Tucson Becoming Major League Soccer Preseason Hub With Help Of County Incentives
The Copa America Centario soccer tournament is taking place in stadiums across the United States this summer. The games are filling TV screens around the world and right here in the Valley. Three big games are being held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
And, as soccer – or fútbol – continues to grow in popularity in the U.S., one Arizona city is taking advantage of it.
Tucson now has 14 teams, mostly Major League Soccer teams, who stay, train and play games at the Kino Sports Complex during the league’s preseason, according to Tom Moulton, director for Pima County’s Attractions and Tourism.
He said Tucson started to become a hub for Major League Soccer (MLS) years ago when FC Tucson, a premier development league that feeds players into MLS, began in the city.
“There’s a considerable amount of growth in major league soccer so the major league soccer teams were looking for a place to do their pre-season training,” he said.
Around the same time, Tucson also lost its Major League Baseball Spring Training teams to the Phoenix area, and Moulton said they wanted to do something to generate revenue and attract business to the area.
They kept the turf on the fields maintained for professional sports and, with the help of FC Tucson, eventually, were able to successfully convert some of the professional baseball fields for Major League Soccer play.
“As the word got out, more and more teams wanted to train here,” he said.
Now, five years later, he said, the city is ranked among the top 25 U.S. markets for soccer.
Pima County’s Board of Supervisors approved a third year of incentives for MLS, which Moulton said helped pull some of the teams to Tucson from Florida for preseason play.
Last week, the Board approved $130,000 in sponsorship incentives to teams who come to Tucson, stay in unincorporated hotels there – mostly resorts – and market themselves during the pre-season.
Moulton said that is money that is pumped back into the local economy.
Hotels stays associated with the MLS preseason events at resorts in the area have increased in recent years, according to Pima County, with a total of 4,661 total room-night stays.
The teams stay in hotels for up to six weeks while they’re here, Moulton said, they go to restaurants and spend money in the local economy, and bring in visitors to see their games.
“We don’t know exactly how much money they spent in the restaurants, but we do know how much money they spent at the hotels and in marketing and if you add all those numbers up, we call them direct expenditures,” he said. “And, all 14 teams spent about $1.5 million.”
Now, Kino Sports Complex hosts MLS soccer as well as other professional, semi-professional and amateur sporting events, according to the county. That versatility has meant they’re generating as much revenue as they did when the complex held Spring Training.
Moulton said soccer is finally taking off around the country, partly because so many kids start playing soccer so young.
“I think the roots are almost in every school,” he said. “Soccer teams now around the U.S. are able to attract stars from around the world and, since the number one sport outside the U.S. is fútbol, which we call soccer. It’s really exploded in many cities across the U.S.”
EDITOR’S NOTE (6/14/2016): A previous version of this story indicated all 14 teams hosted at Kino Sports Complex were MLS teams. Some teams were international.