by Cole Pepper
For the first time since 1999, Jacksonville will be home to a professional soccer team.
Today in Dallas, the North American Soccer League confirmed that Jacksonville would receive an expansion team to begin play in the 2015 season. Mark Frisch, the president of Sunshine Soccer Group, will be the team owner.
“This is an exciting day for soccer fans in Jacksonville and throughout Northeast Florida,” said Frisch. “The growth of soccer in our area the past few years is impressive. We look forward to working with our soccer community to further the growth of the sport as the franchise kicks off in 2015.”
A celebration is planned for EverBank Field for Sunday as part of a Gold Cup viewing party.
Frisch’s presentation, along with Alan Verlander, Jacksonville’s Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment, and other city leaders, was enough to convince the NASL to add a third Florida team to the league.
“I have seen first hand the desire the Jacksonville community has for a professional soccer team to call its own and believe this is a great move for soccer in Florida,” said NASL commissioner Bill Peterson. “The Sunshine Soccer Group is creating another in-state rivalry for our teams the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers, appealing to the global soccer passion for local derbies that are always special occasions.”
Part of the success of the pitch was the support Jacksonville has shown for U.S. men’s and women’s national team events in the city, More than 42,000 fans attended the U.S. men vs. Scotland match, a record for an international friendly in the south.
The NASL currently has seven teams in the league, located in Atlanta, Carolina (Cary, a suburb of Raleigh), San Antonio, Tampa Bay, Edmonton, Minnesota (Blaine, a suburb of Minneapolis) and Ft. Lauderdale. They’ll add teams in Indianapolis, New York (starting play this fall), Ottawa, Puerto Rico and Virginia (just west of Washington DC) for the 2014 season. Oklahoma City was also awarded a team to begin playing in 2015.
The Florida teams average 4,175 per game. The top drawing team is San Antonio, averaging over 7,100 per game.
The hope is that Jacksonville can draw around 8,000 per game and use that as part of the case to become and MLS city in the future.
Related: See the release on the NASL Website