Hundreds of soccer fans and officials celebrated an agreement between the City, Bexar County and Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SS&E) to start a United Soccer League franchise at Toyota Field on Tuesday. The unnamed USL team will take the place of the Scorpions, which played at the Toyota Field in the North American Soccer League for five years.
Officials hope the new team will further entice Major League Soccer to put San Antonio on its list of expansion cities. According an MLS news release, five ex-USL teams have jumped to play in MLS in the past seven years.
The USL team, which has not been named yet, will kick off their first game in March 2016. The USL announcement follows the City and County agreement to jointly purchase Toyota Field for $18 million, and is the latest in a string of efforts to bring Major League Soccer to San Antonio. MLS officials recently announced plans to add four new cities to the MLS team roster by 2020. San Antonio is not one of them.
“We’re going to be prepared to pursue MLS and do everything that it takes,” said Bobby Perez, SS&E senior vice president general counsel said before taking the stage. Cities looking for MLS consideration must present MLS officials with strategies to bring fans to the stadiums, plans of finance, and a stadium expansion plan.
“We don’t have any of those things here yet,” Perez said. “I think it’s possible but it’s going to take a lot of human capital and other capital as well.”
Gordon Hartman, owner of the now defunct San Antonio Scorpions, was present Tuesday to pass the the local soccer baton to SS&E. He hopes the Scorpions, who were named the 2014 champions, will continue their success in the North American Soccer League (NASL). SS&E agreed to a 20-year lease for all operations at Toyota Field, while it pursues an MLS franchise.
“San Antonio made that first step to join the world when Gordon Hartman brought soccer here to San Antonio,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “We’re now going to take that next step with a great team that we have on the field that will start this season, we’re going to take that next step after that with Major League Soccer. We’re going to join the world, we’re going to be part of the fastest growing sport in the United States.”
San Antonians from soccer fan clubs such as the Crocketeers, cheered and yelled “SAFC! SA MLS!” from the stands.
USL representatives offered ticket sign-up sheets for local fans. Soccer fans received free scarves when they put a $50 deposit their seats, which will be applied toward seats season packages, which range between $150 to $600 per seat. Tickets purchased for Scorpion games in 2016 will be refunded.
“This gives me hope,” said Renato Leduc, a Mexico native who is excited for the possibility of an MLS team in San Antonio. “I would come to some games (in the past), but I think an MLS team will bring all the Mexican fans, they’re going to be getting season tickets.”
Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) was also present to emphasize the importance of soccer to San Antonio’s continued economic growth. An MLS team would attract out-of-town fans, who would boost local hotels, restaurants and the San Antonio International Airport.
“I was born in Laredo, but I consider San Antonio my hometown,” said Joel Sosa, who also signed up for USL season tickets. “I’ve been a Scorpions fan for a while now, but to finally have a MLS team I can cheer for (would be) just amazing.”
Fans can visit www.uslsanantonio.com to learn more about ticket prices and game dates.
*Top Image: Daniel Slater leads hundreds of local soccer fans in a show of support at Toyota Field on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015. Photo by Lea Thompson.