Jacksonville Soccer Starting From Scratch

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Dario Sala (left) and Mark Frisch of the Sunshine Soccer Group discuss the future of Jacksonville’s NASL franchise in their new, unadorned office. The team begins play in 2015. (photo by Cole Pepper)

by Cole Pepper
September 1, 2014

It’s not that there isn’t anything to see from Mark Frisch’s new office. There just isn’t much to see on the inside.

Looking out from his 32nd floor downtown office, Jacksonville stretches out from the base of the building, down the St. John’s River toward the sports complex and beyond.

The question is this: at some point, will the NASL team’s (name to be determined, probably by October) stadium be visible?

Those are the two questions Frisch is asked most often about his NASL team. What will the team be called (he says he’s asked several times a day)? Where are you going to play (either UNF or EverBank Field, a decision he hopes to make in the next two months)?

In his new office, barren, without a single piece of furniture, save for the built in waist high cabinet next to the front door, Frisch can allow himself to enjoy the nothingness. NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson offered Frisch the chance to purchase a team to be relocated, but the 32-year old didn’t want to fix a broken franchise. Instead, he wanted to build something from the ground up.

“It’s exciting,” Frisch said. “We just got approval to get the key here last week. It’s really awesome. You don’t get many opportunities to do something, especially in the sports world like that. It’s going to be an amazing time.”

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For now, there are no desks, no chairs, not even a phone at the headquarters of the Jacksonville NASL franchise. Owner Mark Frisch (right) expects that to change within weeks and by October, Frisch says he will unveil the team name, colors, logo and top business executive. (photo by Cole Pepper)

For Frisch, this is all about prioritizing. He wants to start building the fan base early. Several hundred season tickets were reserved by fans who put down a small deposit. He has his soccer guy, Dario Sala, who will handle the duties of finding and signing a coach and player as well as developing the academy system for Jax NASL. The next step will be to hire a business head. Something akin to what Mark Lamping is to the Jaguars, a president of business operations who will work hand in hand with Frisch and Sala to create the full organization over time. That hire may be the next big announcement to come out of the Sunshine Soccer Group, the company Frisch and Sala set up to promote soccer and eventually bring the team to Jacksonville.

“To me this is more exciting that buying a team and relocating them,” Frisch said. “This is our team from the ground up here in Jacksonville.”

Listen to Cole Pepper’s full interview with Mark Frisch:

 

Both Frisch and Sala have traveled around the soccer world to learn from the franchises who have enjoyed the best success in the MLS and NASL. The challenge is to blend the best practices of those other teams with a message that will resonate in Jacksonville with the already dedicated soccer fans as well as those who want to be a part of the newest sports franchise in town. Then there is the building of the academy, the youth teams that will feed talent into the NASL team. In essence, the Jacksonville NASL’s minor leagues.

For those who are already sold on supporting the team, jaxnasl.com is the website where individuals can pay a $30 per ticket deposit to reserve their season tickets for the inaugural season in 2015.

First Person: How Jacksonville Got the Soccer Team

Three representatives from Jacksonville attended the pitch to the NASL last week: Mark Frisch, the CEO of Sunshine Soccer Group, Alan Verlander, the Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment for the city of Jacksonville, and Tony Allegretti, who, among other duties, serves as the Director of Downtown Engagement for the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. The following is Tony’s first person account of how Jacksonville became a professional soccer town (again).

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Magic Moments

by Tony Allegretti

July 30, 2013

Sometimes I wonder if I’m in a dream. I’ve been playing and watching soccer all of my life. I coach my son’s team. I’m committed to the sport.

A little more than a week ago I was literally talking to Fulham Manager Martin Jol about the prospects of Fulham Football Club regaining its moniker of “Fulhamerica”.  He was candid and funny and made me feel really comfortable even though I was talking to someone of the stature of say a Sean Payton or a Tony Dungy. This conversation took place at a quickly organized presser Shad Khan set up to show Jol, his captain and Fulham director EverBank field and the investments the team has made therein. It was also an opportunity for local media to meet real Premier League soccer brass. I was impressed that ALL of the Jacksonville sports media was in attendance and earnestly covering the event.

Less than a week later I was on a flight to Dallas to meet with North American Soccer League officials and owners at their annual meeting to help make the case that Jacksonville is ready and willing to support professional soccer once again.

The flight gave me an opportunity to touch base and catch up with Mark Frisch, who, with Dario Sala, have formed Sunshine Soccer Group, the ownership entity of said team should Jacksonville be successful in its bid. Mark is at once a nice guy, somewhat reserved, and a strategic thinker. To the last point I learned that he had also been at the NASL annual meeting the year before in Indianapolis. He has been building for this moment a long time.

The NASL owners were very cordial. Many of them seemed very young. I think as soccer becomes increasingly main stream in America we’ll see much of the investment from younger generations who aren’t burdened by the tired line that soccer has been “the next big thing” in America for 30 years. And I’ll not embarrass anyone (hopefully) when I say that Mark will be the youngest pro sports owner in Jacksonville.

I was able to spend some time with the league folks at the semifinal matches of the Gold Cup. USA scored early and outclassed Honduras and Panama successfully shocked Mexico for the second time in a month. Business lie ahead for the NASL the next day, the day two owners representing their city’s presented their case to join the league. We actually left the Mexico-Panama match early and were the only folks to do so in the 81,000 plus crowd. This gave me time to fully prepare my remarks which were but a few minutes of a 30 minute proposal.

The Jacksonville pitch included our Sports and Entertainment Director Alan Verlander and myself but was mostly Mark. We had seen the pitch well in advance of our trip and I think it was probably a forgone conclusion but Mark was smart to take nothing for granted and I think Alan really helped an already brilliant case for Jacksonville. I spoke a bit about the business climate in Jacksonville and how invested it is into our sports culture. Alan drove home our impressive support of events and soccer specifically. When you couple our latest television ratings (#1 in the country for Gold Cup USA/Cuba) our now legendary turnouts for both US National team’s fairly meaningless friendlies against Scotland and our expansive youth clubs and largest adult league in the state, the case was strong.

We waited sort of restlessly for the Oklahoma City folks to finish their presentation which ended with us hearing a round of applause outside the door. For some reason that made me feel a little more nervous. But alas, it was our turn. Mark delivered a great case for our Bold City. We provided support and stats. We also got a nice round of applause. Once finished we repaired to the lobby of the hotel and waited. There are moments you don’t forget.  I was able to snap the photo above of league commissioner, Bill Peterson breaking the news to Mark. I immediately thought of my kids sporting the to-be-named jerseys and the scarves we’ll all hold high. And it all started at that moment.

Podcast: Cole Interviews Mark Frisch

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Mark Frisch (right) gets the word that Jacksonville has been unanimously approved for a new NASL team.
Mark Frisch (right) gets the word that Jacksonville has been unanimously approved for a new NASL team.

Mark Frisch is bringing an NASL soccer team to Jacksonville. The team will begin play in April of 2015. In a wide ranging conversations, Frisch told me about where he got the soccer bug, why he thinks soccer will work in Jacksonville and where he expects to play home games.

Listen to the interview here: Cole with Mark Frisch

Below, fans gathered at the Terrance Suite at EverBank Field Sunday to watch the Gold Cup Final won by the United States and to celebrate Jacksonville being awarded the NASL team.

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Jacksonville Soccer Community Celebrates

by Cole Pepper

An estimated 800 soccer fans turned up at the Terrace Suites at EverBank Field to watch the US vs. Panama Gold Cup Final and to celebrate Jacksonville being awarded an NASL soccer franchise. Here’s a shot of one part of the crowd:

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Organizers were expected between 100-200 to attend, and had to restock the soft drinks and water for fans who piled in to watch the match and hear from new NASL team owner Mark Frisch. The team will begin play in the NASL in 2015.

 

Soccer Celebration Set

Landon Donovan
photo: concacaf.com

by Cole Pepper

Jacksonville soccer fans will have their first chance to celebrate the new NASL team together Sunday at EverBank Field.

A Gold Cup viewing party is planned for the Terrance Suites at EverBank Field starting at 3:00pm, one hour prior to the start of the Gold Cup Final between the US and Panama. It will also be the first public appearance in Jacksonville for the cities newest sports franchise owner, Mark Frisch.

The viewing party includes free food and drinks (with a cash bar). The event will continue until 30 minutes after the Gold Cup final match.

 

NASL Says Yes to Jacksonville

Mark Frisch (right) gets the word that Jacksonville has been unanimously approved for a new NASL team.
Mark Frisch (right) gets the word that Jacksonville has been unanimously approved for a new NASL team.

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.”NASL Logo

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