New Scottsdale soccer stadium intended to lure Major League Soccer team to Valley

Posted at 5:38 PM, Mar 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-21 15:06:01-04

As Phoenix Rising FC COO Bobby Dulle tells it, the Valley already has three of the four necessary ingredients to attract a Major League Soccer franchise.

It has the demographics. It has an in-place stadium deal. And it has an enthusiastic ownership group with the financial means to take on a franchise. 

The only missing ingredient is fan support -- and Dulle is optimistic that ingredient will be added beginning Saturday when Phoenix Rising hosts fellow United Soccer League team Toronto FC in its 2017 home opener Saturday.

"Butts in seats is kind of the mantra we're living by right now, and we're doing great," Dulle told ABC15 on Monday. "The numbers that we're selling right now are off the charts. The excitement, the buzz that we're feeling right now is great.

"I can't wait until we have a sold-out house here on Saturday night and just build on that momentum and catapult this from a 6,000-seat to a 10,000-seat (stadium), and we can do that really quickly."

Phoenix Rising's new 6,000-seat, 16-acre stadium is located off McClintock Road and Loop 202 in Scottsdale, across the street from Tempe Marketplace. It wasn't created overnight, but it came close, as construction began on the stadium less than two months ago (Feb. 1), but it is expected to be ready in time for Saturday's game.

It's all part of Phoenix Rising's attempt to persuade MLS to plant an expansion franchise in the Valley. Phoenix is one of 12 cities invited to apply for one of two expansion MLS teams that will begin play in 2020.

Phoenix Rising currently plays in the USL, the second tier of American soccer. But Dulle said the franchise has the land needed to create a larger, MLS-sized stadium -- and unlike another ongoing Valley stadium saga, it would be built tax-free.

"The beauty of it is we're not looking for any public funds," he said. "(It would be) privately financed because we have the right ownership group, and we have the right partners with the Salt River community, to achieve that goal immediately.

"We have 45 acres that we have under control for the next 65-plus years. The moment we're awarded a Major League Soccer franchise, we can take this and build a soccer-specific stadium on this site."

In August, the soccer club formerly known as AZ United was sold to an investment group led by Kona Grill CEO Berke Bakay. Several weeks later, the team was rebranded as Phoenix Rising FC, and the franchise announced its intention to move its home games from Peoria to the East Valley.

Dulle said Phoenix Rising "absolutely" has the right ownership group to attract an MLS team.

"It's a diverse group of individuals that come from real estate, from entrepreneurship, from the restaurant business, from the advertising business -- a real melting pot of owners," he said. "But the common thread amongst all of them as they're highly successful and have a tremendous amount of relationships."

Dulle said the Valley's population size and demographics make it perfect for MLS play.

"Of the 12 markets right now that are applying for a Major League Soccer franchise, we are the largest market without a Major League Soccer franchise," he said. "We have the highest population of Hispanics. We have the population of people under the age of 45. The youth soccer numbers are off the charts. So, we have the right market."

Dulle said the team has also made significant on-field investments. They brought in former MLS and Canadian national team coach Frank Yallop to lead the team. New player signees include former Chelsea and Manchester City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips and Mexican soccer star Omar Bravo.

Even so, tickets are affordable, as individual game tickets are as low as $10, and fans who purchase season tickets will receive an official team jersey.

So, the stage has been set for Phoenix Rising's MLS audition. All that's missing is an audience. 

"We can move just as quickly to go to 25,000 seats, and the Valley's ready for that ... We need the community to come out and see this product that our ownership group has invested in, and the product that our coaching staff has put on the field, and it should be a great environment and a fun atmosphere," Dulle said. 

"We're putting the pieces in place. We have all the ingredients to be successful out here in Phoenix, and the only thing missing is the support. The buzz right now, the feedback we're getting, the excitement we're getting, the coverage we're getting, is there. The time is right, and we're ready for the success we're about to have."