Plans are underway to build a riverfront soccer-specific stadium in Downtown Oklahoma City, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation have confirmed to Eastword News. Sources have advised Eastword News that the stadium will be built by the owners and operators of local soccer team, Oklahoma City FC (OKC FC), and other partners as part of a bid to bring the North American Soccer League (NASL) to Oklahoma City.
Please note that the unnamed sources who spoke to Eastword News for this article did so on the on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly comment on the situation.
Sources said the downtown stadium will have a capacity in the range of 9,000-14,000 seats and be part of a larger complex. The complex will include 10 youth soccer fields and team practice facilities, our sources added. Further, sources indicate that the site the group has in mind will be close to Oklahoma City’s future Downtown Public Park that is part of the 2009 MAPS 3 initiative.
One source said that the facility will allow both OKC FC and Oklahoma City to host tournaments and showcase events.
“It will be a multi-purpose facility in that sense,” They said. “This is needed so Oklahoma City can draw big youth soccer events. It will have a huge economic impact on the community.”
While the stadium project is in its initial phases, the OKC FC group discussed their plans in a meeting this spring with city leaders including Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, City Manager Jim Couch, and Steve Hill, the mayor’s chief of staff.
Cornett said the riverfront site was among those discussed during the meeting.
“However, it is early in the process for building a permanent (soccer-specific) stadium in Oklahoma City,” He said. “We are not very involved at this point because both groups are trying to get a team.”
Cornett added that if the City of Oklahoma City does work with an individual team to build a soccer-specific stadium, it would mark a first.
“When Oklahoma City has built stadiums, they have not been in conjunction with a particular team,” He added.
Neither Cornett nor other sources could provide a timeline for the stadium’s construction or more detailed information on how it will be paid for.
“We’re just not that far along,” Cornett said.
OKC FC is owned by local residents Debray Ayala, Donna Clark, Sean Jones, and Brad Lund. The team is operated by Sold Out Strategies, an Oklahoma City sports marketing firm, whose partners include Ayala and Lund.
OKC FC plays in the United Soccer Leagues’ (USL) Premier Development League (PDL). The PDL, along with the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), comprise the fourth division of men’s soccer in the United States
Sources advised Eastword News that the OKC FC group was to partner with Oklahoma City resident Tim McLaughlin in pursuing an NASL franchise in Oklahoma City. However, no one in the OKC FC group is able to publicly comment on either the NASL or the soccer-specific stadium due to an ongoing lawsuit with the USL.
The OKC FC group received a “cease & desist” letter from USL regarding their pursuit of a NASL team. Sources tell Eastword News that OKC FC’s ownership had their sights set on professional soccer soon after being granted a PDL team in October 2012 and that discussions were held with the USL, NASL, & Major League Soccer (MLS).
The OKC FC group responded by suing the USL in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on June 28. The lawsuit is regarding the enforceability of a “Covenant Not to Compete” clause in the “Franchise Agreement” between OKC FC and the USL.
The USL has since awarded an expansion team in its USL-PRO division to a separate Oklahoma City sports company: Prodigal, LLC. The company operates the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League (AHL). Eastword News’ reported on the USL-PRO team in our July 11th issue and online at http://bit.ly/1bHtDh3.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin will make a solo presentation for an expansion team before the NASL’s Board of Governors at that league’s Annual General Meeting on Thursday, July 25 in Dallas, Texas.
Neither McLaughlin nor NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson was available for comment on either the presentation or the league’s requirements.
If the league accepts McLaughlin’s bid, the Oklahoma City team would to join the NASL for the league’s 2015 season, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.
The NASL is the second division of men’s soccer in the United States, below Major League Soccer as determined by the United States Soccer Federation. The league has 12 teams across Canada, Puerto Rico, and the United States.
Presently, the NASL is comprised of the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina Railhawks, FC Edmonton, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Minnesota United, New York Cosmos, Puerto Rico Islanders, San Antonio Scorpions, and Tampa Bay Rowdies. An additional three teams, Indy Eleven, Ottawa Fury, and Virginia Calvary will make their on-field debuts in 2014.
To be awarded a NASL franchise, a group must have a combined net worth of $50 million and meet multiple fiscal guidelines, sources have indicated. First, a group must pay an expansion fee in the range of $2 million. Second, they will also commit to carrying a $750,000 line of credit to ensure continuity of payments, such as player and coach salaries. Lastly, a new team will take on an annual operating budget of $4 to 5 million per year; which is standard in the NASL.
Sold Out Strategies was awarded a two-year lease of Taft Stadium by Oklahoma City Public Schools on June 17. Taft Stadium will undergo a $9 million overhaul, including a reduction in capacity from 18,000 to 7,500 in a plan approved by Oklahoma City Public Schools. Sold Out Strategies has committed $100,000 to help pay for a new scoreboard that is part of the project.
OKC FC finished third in the PDL’s Mid-South Division and missed out on a playoff spot by three points. Please see our article about the team’s last game at http://bit.ly/18yv1Ch.
The team finished with the eighth highest attendance in a league of 64 teams. OKC FC drew an average of 1,177 people per game to Stars Field at Oklahoma City University. The team also played an exhibition game on June 30 against the reserve side for a top Mexican team, Club America, which drew a crowd of nearly 5,300 people to Putnam City Stadium.
The debut of Oklahoma City FC has also seen the birth of a supporters group called the Red Dirt Brigade. The group, co-founded by season ticket holders John Bratt and Colin Mall, regularly claims a spot in the west stands at Stars Field.
“We had 12 out for the first game and finished season with about three dozen,” Bratt said. "And other fans in the section (the west stands) are behind it."
Bratt said that he is glad to see soccer on the upswing in the Oklahoma City area, but does have concerns over the apparent battle between USL and OKC FC.
“Six months ago, we didn’t have a team,” Bratt said. “Now, there are two groups fighting over the area. It might be too much.”
Bratt said that while he cannot speak for other members of the Brigade, he likes what he sees from the OKC FC ownership and the vision they present. Bratt added that the group does not have official leader due to its age.
“The ownership group is behind us, which is not always the case. While, we’re independent of the team, there has been a lot of cooperation. We have a lot of freedom to do our thing."
Cornett concluded by saying he views the situation of competing entities like he would any other business.
"I think there is a perception that things are different with sports franchises," he said, "that some people think it's on my shoulders to decide which team comes here. I don't pick and choose that."
Cornett said it is up to the individual leagues to make those decisions and ownership groups to take any necessary action.
"People are free to do what they want as far as I'm concerned," He said.