In case you hadn’t heard. Oklahoma City is in the midst of a war between rival professional soccer leagues. In one corner, we have Sold Out Strategies, a group that currently runs Oklahoma City FC, a fourth-tier soccer team currently playing in the Premier Development League. Heading up Sold Out Strategies is a name that many OKC hockey fans are familiar with in Brad Lund. Lund was a lead executive for much of the run of the old Oklahoma City Blazers hockey team with Express Sports. After his departure with the Barons, he moved on to the Missouri Mavericks and their start.
In the other corner, we have Prodigal Sports Management. Prodigal is of course the lead management group for the Oklahoma City Barons, running the tickets and promotions of the team for the Edmonton Oilers-owned team. Prodigal is owned by Bob Funk Jr., the man who took over the reins of the Oklahoma City Blazers for their final year before shutting down the team for financial reasons.
So we have two gentlemen, very ensconced in the recent history of hockey in Oklahoma City, both trying to create the foundation of professional soccer in OKC. Lund and SOS are looking to bring a North American Soccer League team to the city, a second-tier league that features teams in the US, Canada (Edmonton), and Puerto Rico. Prodigal on the other hand is bringing in a United Soccer Leagues PRO team, which was announced officially a few weeks ago.
Leaving out the hockey aspect, why is this such a big deal?
Well, the PDL that OKC FC currently plays in, is a tier of the United Soccer Leagues. Per a comment on Pro Soccer Talk from NBC Sports (leaving open the exact credibility of the statement), the USL notified Sold Out Strategies (the group that already had a franchise affiliated within their system) that they had decided to go with Prodigal, an hour before the two groups walked into a school board meeting to find out who had won the lease to Taft Stadium (second comment on the post). SOS won the lease with an 8-1 ruling from the school board.
The NASL still has yet to officially announce the franchise being granted to SOS, as they’re waiting for the group to give a final presentation at their board of governor’s meeting in a couple weeks on July 25th. The NASL commissioner’s Twitter account however, has already welcomed the group and the city to the league.
We've invited a group from Oklahoma City to make a final presentation at our July BoG meeting. Look forward to their admission to NASL.#2015
— Bill Peterson (@WHPeterson64) July 1, 2013
A basic summary looks like this, as the United States Soccer Federation is a bit confusing as to their tier structure.
Top tier: Major League Soccer
Second tier: North American Soccer League (Sold Out Strategies, Scheduled 2015 start, Taft Stadium)
Third tier: United Soccer Leagues PRO (Prodigal, Scheduled 2014 start, No venue. Yet. More on that in a bit)
Fourth tier: Premier Development League (Oklahoma City FC, Currently playing, Sold Out Strategies, Oklahoma City University Stars soccer field)
The NASL is an independently-ran league, and has little to no affiliation with the MLS. USL PRO, despite being third-tier, does have an agreement with MLS on calling up players and having MLS club reserve teams play USL PRO teams. However, that agreement has only seen one player have the honor of being “called up”, and that was only recently.
Like I mentioned with the Prodigal team, they don’t currently have a venue, yet they’re planning on being ready to play in time for next season and giving them eight months to find one. It was announced this week that they entered into an agreement to build a 7000-seat soccer-specific stadium, which would be able to be expanded to 20,000 seats, the minimum a hopeful Major League Soccer city would need. They also do not have a location picked out for where the stadium will eventually be built either. The wrench here is where will the team play in the meantime, because a stadium like that is not being built in eight months. My assumption is Oklahoma City FC will continue to play in the PDL next season, as Sold Out Strategies is planning a 2015 start for their NASL team, and that would keep Prodigal from using Oklahoma City University to play at. To my knowledge, there isn’t another field that could really be used, so a venue is a huge unknown at this point.
It’s pretty odd to think that soccer could have an effect on a hockey team, but here’s why it could. With Prodigal seeming to focus the majority of their energy on their new soccer team, it has to leave some Barons fans feeling neglected. The Cox Convention Center has been mentioned as being a target for demolition and a rebuild of a new convention center, either in the same spot, or another location, and without the arena. There hasn’t been a timeline mentioned for that, but it begs to question the need of a new arena that the Barons would need to play in in the near future (something I talked about in this post here).
The next few months will be very telling for Prodigal and whether they will continue to be a part of the Barons, and whether the Barons will continue to be a part of Oklahoma City. The question that comes up in my mind is whether Prodigal is just expanding their sports reach, or if they’re establishing something to fall back on if/when Edmonton decides to go a different direction. With as big of a battle that’s sure to come with the soccer teams, it’s my thought that Prodigal would want to make sure they have a long-term plan for the team they do have in their management and the Barons, rather than the team that may or may not beat out the rival soccer team. Either way, I see it as having a negative effect on how the Barons are run, and their future in Oklahoma City.