While the COVID-19 pandemic put a long-term hold on progress around the Tacoma soccer stadium project, it appears conversations are starting in earnest again. And this time around, OL Reign have a more substantial seat at the table.
“Really all the parties — ourselves, Sounders, Rainiers, Metro Parks Tacoma, the City of Tacoma — were put in a position as a result of COVID that we had to focus on other things. And so for much of the last 15 months — really most of the last 15 months — I don’t think any material progress was made on the stadium project. It’s unfortunate, but also completely understandable given the circumstances,” Predmore shared in a conversation with Ride of the Valkyries.
Over the last few months, however, those conversations have started up again. “For all the parties here, it’s something that we would like to see happen and we’d like to see it happen as quickly as possible,” Predmore told Ride of the Valkyries.
OL Reign join the conversation
In an interview with Le Progres ($), Jean-Michel Aulas touched briefly on OL Groupe’s ambitions for the Reign and reiterated the club’s interest in the stadium project. “We are working on [the stadium] right now,” Aulas shared (translated from French), noting that the stadium is under study at the moment. “We hired a consulting firm. We are thinking about a project in Tacoma in the suburbs of Seattle.”
Predmore confirmed that the consulting firm will be helping with a new feasibility study. This update is significant for one important reason. While the Reign were only considered tenants of the stadium for the initial feasibility study — with the Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Rainiers driving the process — they are now an equal partner in conversations about the best way to move this project forward.
“I would say it is a joint effort amongst the parties now where we’re working collectively to try and make this happen. What that looks like technically or legally it’s still TBD, but I would say the three of us are expending equal effort to try and make this happen.”
Hopes for a 10,000-seat stadium
A big reason for the Reign’s involvement comes down to the fact that the club wants to build a long-term home in Tacoma and has a real interest in developing a stadium that meets their ambitions and club trajectory — especially as it relates to attendance.
“Right now, we are revisiting the feasibility of the stadium and are taking a look at things, particularly around the size of the stadium, originally envisioned around 6,000, you know, for us to meet what we believe to be future demand, but also future NWSL requirements. We’ll be looking to see how far we can push the size of the stadium.”
(Note: the initial feasibility study review was actually for a 5,000-seat stadium.)
OL Reign had already outgrown 6,500-seat Cheney Stadium at the end of 2019 when they sold out virtually every match after the World Cup concluded that summer. With NWSL attendance numbers rising — pandemic aside — a 5,000-person stadium feels much too small for the NWSL club’s ambitions. In addition, OL Reign is trying to get ahead of any future league-wide rules around stadium size, an issue that played a part in pushing them out of Memorial Stadium.
That size question could be a big sticking point for OL Reign. Predmore told Ride of the Valkyries that the team would like to see the number closer to the 10,000-seat range.
Next steps from here
While he didn’t have much to share in terms of specific next steps, Predmore reiterated OL Reign’s commitment to the project. “Ultimately, I think we’ll end up revising the plan and see where we end up there, in what I hope will be a relatively quick timeline. I would expect that we get through this process in a couple of months.”
If the club is able to get the clarity and financing they need to move this project forward in the current proposed location — which is “in the vicinity of Cheney Stadium” — they’d still have a ways to go before playing their first match at the new soccer stadium.
“Even if there was clarity on the project, its financing and support from those we need support from by the end of the year, I think the beginning of 2024 is a much more likely scenario and probably is the best-case scenario for us,” Predmore said.
The first step is figuring out whether they can support a stadium that could fit 10,000 supporters. Once they have that, the club will have a much better understanding of their options in Tacoma. That will also clarify their plans for building a training complex.
“We’d like to have a little more clarity on the stadium project before making the substantial investment in the training site. My suspicion is when we have that clarity, we move quickly on the training center.”
Is Seattle an option?
Aulas shared one comment with Le Progres that might have fans wondering about Lumen Field as a long-term option. “If we want to stay in Seattle, we need a viable project. On August 29, I will be in Seattle where OL Reign will play a game in the Seattle stadium which has 50,000 seats.”
That August 29 match would be the double-header against the Portland Thorns and Timbers that will take place at Lumen Field. Fans probably shouldn’t read too much into this comment, however. Predmore was quick to point out that Aulas is talking about the Puget Sound region when he says Seattle, not Lumen Field specifically, as the team is still looking into all their options for a long-term stadium in the region. And to most outside the region, any city in the area = Seattle.
In addition, this August doubleheader is just a trial for both the Sounders and Reign. A more likely next step would be for the Reign to have a few more games in Seattle in the future — similar to how the Washington Spirit have split home games between Audi Field and Segra Field, home to DC United’s USL side.
As Predmore reminded Ride of the Valkyries, ahead of their move to Tacoma in 2019, the club “looked really hard and went pretty far down the road with First & Goal.” In addition to financial considerations, however, the availability of the stadium was another big challenge, with concerts, events, and the Sounders and Seahawks to schedule around. It’s an issue that has even plagued the Sounders at times.
“It’s clearly a world-class stadium, and fans have shown up for Sounders matches and made it a world-class matchday experience. So it’s definitely an attractive option. But it’s those complexities that we faced a couple of years ago that haven’t really been resolved in any meaningful way. Right now, we’re really focused on how we make this project happen in Tacoma. I think that’s the best possible future for us in the Pacific Northwest, to be in a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma.”
Puget Sound or Bust
Both Predmore’s and Aulas’ comments reinforce an important point: the club is committed to finding a long-term home in the Puget Sound region. At the end of his remarks on the Reign, Aulas also reinforced OL Groupe’s commitment to the Reign. “We have a big development project and it is not a temporary investment. This season we have a team that can claim a place in the finals.”