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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Kino Stadium ideal to fill growing soccer demand

    On Thursday, the Tucson Padres played their last game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. Coincidentally, they played the Reno Aces — formerly known as the Tucson Sidewinders — the last professional baseball team to exit our fair city.

    The throwback Tucson Toros jerseys the home team wore were just one more desperate attempt to hold on to a tradition of professional baseball that died when the Colorado Rockies packed their bags in 2010.

    Professional baseball is having an identity crisis in this city, and it’s time to repurpose Kino Stadium to fill the growing demand for soccer.

    Between 2000 and 2009, national youth participation in baseball fell 24 percent, while soccer participation has risen an average of 8 percent each year since 1990.

    With the Arizona Wildcats baseball team breaking attendance records and winning a championship at Hi Corbett Field in 2012, the Padres experienced a dramatic dip in attendance. The 242,136 spectators from their inaugural season in 2011 fell to fewer than 170,000 fans this season. Tucson doesn’t need two high caliber baseball stadiums now that spring training has left for Phoenix.

    Soccer is in high demand, and Kino Stadium can fill that demand.

    Greg Byrne, athletic director at the UA, confirmed that the university considered Kino Stadium as the new facility for the Wildcats baseball team, but decided that Hi Corbett had a more ideal location and better facilities for baseball. Most importantly, “the community [has] an affinity for Hi Corbett,” Byrne said.

    Hi Corbett is the ideal baseball stadium for the Wildcats, but the Kino Sports Complex offers better facilities for soccer, according to FC Tucson head coach Rick Schantz.

    “There’s not a bad seat at Kino,” Schantz said in an interview with Border Beat. “It’s actually very well designed.” For example, the game can be seen from the concession stands, which is very important for soccer since play only stops at halftime.

    Schantz and the rest of the FC Tucson team are doing their best to convince the city that soccer has the potential to fill the $422 million vacuum left by the departure of spring training.

    And they’re right. Kino Stadium is ready for soccer, and the change could benefit Tucson’s economy.

    The Desert Diamond Cup Tournament has quickly become one of the premiere events of the Major League Soccer offseason. Only four teams participate in the two week long tournament, but over half of the league’s 19 teams already spend time in Tucson for offseason training, aided by Kino Stadium’s robust soccer facilities.

    As the young tournament continues to grow, potential economic benefits grow with it at very little risk to the city. Currently, all of the financial investment comes from FC Tucson’s owners, and even the $2.8 million renovations for Kino Stadium were paid for by a $5 million settlement with the Chicago White Sox. The MLS offseason is fairly unstructured, creating a prime opportunity for a spring training style tournament in Tucson.

    The appeal of seeing world class players — past tournaments have featured the likes of David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry — and the mild February climate could be a major draw for tourists. All told, Tucson soccer tournaments could fill an extra 4,600-4,700 hotel rooms above the yearly average in 2013, Tucson councilman Paul Cunningham told the Arizona Sonora News Service.

    This in turn would result in more money spent at restaurants, shopping malls and other tourist venues, boosting Tucson’s economy.

    Plans to include a team from Mexico’s top soccer division would also increase revenue from Mexican tourists in Pima County, a source of nearly $1 billion in 2008.

    Professional soccer in Tucson presents a major economic opportunity, and the city should take advantage of soccer’s growing popularity by converting the Kino Sports Complex into the hub of the MLS offseason.

    Max Weintraub is a senior studying creative writing and Italian studies. Follow him on Twitter.com/@mweintra13.

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