Arizona United Soccer leaves Scottsdale to play in Peoria

Scottsdale’s loss appears to be Peoria’s gain.

Arizona’s only professional soccer team will kick off its 2016 home season April 30 back at the Peoria Sports Complex.

Arizona United Soccer Club played its first season in Peoria in 2014, but abruptly left for Scottsdale last year.

“We happily welcome Arizona United and all their players and fans back to Peoria,” Mayor Cathy Carlat said in a statement. “Arizona United is the type of franchise that will fit right into our baseball offerings and year-round, first-class sports and entertainment at Peoria Sports Complex.”

Scottsdale Parks and Recreation Manager Chris Walsh said the city wants to use its stadium this year primarily for the San Francisco Giants Arizona Rookie League, which runs from early June until September. Spring training for the Giants is at Scottsdale Stadium.

Mr. Walsh said the soccer team had a facility use agreement for one year during its 2015 season.

“We wish Arizona United the very best of luck with their upcoming 2016 season in Peoria,” he said.

Although a number of fans on the team’s Facebook page gave a thumbs up on the move back to Peoria, some like Kendal Cormany did not.

“Unfortunately now that you’re back in Peoria I won’t be able to go to most of the games,” she wrote. “It’s too far away from me and I won’t be spending two hours driving on game days.”

At the time of the relocation to Scottsdale, Kyle Eng, team owner and owner of Peoria-based Arrowhead Advertising, stated in the Peoria Independent, Sept. 17, 2014, the move was “the next step in professional soccer’s evolution in Arizona.”

Mr. Eng added that the move will bring soccer to a wider audience, but did not respond to questions by deadline.

Mr. Walsh did not provide the soccer team’s attendance numbers but said, “we felt the attendance was fairly reasonable to our expectations considering some of the challenges any outdoor sports team would face in the summer heat of Arizona.”

Fan attendance during the 16-game, 2014 season in Peoria totaled 39,000, according to Peoria Sports Complex Operations Coordinator Mike Hyland.

He said the city opted for a three-year contract this time instead of the previous one-year rental agreement with the option of three, one-year extensions due to the team not informing the city of its intentions to move to Scottsdale.

At the end of the 2014 season, Mr. Eng said he had every expectation of renewing the lease contract with the city.

If the team decides to leave before the new contract’s end there would be a financial penalty, Mr. Hyland said.

When the team left Peoria it was not a big hit, Mr. Hyland said because the complex was undergoing extensive renovations, part of a three-phase, $36 million upgrade of the stadium.

“We are going to be finalizing the formal contract in the next couple of weeks,” Mr. Hyland said. “We will be charging a rental fee per game and will share on the concessions revenue. And the facility will have a surcharge for each of the tickets sold.”

As with the first contract with the team, the new contract will limit Peoria’s financial risk.

“A lot of the expenses, including the field conversion, including all of the soccer equipment will fall on the soccer team,” he said. “The soccer team is (also) responsible for their game-day expenses, including staffing, security, police and first-aid needs.”

Mr. Hyland said the team in the 2014 season generated $47,000 in net revenue for the city.

“It was pretty close to hitting our revenue goals as far as the city goes two years ago,” he said. “This time we positioned ourselves to hopefully be higher than that.

Our hope is for $70,000 to $80,000 with this new contract moving forward.”
Internal changes

Since leaving Peoria, the team has seen some changes itself.

In December, it announced a significant investment partner by naming Brett M. Johnson, founder and CEO of Benevolent Capital and the managing director of Zealot Networks, as president and co-chairman. Mr. Eng continues to be recognized by USL as the primary owner and governor of the club, while Mr. Johnson serves as the team’s alternate governor.

The team also announced the appointment of renowned soccer manager Frank Yallop to the position of head coach and president of Soccer Operations.

And last week, the team announced that five-time Grammy winner and DJ/producer Diplo is part of an investment group that bought a minority stake in the team.
After spring training for the San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners ends at the complex, part of the baseball field will be converted into a soccer field.

Arizona United’s first regular season match of the year will be on March 26 in Los Angeles against Los Angeles Galaxy II.

Editor’s note: Cecilia Chan can be reached at cchan@newszap.com.

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