Seattle Sounders FC and the Tacoma Rainiers are investigating the possiblity of moving the Sounders 2 USL team to Tacoma.
There are many details to be worked out, but the deal would depend on the creation of a soccer-specific stadium that could be part of a Metro Parks feasibility study addressing the need for more soccer fields in the South Sound.
Rainiers president Aaron Artman envisioned a stadium able to accommodate about 5,000 for the USL team but also kept busy regularly with amateur games and tournaments.
Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer said Sounders 2 could be rebranded to reflect its new location. He said the team would continue to train alongside the Sounders Major League Soccer first team, but play its games in Tacoma.
The concept is still in its early stages, and Artman said it’s unlikely the team could begin playing in Tacoma before 2018 or ‘19. Neither side indicated any interest in Cheney Stadium as a temporary home.
Cheney Stadium is the home to the Tacoma Rainiers minor league team, whose parent club is the Seattle Mariners. The relationship between Sounders and S2 is similar, in that S2 exists to develop players for the MLS Sounders. The USL is the third level of the United States soccer development pyramid, below MLS and the North American Soccer League.
“Things heated up about six months ago when I had a meeting with Metro Parks,” Rainiers president Aaron Artman said. “… And they’re in the midst of a feasibility study right now that really addresses the need for more fields to accommodate all levels of amateur soccer in Pierce Country, and is there a way to create that kind of complex here in the South Sound. One of the things that came up in that discussion was whether or not a centerpiece of this project could be a professional stadium for USL – in addition to that showpiece stadium being a championship destination for high school, colleges, youth soccer, premier, etc. At that point I called Adrian, and we started discussing how Tacoma could be a home for the Sounders USL affiliate potentially – similar to how we are down here for the Mariners. And it’s my belief that this region would really embrace it. … Now the real work begins: How do we get this project done? … To that effect, we’ve entered into an agreement with the Sounders, with the onus on the Rainiers organization to develop a stadium solution here in Tacoma, where we’d eventually partner together to own and operate what we think could be a real crown jewel of USL soccer in this country.”
More from Artman: “We’re short on details and high on aspiration right now, and so there are a ton of moving parts, but there’s a real interest specifically from Metro Parks in leading this from the government side of figuring out how we get this done. And they have a lot of support amongst the school district, the Tacoma Sports Commission … and so we’ll have this team … to go figure this out, but I think we’re two to three years out realistically.”
On ideal stadium size: “I think the right size is right around 5,000 fans. That doesn’t necessarily mean 5,000 fixed seats. We’ve had tremendous success at this ball park with party decks that service groups, with grass berms. You want to build it big enough where it’s a great environment, but you don’t want to over-build these things. One of the trends that we’ve seen in Triple-A baseball is when all the new stadiums started being built in the late ‘90s and the early 2000s, to a man most of them would say they overbuilt those. And what we’re seeing now is a trend in our business that’s closer to Cheney’s capacity, which is only about 6,500 fans – somewhere between that and 9-, or 10 thousand seems to be the sweet spot because we want the place packed with high energy and to feel great. So I think it’s somewhere in that 5,000 range – too early to say how much of that is general admission and/or decks, and how much is fixed stadium seating.”
On Tacoma branding: “We’d love to be a great partner and influence there, and I think the team would have to start with ‘Tacoma’ as the first part of whatever identity came up. Definitely.”
From Hanauer: “(We’re confident) that the Rainiers can run a fantastic business enterprise, fan experience, game-day experience and that they know the market inside and out down in Tacoma. Very excited about the prospects. I think as everyone knows in the stadium world, these things are complicated, and there are a lot of moving parts, but we wanted to show our support and give everyone in Tacoma an opportunity to try and make this thing come to fruition.”
Hanauer on why Tacoma: “The advantages are considerably on the business side. On the technical side, being kind of the prime tenant in a market will be meaningful for the players. … And on the business side we think there’s enormous potential to develop a strong fan base for Tacoma, but certainly to mine fans potentially for the Sounders. … Notionally we’ve talked about the team continuing to train in (Tukwila) at Starfire … but there shouldn’t be a huge difference on the technical side.”
Finally -- for now -- assistant executive director Shon Sylvia said Metro Parks Tacoma has been working with soccer associations and sports commission school district and park and rec leagues on field inventory and study for needed spaces and venues. They believe there are some gaps, but need partners and need to figure how to come together for potential of complex of fields and maybe stadium. They’re hoping to have decided within roughly six months if such a project would benefit the region.
If so, then there would be the question of how such a thing might be paid for.
“We would have to come up with a funding strategy that would look at the different locations, the state, whatever opportunities: Is it a donor, is it something you’d be able to look at,” Sylvia said. “It would be a variety of different revenues that we would have to look at. We probably wouldn’t go out of the gate to the voters. It really is looking at existing dollars as well as whatever potential revenues would make sense. That’s kind of a premature question for us. I have to get to the point of what the desire is in this community, and the need, before we would even put something into motion of what that would look like. We would have to start figuring out what options and what’s the magnitude that need to be built. There’s a lot of public-private partnerships out there. I would have to do some research to find out what else is out there that we could model from. We’re pretty excited about the potential opportunity, and if the community wants it, then we need to figure out how to deliver.”