by Ron Patel, President of Albuquerque Sol FC
On 1/4/17, I waited patiently in the ABQ City Council chambers for 4+ hours eagerly anticipating an opportunity to speak in regards to R-16-139, an effort to fund an economic analysis study to putting a multi-use, soccer specific stadium in the downtown corridor. After speaking before the council and answering questions from the council with a colleague and a consultant who did a base feasibility study, the motion passed and the study was granted. So, why is this significant?
A Place to Call Home
As President of the Albuquerque Sol, I’m proud to lead our team into our 4th year in the Premier Developmental League (PDL). Whilst we have experienced much success on and off the field, our biggest challenge has been having a place to call home. Nobody likes to be without a home, especially a sports franchise that has the ability to UNITE and ELEVATE New Mexico!
We play our games between St Pius X High School and the UNM Soccer Stadium. We only have access to the UNM Soccer facility on certain dates, so our other games are played at St Pius. Whilst these are both great institutions, neither is an ideal home for a professional soccer franchise.
A stadium is an economic development driver. A stadium is a job creator. A stadium has the ability to ignite downtown Albuquerque and grow our community through sport and community collisions. A stadium serves as an epicenter to enjoy time with family and friends, watch the fastest growing sport in the country as well as bring new life to a downtown area that has began reinventing itself and continues to grow into its own.
The Proof is Out There
Soccer is growing like wildfire all over the country and stadiums are igniting growth and economic development in these cities and many more:
- Sacramento, CA – a stadium was built at the California Fairgrounds for Sacramento Republic FC, also of the USL. (Note: This team doesn’t even play in Major League Soccer, (MLS) the “First” division of soccer. They play in the United Soccer Leagues (USL,) the same league that runs the PDL, that we compete in. The USL considered the 3rd division, although many will tell you it’s 2nd ) They are averaging 12,000 fans per game as the Republic grows its franchise. They are now planning a new stadium near their railroad district downtown, an area that they are trying to develop.
- Cincinnati, OH – an average of 17,000 people per game attended FC Cincinnati soccer games in their first season! A friendly match that they scheduled with Crystal Palace of the English Premier League attracted 35,000+ fans… to a lower division soccer exhibition. That would fill up the Lobo football stadium!
- Oklahoma City, OK – a 1930’s high school football stadium, owned by the public school system, was given a $12 million dollar facelift and converted into, you guessed it, a soccer stadium. It’s home of the USL franchise, Oklahoma City Energy FC. This city has about the same population as the city of Albuquerque and only a slightly higher MSA than we have here. The median income is actually a tad lower than ours here I Albuquerque and they have more households with less than $50k income.
- Colorado Springs, CO – A town with less people than Albuquerque and 2 major semi-pro sports teams plays in a smaller stadium of about 4,000 people. Their stadium neighbors the minor league baseball franchise’s facility in a growing sector of Colorado Springs.
- Edinburgh, TX – a 9,400 seat stadium was recently constructed for a USL Franchise just formed, the Rio Grande Valley Toros. “What is a 10,000 seat stadium doing there?” many people ask. It’s a town with a far smaller population than Albuquerque with less than 100,000 people and with a median income of just $42,000 per year, $5,000 less than that of Albuquerque. The answer is the rabid growth of the sport of soccer!
Other cities are experiencing huge growth because of the world’s beautiful game and we are going to experience it too. The #1 question we, as a franchise, received from people after our first season was “Are You Guys Coming Back?” People in our town are used to being let down by our sports teams. Teams have come and gone many times.
What Do New Mexicans Want?
New Mexicans are looking for something to connect with, something to call their own. The Dukes did that, and continue to do that with their merchandise still very popular in the marketplace.
The Isotopes are a first class entertainment company and put on a premium experience for their fans (I love going to games) but I don’t feel that the general population of Albuquerque calls it their own. (I may be wrong, but that’s my opinion) Plus baseball is more of a picnic to most, versus a sporting event. Most people leave a minor league baseball game not knowing what the score was but they had a great time.
Soccer offers a truly different experience. Soccer fans support their club because their club represents who they are and where they are from. It’s not about wins or losses (most of the time) but it’s about standing for something. This club stands for New Mexico! It’s about cheering on your community and seeing the opportunities it affords to the members of it’s community.
The Beautiful Game
There is no guessing as to when a game of soccer will end and what time you will get home. You have 45 minutes of non-stop action, a 15-minute halftime, 45 more minutes of action and then a few minutes at the end. If the game kicks off at 7pm, you know that you will be heading home by 9pm at the latest. The action is fast and the game addictive. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, the fastest growing sport in the USA and the #1 participation sport by kids and adults in NM and the USA.
Soccer has brought homeless people off the streets and taken kids out of hardships, giving them opportunities that otherwise weren’t there. Soccer has united nations, even stopping a civil war, when in 2006 the Ivory Coast called a cease-fire to their 5 year old conflict because they qualified for their first ever World Cup. As Bono from U2 put it, “A Country united makes for way better cheerleaders than a country divided.” Soccer teaches our youth about teamwork and working together. And whilst, 99% of youth soccer players won’t go on to play pro soccer, they will become “Pro-Something.” Soccer gives them these skills.
Whatever obstacles are thrown in the way of the Sol, I will lead us to maneuver around them. Whatever negativity is thrown at us, I will deflect and focus on growth of the business, the brand and our beautiful state. When encountered with the segment of the population I like to call the “New MexiCAN’TS” I will do my best to lead them to the more progressive segment, the “New MexiCANS” with the “We can do this” mentality that has been taught to me by my parents since I was born.
I Have Finally Found What I Was Put on this Earth to Do!
And that is to bring Professional Soccer to New Mexico. I’ve waited tables and managed restaurants. I’ve volunteered on boards for charities, non-profits and trade associations. I’ve worked for big companies and small companies. I’ve been a part of starting, growing, merging, acquiring and selling businesses. I’m also now a small business consultant that focuses on marketing for small business owners but nothing brings me more joy, fulfillment and purpose than working on the Sol.
At the end of the day, I’m still just a young boy, from Liverpool, England that wants to have one more kick or header of the ball with my dad in the front yard whilst my mum would be calling us in for dinner.
My commitment to you, the reader, the fan, the NM resident or the curious observer who came across this piece, to stay true to New Mexico and what we stand for and to grow this organization with integrity, authenticity and a genuine love for the game. This stadium that we will build will pave the way for us to do it.
Life is a book with chapter after chapter detailing our lives’ events. This chapter is the one where the Sol makes our most impactful contribution to the community, a habitat for community growth and development. I believe that it will be done and it will be one heck of a chapter to read one day! The question is… Do you believe?
President – Albuquerque Sol FC
P.S: If you believe, please share this post on your social media networks with the hashtag #IBelieve