The prospects for professional soccer in Spokane have just gotten a lot more interesting.
Brett Sports and Entertainment is making a late pitch to establish a Major League Soccer farm club at the new downtown stadium planned next to the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
Principal owner Bobby Brett also owns the Spokane Indians and Spokane Chiefs franchises, but he noted on Thursday that his group also owned the old Spokane Shadow soccer club.
“I’m just a big sports fan,” Brett said.
The promise of pro soccer is a new development capping a remarkable year in the downtown Spokane sports scene. Eight months ago, Spokane Public Schools was poised to build a new $31 million stadium at the old Joe Albi site in northwest Spokane.
However, in early March, the Downtown Spokane Partnership pitched a new proposal for a downtown stadium. It was approved by the school board on May 5.
The stadium is scheduled for completion in about a year. The project is now moving through the design phase, and on Thursday the district released more detailed renderings of the facility and its proximity to nearby buildings, including the newly completed Podium indoor sports center.
In addition to hosting high school sports, the new stadium was expected to be the home turf for a United Soccer League franchise in the spring of 2023.
That may still happen. However, Dave Pier, chief marketing officer at Brett, said Thursday that the local company plans to submit a competing proposal for an MLS farm club.
“We are very excited about the possibility of partnering with the MLS and the (public facilities district),” Pier said of the city arm that manages the stadium. “We feel that as with our other teams, it will be our goal to provide affordable entertainment for families.”
The proposal follows a decision last summer by MLS to launch a lower division professional soccer league that will start as early as March 2022 and initially consist of approximately 20 affiliated teams and possibly other independently owned clubs.
According to Mark Abbott, president and deputy commissioner of MLS, the new league would be a bridge between MLS Next, the league’s youth development platform launched in 2020, and the major professional teams, such as the Seattle Sounders or the Portland Timbers. The farm system teams would provide more opportunities for promising soccer players to participate in high-level competition – think how Triple-A teams feed into Major League Baseball.
It’s also an opportunity for Major League Soccer to enter new markets and tap into a widening fan base, and coincides with the league’s mission of being “a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization” that provides opportunities in the front office, coaching and ownership ranks.
Cindy Wendle, who was a candidate for Spokane City Council president and is now the president of USL to Spokane, has been laying the groundwork for men’s and women’s teams to begin play in the spring of 2023.
Wendle said that a front office is in place and prospective owners have been identified.
“We have had people step forward,” Wendle said.
“I am confident that USL is the best soccer league that is committed to this town, and is what this town needs right now,” Wendle said.
Though owned by the school district, the new downtown stadium will be managed by the Spokane Public Facilities District, which also runs the nearby Arena and newly completed Podium.
Stephanie Curran, the PFD’s executive director, acknowledged Thursday that the late interest from Brett “is a tricky situation, as we’ve been working with the USL for over a year.”
However, Curran said that “as a public entity operating in the public interest,” the district will “do the best thing for the community” and hear from representatives of both leagues.
The PFD has already issued requests for proposals from both sides. Curran said Thursday that a timetable is being finalized. At some point – perhaps later this month – a PFD committee will hear detailed proposals from each league.
A decision is expected by mid-December at the latest.
“We do have a construction timeline we need to make sure we don’t impact, and the soccer component impacts some of the design,” Curran said.
The USL’s interest goes back to February 2020, when Spokane County Treasurer Mike Baumgartner held a news conference to ask the school district to consider a downtown site.
Also at the event was USL chief operating officer Justin Papadakis, who showed some examples of current stadiums around the country.
“The USL has really been involved in Spokane from the beginning,” said Wendle, who also pointed to the league’s commitment to field a women’s team in Spokane.