by Cole Pepper
Jacksonville is makings its pitch to be home to a professional soccer team today.
Meeting in Dallas, representatives from the Sunshine Soccer Group, the city and the chamber of commerce hope to impress league representatives enough to land an expansion team to begin playing in 2015.
Among those in attendance are Mark Frisch of the Sunshine Soccer Group, who has been a vocal advocate of adding a professional team along with Alan Verlander, the Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment for the city as well as business owner and downtown advocate Tony Allegretti.
This would not be the first time that Jacksonville was home to a soccer team, but unlike past forays into the sport, this could be a stepping stone to eventually add a second major league sports franchise in Jacksonville, the MLS.
“I think we’ve established ourselves as a soccer community,” Verlander said. “When you look at all the club players from six years old to high school, there are thousands of soccer players here. I think its only a matter of time when its going to happen.”
If Jacksonville gets the nod, one of the first questions that must be answered is where the team will play. EverBank Field is likely too large for most games, although, some games could be played there. Jacksonville University, UNF and the Baseball Grounds have all been considered in preliminary conversations. If an MLS team becomes a real possibility, a stadium with seating capacity of somewhere between 18,000 and 25,000 would have to be built.
As for the possibility of the MLS, attendance and corporate support of the NASL team will be two major factors in making that case. I’ve been told that averaging around 8,000 per NASL game would be enough to make the case for the MLS. Most MLS teams average between 14,000-22,000 per game, with the Seattle franchise leading the way averaging over 40,000.
Of course, Shad Khan’s recent purchase of Fulham of the English Premier League adds another layer to the soccer landscape of Jacksonville. A set of matches involving Fulham, the Jacksonville NASL team and two other squads could make for an interesting week of soccer on the First Coast.
We could know this week if Jacksonville will get the franchise, then the real work begins. Already, Sunshine Soccer Group has set up a website for deposits for season tickets, hoping that that will help the pitch.