Prodigal LLC cemented Oklahoma City's union with the United Soccer Leagues on Tuesday.
In the main ballroom on the 50th floor of the Devon Tower, John Allgood and USL President Tim Holt made it official: Professional soccer is back in Oklahoma City.
“It's the highest level in Oklahoma City,” Allgood, the Senior Executive Vice President of New Business Development for Prodigal, said. “It's also to symbolize that we're bringing in the highest level of professional soccer to Oklahoma City.”
Prodigal LLC has bigger plans, however. The group believes that with its experience combined with rabid fan support of the USL team, within the next eight to 10 years it could be on a level to get an MLS team in Oklahoma City.
Part of Prodigal LLC's attraction to USL PRO was its recent joint venture with Major League Soccer. In 2013, USL PRO began a multiyear partnership with MLS to strengthen the competition in both leagues.
“There is a demographic of fan that wants soccer in Oklahoma City, and we think the combination of partnering with USL Pro and our experience that we're going to be on the right path to get an MLS team,” Allgood said.
Four USL clubs — the Harrisburg City Islanders (Philadelphia Union), Orlando City (Sporting Kansas City), the Richmond Kickers (DC United), and the Rochester Rhinos (New England Revolution) — entered into formal affiliation agreements with MLS teams starting with the 2013 season.
Each club affiliation includes at least four players on long-term loan from the MLS parent club to its USL PRO affiliate.
USL PRO features 13 teams, including expansion teams in Phoenix and Tampa. Two more teams were to join the league for 2014 in Sacramento, Calif., and Oklahoma City.
The league's season runs from April through September, consisting of 26 regular-season matches, including two MLS interleague games.
“Four of the five teams that have gone in the MLS have come from a USL PRO franchise, and there's a formal agreement that allows that to happen,” Allgood said. “So we think, and I know the Greater Oklahoma City Sports Consortium, which Tim Brassfield is going to speak about this too, they feel like that USL PRO is the best opportunity to get to an MLS franchise.
“When will we get an MLS franchise, that remains to be seen.”
The relationship between Prodigal and the USL has been three years in the making. Holt said given Prodigal LLC's experience with operating sports franchises, he and his associates felt comfortable awarding Prodigal LLC the USL PRO franchise.
Prodigal also runs the American Hockey League's Oklahoma City Barons.
In the next few months Prodigal LLC will begin looking into an affiliation partnership with MLS franchises in Dallas, Houston and Kansas City. At this time, Prodigal is currently in negotiations with several interested groups for a venue, and Allgood said Prodigal has received calls about the future location.
The venue would need to hold at least 3,000 patrons, but Prodigal is hoping to house between 7,000 and 8,000 fans. At this time, Allgood and his group are not able to say anything further about those vying for a partnership for the venue.
“We know that from a product standpoint — in the stands and entertainment — we've been doing this for a long time,” Allgood said. “Not only at the ballpark, but in hockey arenas, and we've done concerts, and we feel like the product we're going to put on for the fans is going to be equal to the product on the field.”
There is some tension in the Oklahoma City pro soccer world, however.
Monday, Sold Out Strategies, Brad Lund, DeBray Ayala, Sean Jones and Donna Clark filed a lawsuit in response to a “cease and desist” letter sent by the USL. The lawsuit is over the “Covenant Not to Compete” clause in their “Franchise Agreement.”
Holt explained he cannot discuss the parties involved, but explained that USL PRO was very transparent about its relationship with Prodigal LLC and the language in the “Franchise Agreement” was very clear.
While that is being resolved, Oklahoma City soccer fans are left to wonder if this ongoing conflict could spell doom for the future of professional soccer in the city.
“The lawsuit has really kind of complicated things,” John Bratt, the co-founder of the Red Dirt Brigade, Oklahoma City's soccer fan club, said. “If a judge's gavel decides where soccer is in this town, so be it. Although I think that'd be a lousy way to decide the soccer product.
“I can understand ownership groups wanting to battle for supremacy over what's really going to be a good soccer market, I just hope they take care not to wreck what we have. That their concern is first for the sport. I understand they're businessmen and they want to make money, but you have to have a love for the sport too.”
For now, however, Oklahoma City has a professional soccer team. Bob Funk Jr. has a newborn daughter, which is why he was unable to attend the announcement. And Prodigal has a goal to one day obtain a MLS team.
“Oklahoma City is a market that passionately supports its professional sports teams and is quickly establishing itself as a soccer hotbed,” Holt said at the announcement. “Bob Funk Jr. and Prodigal LLC are leaders on both fronts in Oklahoma City and we have no doubt that they will produce a successful franchise for many years to come.
“It is local soccer fans that are the true winners.”