On Tuesday, MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott and EVP of Communications Dan Courtemanche were taken on a soccer tour of the Valley of the Sun by the leadership of Phoenix Rising Football Club. Based upon Abbott’s reactions in the day’s debriefing, it all went quite well.
The MLS executives were on a mission to get an up-close view of today’s Phoenix market, one of 12 cities vying for the current round of MLS expansion. They viewed a PRFC training session, toured the 6,200-seat pop-up stadium and training complex, and visited with officials at Arizona State University, where former Houston Dynamo sales exec Rocky Harris is now the COO of the athletic department. Should PRFC move to Major League Soccer, ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium is a possible venue for matches to be played during construction of the club’s proposed long-term stadium.
Abbott was positive about the visit in general, and when asked about his thoughts on the ownership of PRFC, he said, “When they came to see us in New York they were quite emphatic about how committed they were to this process. And you really got a better sense of that when you had an opportunity to come out and see what they’ve done with Phoenix Rising.”
Certainly, a visit like this helps the ownership to build relationships that create a more communicative bridge from PRFC to MLS. These are no longer faceless suits sitting thousands of miles apart. There is a chance for collaboration, and sharing of ideas, which gives the bid a strength that perhaps it lacked just a few days ago.
On the stadium location itself, Abbott said, “Every market has its own unique attributes to it. And, as I understand this market…given its proximity to the 101 and the 202, the proximity to ASU, some discussions about what’s happening with potential public transportation – maybe not directly to that site, but other ideas – it strikes me as an excellent site. That’s something that we’re going to dig in more and learn more about as we go through the process.”
A high-profile occasion calls for some words from the club’s most high-profile owner, and Didier Drogba was indeed on hand to reinforce his decision to throw his considerable clout behind a Phoenix bid. “After looking at all the possibilities I had,” he said, “all the offers I had around the world, I have to say that Phoenix won my heart. This project won my heart… Phoenix is an ideal place for MLS, and after today, I think the Deputy Commissioner and his colleagues from the MLS (will) see what I do, and see what we do. And it’s commitment, support, and love for the game.”
From its existing 12 applications, MLS intends to award two expansion franchises by the end of 2017, and two more in 2018.