While in Fort Myers, Florida, USL Division III executives spoke to not only local leaders and potential ownership about the possibility for professional soccer in the City of Palms but also local fans of the game.
While league executives were busy meeting with local ownership and Lee County leaders, as well as inspecting potential sites for a soccer-specific stadium, for a majority of Tuesday and Wednesday, they also attended a spring training game between the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox at Hammond Stadium – where some spectators could be seen sporting U.S. Soccer jerseys. Visits to local businesses also helped the league better understand and gauge the potential supporter culture in the city. The cumulative experience left league executives impressed by the underlying interest in a professional team in the growing city.
“Fort Myers and the entire Southwest Florida area is a vibrant and growing multi-cultural community,” Alex Reiter, American Outlaws Fort Myers Chapter member, told USLD3.com. “Florida Gulf Coast University continues to flourish and grow at a remarkable rate, bringing more and more college-age kids into our community. The entire area has become younger and more family-friendly, with more young families establishing themselves here thanks to the growing business community.
“These groups of people love our local sports too. The Florida Everblades averaged more than 5,000 people per game in 2017, while the Fort Myers Miracle averaged more than 2,000 people per game despite one of the hottest summers on record. Crowds also come out in droves to sell out spring training games for the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox throughout the month of March. Many of the collegiate sports also see large attendance numbers at FGCU from both locals and students. Such a dynamic of young sports fans are a fantastic foundation to create a professional, national-stage soccer club in Fort Myers.”
On Wednesday, DIII officials visited numerous sites for a potential soccer stadium in Lee County, including the Florida Gulf Coast University Soccer Complex.
“When FGCU played NYCFC during the 2016 preseason, hundreds of fans had to be turned away as more than 3,000 fans packed the FGCU Soccer Complex,” Reiter said. “The desire for professional soccer is clear, and giving the community a team of their own would not only satisfy that need, but it would invite other clubs to come to Southwest Florida for their own ‘soccer spring training’ as NYCFC and the Chicago Fire have done in the past.”
USL Division III has announced two founding members – South Georgia Tormenta FC and FC Tucson – ahead of its inaugural season in 2019. Additional team announcements, as well as an official brand launch and league structure updates, are expected in the coming weeks and months.
While last week’s visit was the first for league executives in the City of Palms, the visit “was the next step towards an expansion franchise in Lee County, Florida,” according to USL DIII Vice President Steven Short.