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I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996. Lately however I've started to worry about the path MLS is taking and the poor decisions they are making that in my mind threaten the growth of soccer as a whole in the US. (see "Columbus conspiracy" section) Soccer in America will grow only when we have a vibrant and diverse minor league system, something that MLS seems to be smothering at the moment. (see "American soccer wars" section) Let's keep our eyes on the situation and hope for the best, a future where grass-roots soccer and the minor leagues can not only exist but flourish, as well as where the contributions and history of the league's early clubs are appreciated and preserved.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Soccer stadium in the works at Utah fairgrounds

(ksl.com 9-13-14)

Real Salt Lake ownership is offering to build a multi-million dollar soccer stadium on the state fairgrounds in Salt Lake City that would be home to a new minor league team for the Major League Soccer franchise and become the key element in the revitalization of the aging park.

Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen has committed to paying $13-17 million for an 8,000-seat stadium where a team would begin play in 2016 in the USL Pro league, one level below Major League Soccer.

No taxpayer funds would be spent, with Real Salt Lake paying all operating costs except for when the state uses the arena for the annual state fair.

The venue would be equipped with artificial turf so it could be easily used for other soccer and sporting events and concerts to drive more traffic to a park, said Trey Fitzgerald, spokesman for Real Salt Lake. Bringing a women's professional team to play there is also a possibility, he said.

Utah State Fairpark board chairman Roger Beattie says they are excited about the proposal and hope to finalize an agreement with the team by the end of the year. The board is doing research to make sure the plan benefits the fairpark as much as Real Salt Lake, he said, while also negotiating a new lease for the land with the state that must get done.

"We're absolutely thrilled that Del Loy Hansen and Real Salt Lake has an interest of being at the fairpark," Beattie said. "This property can be one of the great crown jewels in the state of Utah."

The fairpark that has been there for 150 years but has been underutilized, underfunded and only maintained, but not improved, over the last three decades, Beattie said. A state audit released earlier this year found that the annual state fair draws fewer state residents and costs the state more that similar events in Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico.

The stadium would bring additional revenues and allow the board to reinvest in the park, Beattie said. The long-term plan is to upgrade the rodeo arena and build a small expo center, he said. No funding source or plan has been set for either of those projects.

For Real Salt Lake, the project marks another step in the franchise's development into a perennial playoff contender in Major League Soccer and a mainstay in the Utah sports community, Fitzgerald said.

The team was founded a decade ago and has played its games in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy at Rio Tinto Stadium since the 20,000-seat venue opened in 2008. The team received $45 million in public funds to help build the stadium, which accounted for about 38 percent of the total cost.

The minor league team would provide a way not currently available to get players who can't find the field with Real Salt Lake more regular playing time during USL's 30-game season, serving as a bridge between the team's youth academy in Arizona and the professional team, Fitzgerald said. The L.A. Galaxy is the only team in Major League Soccer with a minor league affiliate in the same city, he said, though several teams are working on copying that model.

"This team is critical to our long-term success from a player development standpoint," Fitzgerald said. "(Coach) Jeff Cassar will be able to work with his hand-picked USL coaching staff and have them run the same system on training days and on game days that we run in MLS."

The team — to be named Real Monarchs — would play 15 home games a year, with tickets costing an average of $10-$12. The plan is to play the first year at Rio Tinto Stadium and 2016 at the fairgrounds.

Hansen, who made most of his money in real estate development, became sole owner in January 2013 after being a minority for three years prior. He sees the stadium as an investment in both his soccer team as well as the community, Fitzgerald said.

"He is a builder and he likes to build things," Fitzgerald said. "That's where his sense of community opportunity and responsibility comes from."

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