MESA, Ariz. — Considering that Phoenix is one of the largest markets in the country without an MLS team, it only makes sense that the two entities will strike up a partnership soon.
Phoenix Rising FC, current member of the United Soccer League, took the first step toward MLS expansion last week by releasing renderings of a potential major-league stadium. The stadium proposal, designed by architecture firms Populous and Gould Evans, includes a total of 21,000 seats. And the project comes with estimated construction costs of $250 million, which will be privately funded.
The Tempe area would house the stadium at the same location where FC currently plays, near McClintock Drive. Today, the pop-up site can sit 6,000 fans, so if the team was admitted to the MLS, complete renovations would be necessary. For Brett Johnson, co-chairman of the Rising, the step up to Major League Soccer simply makes too much sense.
“I think the results of the Rising’s first season showed that it could work,” Johnson said, via phone. “Selling 96 percent of our capacity — this market is so strong. Demographically, we can be one of the most successful markets in the league. The proximity to Mexico is also attractive (to the MLS).”
Johnson maintained that staying at the Rising’s current stadium location is a top priority of the ownership group, which has partnered with Goldman Sachs to provide additional funding.
“I love the location. It’s a great spot currently, and we have sellout crowds almost every single game,” he said.
And while Tempe is the targeted area used to lure an MLS franchise, Johnson refused to rule out other surrounding areas to possibly house the team. He mentioned downtown Phoenix specifically, believing league officials would find that to be a very attractive area as well. At this point, Johnson is simply left to wait on an official expansion announcement from the MLS.
“Phoenix has an embarrassment of riches in terms of resources,” he said confidently. “If we can finance the stadium fee privately, I’d be hard-pressed to think of reasons why it wouldn’t be (the site of a future MLS team).”
Miami and Nashville are the two most recent cities to be awarded an MLS franchise. Miami’s ownership group, headed by soccer star David Beckham, was approved by the MLS back in 2014. Late last year, Nashville was awarded a team. These two cities can help provide a template for Tempe’s stadium needs.
Beckham’s group struggled initially to find an appropriate site for the future MLS stadium. After three site locations fell through, the Beckham group finally secured a deal to build in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. The tentative stadium plan calls for 25,000 seats with a total price tag upwards of $200 million. The group has promised private funding for the stadium.
MLS officials fell in love with Nashville and its stadium proposal last holiday season. A new 27,500-seat stadium is set to be built on the city’s fairgrounds, with construction beginning later this year. The Music City ownership group estimates a total cost of $275 million. If all goes according to plan, Nashville’s team would begin play in the 2020 MLS season.
The Rising’s Johnson wasn’t afraid to boast about the Phoenix market’s ability to likely kick-start a stadium project quicker than the aforementioned cities. He pointed out that both Miami and Nashville’s stadium proposals have been in flux. Johnson doesn’t foresee those issues in this area; he believes construction on the site could be completed in as little as 18 months.
“If you take all those factors, you’d be hard-pressed to see why we wouldn’t get a franchise. But it’s not a fait accompli. I’m not taking anything for granted,” he continued.
The only concern with the stadium seems to be the lack of a retractable roof. But Johnson doesn’t think the desert heat will discourage any fans from attending an MLS match.
“Cost is a factor with the retractable roof,” he explained. “But nine months out the year, Phoenix has some of the best weather around. Kickoff times could be later. We’re looking to set the standard in fan comfort.”
Johnson maintains the potential ownership group is simply doing its due diligence as it gears up for potential MLS expansion, saying, “we view ourselves in the box-checking business.”
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