I love the San Antonio Spurs. Yet beneath that lies a more suppressed love for an even more beautiful game; I am, and always will be, an avid soccer/football fan first and foremost. Iâ€™ve been watching, playing and supporting the sport since I was old enough to stand. My favorite team, Englandâ€™s Tottenham HotSPURS, has created plenty of confusion in SA. The notion of a professional team in San Antonio is like a dream come true. Recent news has seen the San Antonio Scorpions being bought out by Spurs Sports & Entertainment with plans to expand and land a team for the MLS, Americaâ€™s premier soccer league. The Scorpions, whose games I was a frequent attendee, of were a delight to watch and will be missed. But the potential for growth, to bring the most popular international sport to San Antonio on a larger scale, cannot be dismissed. San Antonio is Spurs territory, I get it. Their popularity and success, along with the fans that support them, are what make San Antonio so wonderful. There has been talk of a NFL team in San Antonio as well, although such a development seems to be highly unsuccessful or at least on the back burner. If Spurs fans are worried about an NFL team taking something away from the community and support for basketball I can assure you that an MLS team will likely not do so. If our new USL team makes it to the MLS, San Antonio will have to be content with the Spursâ€™ leftovers.
And thatâ€™s fine with us soccer fans.
But the passion is here. Scorpion games regularly saw attendance just short of 7,000, which by comparison to the Spurs 18,000 average may seem small. Last year, when Mexico played the U.S. in the Alamodome, attendance reached nearly 65,000. And that was a midweek game. With soccerâ€™s popularity in Mexico, and the international military presence in San Antonio, itâ€™s no shock that there are countless fans of the game in town. Why should we be silenced? The passion and desire for a team are here and we are more than ready. Smaller and lower-level teams are fine. Mission and Rampage games offer some of the best fun around. The USL team may not even reach the MLS anytime soon. But taking soccer to the next level will only create more fans. The economic benefits of another major professional team are there. The Spurs-Heat Final, as reported by the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, saw an estimated economic impact of three to four billion dollars. Not 3 million. 3 BILLION. While soccer revenue would likely never reach that point, the potential for an incredible impact is present. With an expanded stadium and increased popularity, a new MLS team could bring in millions of dollars to an already growing city. Whatâ€™s not to love? Spurs fans wonâ€™t lose the cityâ€™s sports landscape anytime soon but will get the benefit of another wonderful and amazing sport that can put their city on the map even further.
Concern over the Spurs losing popularity is a bit childish. Everyone deserves to have the sport they love blossom and grow. Concerns over the corruption of the MLS are a bit more worrisome. Certainly, FIFA and the international soccer community has seen their fair share of corruption in recent years. And thatâ€™s a bit of an understatement. Is the MLS corrupt? Possibly. But not all of it. There are those who love the game and want to see it succeed â€” itâ€™s up to us as fans to make sure they are the ones who stay around. Supporting a San Antonio MLS team does not instantly mean you support the corruption. Look at the NBA and recent scandals surrounding people like Donald Sterling. Within any organization there may exist rotten eggs. We shouldnâ€™t be afraid of an MLS team coming to San Antonio because of corruption. We should welcome the possibility to not only host the beautiful game at a higher level but also the possibility to correct the corruption that plagues the organization. We can be a model for success, with the best fans not only in basketball but also in soccer, even if we have to start in the USL.
â€œSan Antonio is MLS ready,â€ belted former Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman, which quickly followed a roar of cheers and applause from the fans that attended the important announcement on Dec. 22 at the Toyota Field. Â
The cheers switched from excitement about the thought of San Antonio having a Major League Soccer team to chants of â€œGordon Hartmanâ€¦ Gordon Hartmanâ€¦â€
While the crowdâ€™s excitement was quite addictive, I am here to say point blank: San Antonio is not getting an MLS team. At least, not yet or any time soon.
San Antonio is getting a United Soccer League, or USL, team â€” a team that, if we are that focused on the importance leagues, is lower than the NASL, the league that the Scorpions belonged to. Â
So, cool. Â
USL is considered â€” though it is lower in the rankings â€” to be a potentially closer step to the goal (pun very much intended) of San Antonio getting a Major League Soccer team. Â It is unknown as to how true this really is, but letâ€™s just assume that sure, it is a closer step.
In order to even be considered, the MLS needs to have the opening, right? Â
This past summer, the MLS announced that they would be looking for eight cities to host Major League Soccer teams by 2020, expanding the total amount of MLS teams to 28. Four of these cities have already been chosen: Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minnesota. Â
That said, the availability for San Antonio by 2020 could be an option but thereâ€™s quite a difference between the type of cities that have already been chosen and San Antonio. Â
The main one being the fan base.
The average attendance for an MLS team is over 21,000 people. Since 2010 when the Scorpions were founded, the average attendance they were able to rack up was 6,539, respectfully. Â This was all during the time that the Scorpions even won an NASL Soccer Bowl championship in 2014. That should bring in more fans, at least one would think.
Unfortunantely, the numbers speak for themselves.
San Antonio simply doesnâ€™t have the fan base within its population. Â I truly donâ€™t believe that having a major league accredited team will change the amount of fans attending games by very much at all.
Simply put, this is a basketball city, and thereâ€™s nothing wrong with that.
The Spurs Sports & Entertainment organization worked tirelessly to build a brand of community and fandom centered around their NBA team, and that hard work doesnâ€™t go unnoticed. Â But considering now that they want to expand their company umbrella with a soccer team, SS&E may have become their own worst enemy.
This is not to say that they are trying to convert their Spurs fans into soccer fans, nor do I believe the Spurs will ever lose their hype, but soccer just hasnâ€™t hit its stride here yet, regardless of ownership and league. Â They will have to compete with their own cash cow to generate excitement for a sport that is struggling throughout the United States.
That point aside, it is important to realize the role that the Scorpions played in the San Antonio community. Â Hartman created the Scorpions to fund Morganâ€™s Wonderland, the worldâ€™s first fully-accessible water park for special-needs individuals.
The Scorpions may not have had the numbers to fill an MLS team, but the proceeds were going to an incredible cause that has helped hundreds of special-needs kids and families enjoy something they may never have been able to enjoy in the first place.
This is not to say that SS&E is some terrible organization that is taking funding away from a non-profit. I would not say that at all. Â Simply put, it is going to take many years until this city can potentially get enough fandom to follow a soccer team. Might as well let the Scorpions continue funding this amazing cause and move the Scorpions up to MLS when the opportunity arises. You know, if it ever does.