The Sounders Reserves match against USL-Pro Orlando City at 4 p.m. Sunday also is a test run for the possibility of Tacoma and Cheney Stadium becoming the permanent home for a Sounders-affiliated USL Pro team — perhaps as early as next season.
Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer doesn’t seem to have much doubt about Tacoma as a fitting market and the Tacoma Rainiers as a fitting partner. However, he is skeptical that Cheney Stadium — home to Pacific Coast League baseball since 1960 — will work as the home for a professional soccer team.
Today, Rainiers president Aaron Artman said he understands Hanauer’s reservations. And he indicated that if Cheney doesn’t work, that the Rainiers might be interested in pursuing a soccer-specific stadium for the team.
“I think we’re interested at a high level regardless, whether that was a Cheney, whether that was figuring out some kind of model to do a soccer-specific stadium somewhere in the area,” Artman said. “We think the world of the way those guys operate from a business and fan perspective and to partner with them I think would always be something we would have an open mind about.”
Here’s more from The News Tribune’s conversation with Artman:
On Hanauer’s reservations about Cheney:We talked about that and I think he’s got a valid point, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re so curious to see how it all works, not from just a fan support persepective, but this will be the first time in the new stadium – I don’t know back in the history – where we re-sodded the infield to do something like this. I think it will be interesting to see how the playing surface holds up, the complications of putting it in – which we’re doing right now, which it seems to have gone pretty smoothly, but we’ve also had great weather – as well as once we take it out and then rebuild the mound and do all those things. So I think the concern about playability of the field, what the fans experience is truly like given that it’s not a stadium built specifically for soccer are two key elements. Plus we’d always have a struggle if you were to look at potentially doing something over a longer-term basis, I think the scheduling is another point that we’ve discussed where if could be a little bit sticky or it could work out well. I think we’re all just open-minded are interested to see how it works. I think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s a beautiful facility and better than a lot of places the reserves will be playing now. But that doesn’t mean it’s the long-term solution. We’ll know a lot more after May 12.
On whether a soccer-specific stadium could be built in the Cheney Stadium area: I don’t think there’s space in the Cheney area, especially if you’re looking at on the actual footprint. We already have enough constraints on parking on our busier nights. And to put a soccer stadium on our actual footprint, if you will, where there’s parking or where our ballpark is probably isn’t feasible. But I don’t know about the surrounding areas or somewhere else. It’s probably too early for all that, but we’ll see how Sunday goes and maybe that’s something we look at down the road as something to potentially partner on and see if it would work for Tacoma and be good for Tacoma and be good for the Sounders.
Here’s what Hanauer had to say a week or so ago about the issues of affiliating with a USL Pro team, and where that team might play:
On the Sunday game as a test for Tacoma and Cheney Stadium: I think there are more advantages to a local affiliate, as opposed to an affiliate in another state, or even quite possibly Spokane – which would be fantastic from a marketing standpoint and build fans. But if we call a player at 8:30 in the morning and need him at 10, it’s not going to happen in Spokane. So then you look at the possibilities – there aren’t that many – there’s Tacoma, there’s Everett, maybe there’s Olympia, maybe Kitsap, potentially even doing something here are Starfire. But then it gets harder from a business standpoint to create a separate pool of fans and maybe separate sponsorships. So it’s not like we’re having a giant bidding war and an open competition, but we are willing to explore alternatives to Tacoma and if there were a very good alternative in Everett – or I didn’t mention Mount Vernon or Bellingham or something like that – we would definitely be interested. We’ve had very good conversations with the people at the Rainiers. They obviously know what they’re doing in terms of sports marketing and delivering a good entertainment value at Cheney. So we like the idea of Tacoma. There are a lot of positives, especially working with the Rainiers group. That said, I think after this exercise, my hunch is that we will come to the conclusion that Cheney Stadium – although a fantastic facility – probably is a bad long-term stadium solution for a USL franchise in Tacoma, first because of the work and money that you have to put into configuring the stadium for soccer, and the time required, there could be potential issues to their field, the conflict of a second franchise in Cheney, the size of the field, what you can actually do, the sighlines, so on and so forth. So, not to sound like every other pandering professional sports organization in the world, but having a really good stadium solution – whether in Tacoma or somewhere else – probably ultimately will drive where we end up. We’ve kicked around concepts with various groups and cities about whether there are solutions. And that may be an existing facility that’s out there – just putting a little bit into something like that – or starting from scratch.
On how the idea of a game at Cheney came up: Obviously we know the folks at the Rainiers. But our U-23 affiliates – the group that runs the U-23s and the Sounders Women – sort of had this idea and put the groups together, and we sat down and had a pow wow and started a dialogue and it sort of evolved from there.