December 22, 2015
By Charles Cuttone
SCORPIONS DROP OUT
Spurs to operate USL team in San Antonio
One of the most successful franchises in the North American Soccer League is dropping out of the league. The San Antonio Scorpions have announced that as a result of a sale of Toyota Field to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, and a subsequent agreement with the San Antonio Spurs, the team will cease operating.
Gordon Hartman, owner of the Scorpions reached an agreement last month to sell the stadium to the city and the county, which partnered with the ownership of the Spurs. In addition to the $18 million paid for the stadium, the Spurs donated $3 million to Morgan's Wonderland an amusement park for special needs children established by Hartman. The donation was essentially a buyout of the Scorpions franchise. Spurs Sports and Entertainment plans to operate a United Soccer League franchise starting in 2016, with the eventual hope of landing a Major League Soccer franchise.
The USL has given tentative approval to the Spurs application to field a team in the third division league, with final approval expected after the first of the new year.
The finalization of the agreements is the realization of a vision for Hartman.
"When we announced the creation of Soccer for a Cause in the summer of 2010 along with our intention to field a professional soccer team in the North American Soccer League, we had a vision," said Hartman in a statement. "Our goal was to field a team that would compete for championships while supporting those with special needs via a unique, unprecedented relationship where all net profits from the Scorpions and S.T.A.R. Soccer Complex were given directly to non-profit Morgan's Wonderland, the world's only fully accessible theme park. With two regular season trophies, an NASL championship in 2014, a beautiful soccer-specific stadium, and over $1,000,000 raised for Morgan's Wonderland to benefit special-needs individuals, I'm proud to say that we've been successful."
Spurs Sports and Entertainment has a 20 year agreement with the city and county to operate the stadium. SS&E owns and operates the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), San Antonio Rampage (AHL), San Antonio Stars (WNBA), Austin Spurs (NBA Development League) and also manages the day-to-day operations of the AT&T Center. Under the deal to operate Toyota Field, the Spurs have ten years in which to acquire an MLS franchise, or they must pay the municipalities $5 million.
Toyota Field currently seats 8,500. It would need considerable expansion to reach MLS's minimum requirement of 18,000 seats. Since the stadium is publicly owned, that expansion would likely be paid for with taxpayer dollars.
MLS has announced plans to add four more franchises sometime in the future, which would eventually put the league at 28 teams. It currently has 20 teams operating, with Atlanta United, Minnesota United, and Los Angeles Football Club all slated to join in the next few years, as well as an impending deal in Miami with David Beckham.
San Antonio is the third North American Soccer League market affected by Major League Soccer's expansion plans. The league is losing Minnesota United to MLS once that area's stadium is completed. After Atlanta was awarded an MLS franchise, the ownership of the NASL's Silverbacks dropped out and the franchise has been operated by the league while seeking new ownership.
The NASL issued a statement regarding the Scorpions:
"San Antonio Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman informed the NASL that his business transaction with the City of San Antonio, Bexar County, and Spurs Sports and Entertainment has resulted in the sale of Toyota Field and S.T.A.R. Soccer Complex. The NASL is working with Hartman to determine the future of the San Antonio Scorpions.
We are proud that the NASL has been able to make a significant contribution to the special needs community and the league is grateful to the fans of San Antonio for their support.
Every sports league in North America has experienced turnover in its early stages and the NASL is fortunate to have a group of owners and league officials that has a tremendous understanding of how to work through change. Ownership and investment interest is at an all-time high, and we expect to be a 20-team league in the near future."
The NASL will add three new franchises beginning next year, Miami FC, Puerto Rico FC, and Rayo OKC. It also recently found new ownership for the Carolina Railhawks after the team's former owners Traffic Sports were embroiled in the FIFA corruption scandal.