer on a regular basis, imagine when the likes of Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Tim Cahill and other MLS stars come to visit week in and week out. The numbers will only soar!
TMLS: Support from sponsors, television partners and other constituents: What support does San Antonio have in place from these parties?
SJ: The Scorpions have over 50 partners signed for the 2013 season. Here are some of the most notable:
Toyota, (Stadium sponsor 10-year deal), While financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, according to mysanantonio.com ‘It is believed to be among the largest corporate sponsorships ever signed by a San Antonio professional sports franchise outside of the Spurs [NBA franchise].
Miller Brewing Company (Glazer Distributers) (Official Beer sponsor 5 year deal) team officials say it is one of the best sponsor arrangements in minor league sports. “Miller Lite is excited to be a part of Toyota Field in San Antonio,” said Rene Aguilar, the marketing manager of Glazer’s Distributors. “We are excited to bring soccer to a whole new level in San Antonio.”
Corner Store Markets, CST (Official Convenience store – Deal Unknown) CST Brands is one of the largest independent retailers of motor fuels and convenience merchandise in North America. Based in San Antonio, it employs nearly 12,000 people at nearly 1,900 locations throughout the southwestern United States and eastern Canada offering a variety of convenience merchandise, beverages, snacks and fresh food. Corner Store has around 140 stores in the San Antonio area. As part of the deal, Corner Store’s signage at Toyota Field will resemble the yellow storefront of a real Corner Store, and the company will be the official sponsor of all corner kicks.
HEB (Grocery Stores 5 year partnership with The Scorpions that includes a $125,000 a year donation to Morgan's Wonderland and a $125,000 a year donation to Soccer for a Cause – each for five years.) H-E-B, with sales of more than $19.4 billion, operates more than 350 stores in Texas and Mexico.
Television: KSAT 12(local ABC affiliate) and its sister station, MeTV, agreed to televise 13 San Antonio Scorpions games this season. Three of those matches, including the Scorpion’s home opener that was played on April 13, was broadcast on the ABC affiliate in primetime.
Local Newspapers: The San Antonio Express-News has a reporter assigned to cover the Scorpions matches and regularly does articles about the club throughout the season.
News Sportscast: All local sportscast send photographers to the home matches and report on matches on game days. Occasional sports pieces can be seen during the week as well.
TMLS: Geographic location: With two Texas teams already in MLS, San Antonio would have a natural rivalry already in place against the “big brothers” of the state. What makes San Antonio a good location for expansion?
SJ: The addition of San Antonio into MLS would strengthen the league by providing another soccer triad similar to the ones in the Pacific Northwest and in the NY/DC/Philly area. The distance between San Antonio/Dallas/Houston is between 200 and 260 miles thus making it possible for large numbers of fans to travel between the matches. San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the Nation (2.2 million) combine that with the city of Austin, TX (11th largest -850,000) that is just 70 miles to the north. You have a base of more than 3 million residents of which to draw from. Additionally, the Alamo City is a tourist destination with five of the state’s top tourist attractions that include the River Walk, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, SeaWorld and the Alamo.
TMLS: A strategic business plan for the launch and successful operation of the club: With a successful NASL team already in place, how will San Antonio continue this plan and make it successful in MLS?
SJ: Gordon Hartman has shown his willingness to invest in soccer in San Antonio. From his hiring of an established soccer coach, Tim Hankinson, to the privately funded Toyota Field, Gordon believes that soccer will be successful in San Antonio. Sponsorship will certainly grow exponentially if San Antonio is awarded a MLS franchise.
TMLS: Finally, why should San Antonio be chosen for a MLS expansion franchise and what are the chances it does happen?
SJ: San Antonio has always been on the radar of MLS. San Antonio was close in 2005 but eventually lost out to the Houston Dynamo. When Gordon bought the San Antonio franchise MLS began once again to look at San Antonio. MLS Executive Vice President Dan Courtemanche is well aware of the success the Scorpions enjoyed last season, and the fact that Toyota Field was designed so that it can be expanded to accommodate an MLS franchise. “We have always thought that San Antonio was a passionate soccer market, and the Scorpions’ success truly confirms that belief,” Courtemanche told the San Antonio Business Journal last June. “The success of the Scorpions is certainly being discussed throughout the soccer community — especially here at Major League Soccer.” With all the criteria seeming to line up with what MLS is looking for in a expansion franchise it would seem that San Antonio would be the fit that the league is looking for.
We'd like to thank Steve and James for their time and if you have any comments or questions you can tweet us or the Crocketteers and use #MLS2020. You can also read more about San Antonio's chances at expansion on the Crocketteers site.
(image courtesy of NASL.com)