The long-term vision is 10 years from now Oklahoma City will have a Major League Soccer team.
The first step is an expansion team in the 15-team USL Pro, a league matriculating to becoming MLS's official Triple-A partner.
Team officials flashed Energy on the theater movie screen upstairs at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art Thursday as the new team's nickname. They also announced team colors will be green and blue. Games will be played at Bishop McGuinness High School until a new stadium is built.
Prodigal, the company that operates the Oklahoma City Barons, the Triple-A hockey team, owns the new soccer team that is joining a league with two decades of history.
“No other league in the United States can boast they've had four of the last five teams graduate to the MLS,” said Prodigal CEO Bob Funk Jr. “When we talked with USL Pro officials we realized they would be the best partner for our future goal in Oklahoma City.”
The Energy will debut next spring. A 26-game regular season includes 13 home games in addition to two MLS interleague games (one home, one road).
The season starts in April and runs through September. Phoenix and Tampa Bay were USL Pro expansion teams last season. Sacramento and Oklahoma City are expansion teams in 2014.
“The response we've received has been overwhelming compared to what we see in hockey,” Funk said. “Youth soccer and adult sooner are booming.”
Funk said an estimated 70,000 kids annually play soccer in Oklahoma, including 30,000 in the Oklahoma City metro area. Young adults is where soccer has gained significant traction.
Youth soccer participation nationally has nearly doubled the past 20 years. Some of those former kids are among 40,000 adults in the OKC area that play soccer, i.e. “football,” according to Funk.
Oklahoma City's soccer reputation has grown in recent years. This past June, the metro area hosted with great success the U.S. Soccer Region III Championships that featured 3,600 players on 208 teams, competing for 14 regional titles.
Four USL Pro teams have affiliations with D.C. United, Philadelphia, Kansas City and New England. That is expected to double to eight teams next year.
“We're extremely excited about the future,” said USL vice president Jake Edwards. “Our most recent season culminated with our championship event of more than 21,000. That's the highest attendance for professional soccer in the U.S. in the modern era other than MLS games.”
The team chose the nickname Energy based on the city's oil-and-gas heritage but also a reference to the city's renaissance. The logo had the Oklahoma state flag as its starting base, eventually molded into a soccer ball/star at the top of a shield.
Prodigal is donating more than $100,000 to have McGuinness' field undergo a complete renovation in a stadium that will seat 4,000. Improvements will benefit McGuinness sports teams and others.
The plan is a new 7,000-seat stadium with expansion capabilities will be constructed the next three to four years. Several locations are being evaluated. Once land is purchased with easy access to the public, plans will be drawn up for a stadium that could be paid by a combination of private and city dollars.
When the stadium debuts in 2017 or 2018, the new facility also will host youth soccer, rugby, lacrosse, even some concerts.
“It will be a phase process,” Funk said. “Whether it's phase I and II or it's done in phases I, II, III, IV and V we're not sure, yet. We know we'll eventually have to have at least a 20,000-seat stadium. That's an MLS standard. The first step is building some momentum with a USL pro franchise.”
Funk's long-term goal is grandiose.
To become a member of the MLS, one primary requirement is a team must average 20,000 fans a game.
Several cities have turned a USL Pro team into a springboard for an MLS franchise. Four of the last five MLS expansion teams (Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps) have come from USL Pro.
“This isn't our team, it's the community's team,” said John Allgood, Prodigal vice president for new business. “Eventually we're going to play in a new stadium. In the meantime we have a great partnership with Bishop McGuinness that benefits our athletes and the McGuinness' athletes as well.”