There are several indicators one can use to judge or measure a professional sports team. The most common is probably through the results on the field in terms of regular season standings or the ability to perform in the postseason. Bored Americans (like myself) seem to obsess over attendance statistics. In the age of internet dominance, social media engagement can be equally as important as traditional community marketing for smaller sports franchises.
A stable home venue can provide the basis for a team’s success and the failure to secure one is a strong sign that a team will suffer.
Home Field Advantage:
While there are notable exceptions like the L.A. Clippers, most teams is most sports benefit from having a facility to call home.
As there are tremendous discrepancies in playing surfaces and field dimensions in soccer, knowing the size and bounce of the home field can allow a team to attack from the first whistle without needing time to adjust.
Groups of fans singing players’ names will drive a team forward while constant harassment can throw off opposition players. There’s a reason that teams found guilty for their role in match-fixing in Italy were punished by having to play matches behind closed doors without fans. Fans matter; simply put, and that’s not even including the revenue that ticket sales, food, and merchandising can bring an organization.
If social media releases or general advertisements have to use a significant amount of the limited space available to explain where the team is playing this week or next week, the organization is missing out on an opportunity to entice fans.
All signs point to this question, over several seasons why are the teams with higher attendances also the teams with better results also the teams with quality singular home venues?
Los Angeles Blues:
Club was founded in 2010 as a companion to the successful Pali Blues women’s soccer team of the USL W-League and the Blues began play in USL-Pro the following year. In the 2011 season the team played matches in Titan Stadium at Cal State Fullerton (5 matches at an average of 518) but also at Centennial High School in Corona (2 matches at 353*) and Norco College (4 matches at 175*). LA Blues also played a home U.S. Open Cup match at Riverside Community College.
In 2012 the team also played at Sherbeck Field (2 matches at 167) in addition to Titan Stadium (10 matches at 777)
The team played most matches of the 2013 season at Titan Stadium (11 matches 616*) but also featured at Sherbeck Field (1 match at 337), Anteater Stadium at UC Irvine (3 matches at 440). For some reason the team played both matches in their home-and-home series against the Galaxy Reserves at the Home Depot / Stub Hub Center.
(* of course denotes that the team didn’t publish attendance data)
Phoenix FC Wolves:
Phoenix FC’s original team owner, Tim Thomas, was talking up a storm about how the team would easily average 5,000 fans per game and sell-out all its home matches at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium at Arizona State University in Tempe just before the 2013 season started. Thomas even gave Odeen Domingo the amazing quote, “If you do it right, you should sell out every time.” Then Kenn Tomasch wrote about the club fumbling around with ticket sales and venue renovations. Despite starting the season with impressive figures and boasting a rapacious supporters’ group, La Furia 1881, the club first removed temporary seating at the college stadium at which they were playing before ultimately moving to a public park facility.
The team drew very poorly for its second match-up against cellar-dwelling Antigua, which it played at Grand Canyon University on July 11.
At Reach 11 (the public park), fans were encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs as if they were attending their son or daughter’s under-15 summer recreation league game. There were multiple reports of conflicts between members of La Furia and the local police department at those games. The team averaged an attendance of just 420 at Reach 11 after achieving a mark of 1,975 across its games at Sun Devil.
Overall this team struggled to keep its head above water both on and off the field. After a shambolic PR episode in November 2013, in which Neil Morris reported that the league had terminated the franchise agreement for Phoenix FC’s ownership group without having the replacement ready to announce, the club is preparing for 2014.
VSI Tampa Bay FC Flames:
Plant City Stadium was an eye-sore on match streams and it couldn’t have been much better for players. This team, while competing on the field thanks to USL veterans, was a disaster off the field. The rather remote location and underwhelming condition of the field itself gave the venue more of a highway truck stop vibe than the home of a professional soccer club.
After struggling to draw actual people to games, with a reported attendance of just 381, VisionPro Sports Institute pulled the plug not only on its professional team but on the club as a whole. VSI operated a teams in USL-Pro, in PDL, W-League, and in the Super-20 and Super Y-Leagues.
Moving on to 2014:
While VSI has fallen by the wayside, LA Blues and Phoenix FC have made encouraging strides ahead of the 2014 season.
Phoenix FC has regrouped around former part-owner Tim Donald and found a new home venue. The team plans to play all 14 of its home matches this upcoming season at Peoria Sports Complex. Located in Peoria, AZ, (duh) the facility is a baseball park but will reportedly cost about half as much to rent per game as Sun Devil Stadium cost in 2013. The team’s own release tells that the team will utilize the practice and training facilities at the PSC and also take advantage of parking available for 2,800 vehicles, which is more than enough unless the club plans to give away all of its tickets.
Will Phoenix FC’s fortunes in 2014 differ from its troubled debut season? This bit from local paper Peoria Times shows that someone has recognized some of the club’s shortcomings: “Phoenix FC announced an average of 1,200 to 1,500 fans last season, but organizers also admitted they did little to no marketing.”
Los Angeles Blues have been a difficult endeavor to understand. Though related to a women’s team and a PDL team, the Blues were all alone on the West Coast for the 2011 and 2012 USL-Pro seasons. While Phoenix FC joined LA in 2013, USL’s western expansion exploded in 2014 with Oklahoma City Energy FC, Sacramento Republic FC, and LA Galaxy II filling out the ranks on the other side of the Mississippi, especially in the Pacific Time Zone.
Along with San Jose Earthquake and Wilmington Hammerheads FC, LA Blues underwent a long-needed rebranding. With 2014’s introduction of the Galaxy’s reserve team in USL-Pro, the Blues finally decided to ditch the “Los Angeles” from its moniker and rename the club Orange County Blues FC.
In its press release on the subject, the team also announced its “new home” will be Anteater Stadium at UC Irvineand that the “relocation and name change reflect a deeper transition within the team organization to a new level of seriousness about the future of the club.” This is all good rhetoric but the results of this transformation wait to appear, though the only way is up for this organization.