There are very few people in the world of North American Soccer as knowledgeable and as well traveled as Tim Holt. Formerly the commissioner of the United Soccer Leagues (USL), Holt guided the Orlando City Soccer Club as they made a successful transition from the USL to Major League Soccer (MLS), and now he’s in San Antonio attempting to do the same thing with San Antonio FC.
“Plans for MLS are advancing internally,” Holt said in an interview with Rivard Report on Thursday. “MLS has announced they plan to expand to 28 teams, and our goal is to be part of that conversation.”
That process won’t necessarily be a quick or easy one, but it’s a goal that Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SSE) are contractually obligated to fulfill, or else they will have to pay back the money the City and County spent on purchasing Toyota Field back, beginning in 2021.
But the City of San Antonio seems eager to spend money on sports teams, with Mayor Ivy Taylor announcing plans to ask the tax payers for $75 million to build a Triple-A baseball stadium downtown. That may have lead to some concerns for Holt, who will need that support for an expansion to Toyota Field should the team be successful in its bid for an MLS team, but Holt seems to be unconcerned by the scenario.
“Soccer gives San Antonio the best chance of having a second major league team,” he said, “It doesn’t change anything for us.”
Getting an MLS team requires the perfect combination of several elements, but Holt feels the team is on the right track.
“Fan support matters, but building that roster of corporate partners is equally important,” he said. “Our roster of corporate partners will involve some that are heavily involved with SSE. SSE are the primary reason for a number of these partnerships, they have built up trust over time.”
That process is not going to be finished this year, so the goals for this year are about incremental growth to reaching the long term goal of an MLS team.
“It’s about starting something,” said Holt. “The Scorpions laid the initial foundation for professional soccer in San Antonio. Our job is to take that, and elevate it as we prove our capability to go to MLS.”
On the pitch things got off to a perfect start last Sunday as San Antonio FC defeated the Seattle Sounders FC2 during a 3-0 game in Seattle. The on field goals are lofty for an expansion team, but Holt insists they are realistic, “Finding a place in the post season is our goal, that’s a realistic goal based on the roster we have. And from there, it’s a knock-out tournament, so anything can happen, we’d be disappointed if we didn’t make the playoffs.”
That start was even better than most people in San Antonio expected, with Holt among them. “All the anticipation and build up can make the first 15 minutes of a match difficult,” he said. “But we scored twice in the first ten minutes.” However, Saturday will be a different story, with Swope Park looking a much more difficult task. “Swope Park has a good blend of seasoned pros and prospects coming up in Sporting Kansas City’s system,” Holt said.
Things are starting well for the team off the pitch as well. All seating was sold out for the opening match, and the team is still selling standing room and general admission tickets. “(Selling out the seating) was very important. It was a goal of ours from the very beginning to make a great first impression,” said Holt. “We thought it would be challenging, getting such a late start but we’ve been able to make up for lost time, especially in the last two weeks.”
That sees San Antonio FC with a big chance of setting a new Toyota Field attendance record, currently sitting at 8,313 from a regular season match in 2014 against Minnesota United.
The immediate goal for San Antonio FC is to put on a good show at Toyota Field on Saturday, taking advantage of getting plenty of eyeballs on the new club. “Entertaining fans is important to us too,” said Holt. “So we want to start with a win at home. The advantage is to us in terms of atmosphere and that will help us on Saturday.”
One of the big talking points heading in to the opening match is the standard of play, with San Antonio FC playing in USL compared to the Scorpions who played in NASL, which is sanctioned as a second division league, compared to USL sanctioned as a third division league.
”People will naturally draw comparisons,” said Holt. “NASL is a really strong league, so is the USL, there’s good teams in both leagues. We expect that we will be competitive. I don’t feel like fans will be disappointed.”
Top Image: Managing Director Tim Holt speaks about the potential the San Antonio FC brings to the city. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone