Thursday, September 30, 2010

MLS’s next destination… Tulsa?

Every now and then we like to do case studies on potential cities for future MLS or D2 professional teams in an attempt to explain the logistics of establishing a new franchise. In June we presented a case study for San Diego getting an MLS team, which has received more coverage in recent months with the potential for a MLS relocated team or a new franchise in D2. For this installment we call upon the history of the original North American Soccer League (NASL) for an untapped market; Tulsa, Oklahoma.




In 1978, an NASL team that had previously played in San Antonio and Honolulu relocated to Oklahoma and became known as the Tulsa Roughnecks. The Roughnecks competed at Skelly Stadium for the next 7 seasons with much success until the NASL folded in 1984. Tulsa made the playoffs in 6 consecutive seasons ending with the victory over Toronto in SoccerBowl 1983. From an attendance standpoint the Roughnecks exceeded the league average every season, peaking in 1980 with an average attendance of 19,787 for home matches (that’s better than all but Seattle, LA Galaxy, and Toronto in the MLS this season). This all begs the question, “when did The Scoring Third turn into a soccer civics class?” We bring up this information because of the fun fact that with the start of the 2011 season, 3 of the last 4 teams to join MLS were former successful NASL franchises (Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Vancouver Whitecaps). Sure these franchises were able to survive through various incarnations of professional leagues like the APSL and USL before joining MLS, but the point is that they were established in the NASL originally. So let’s look beyond the history and figure out why Tulsa has the potential for professional soccer expansion, particularly MLS.

From a geographic standpoint, Tulsa is in a great location to solve the upcoming issue of conference distribution in MLS. Portland and Vancouver will be joining the Western conference in 2011 and Montreal is scheduled to join the Eastern conference in 2012. This means that there will be 10 teams in the west and 9 teams in the east. While a 20th franchise can be added anywhere in the east, placing a team in Tulsa would take care of a problem that has existed since the leagues inception; finding a regional opponent for Kansas City. The Wizards (or new brand name next season) will exist in the league forever as it was founded by Lumar Hunt who is credited with helping MLS survive the first decade (also owning FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew). Having a team in Tulsa would create an opponent within driving distance of Kansas City (4 hours by car) and would also allow the team to be a regional opponent of Dallas (also 4 hours by car). A team in St. Louis might be considered a better fit between Kansas City and Chicago, but the ability to find a stadium location and financial backing has been on-going issue in the “Gateway to the West”. The Tulsa metropolitan area has a population of just under 1M people and when you combine that with the Oklahoma City metropolitan area population of 1.2M people, the potential is there for supporting a professional soccer franchise (Salt Lake City has 1.1M and a MLS franchise).

Tulsa’s Vision 2025 plan for urban redevelopment, established in 2003, provided funding support for two tremendous sporting venues in the city, the BOK Center (19,000-seat indoor arena) and ONEKO Field (home of AA Baseball’s Tulsa Drillers). The decision to establish a MLS franchise in Tulsa would require a third new sports facility to be built in the city in less than 3 years, which is a stretch on tax payers during the current recession. Tulsa had dreams of luring the (now) Oklahoma City Thunder from Seattle with their new arena, but the team settled on the Ford Center in OKC. Tulsa is home to tremendous youth and collegiate soccer programs, including the nationally ranked University of Tulsa men’s and women’s programs.

The biggest issue with establishing an MLS team in Tulsa is ownership and financial backing. Perhaps Clay Bennett, billionaire owner of the OKC Thunder, would consider expanding his sports franchise empire by adding a professional soccer team? Perhaps he could test the waters by promoting FC Tulsa from a PDL level team to a D2 team in the NASL next season playing at the existing University of Tulsa soccer facilities?

Again, this is a case study in Tulsa becoming a home to a professional soccer franchise, so let us know your thoughts. Drop us a comment below or send us your thoughts at feedback@scoringthird.com.

2 comments :

  1. Tulsa makes more sense then many of the cities mentioned in the 7/31/13 MLS expansion announcement. Most of the cities mentioned failed in the MLS and the old NASL. Tulsa is a big enough market with Oklahoma City 1-1/2 hours to the west and with NW Arkansas 2 hours to the east. These are strong youth soccer markets. Tulsa supported it then and will now given the opportunity.

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  2. BRING TULSA A TEAM!!!

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