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Case Study: Boise as USL PRO market

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After Boise and general Idaho residents declared their interest in hosting a sports team the next thought was fairly simple - is Boise a potential USL PRO market? The answer is pretty simple.

Future home of pro soccer? As long as they pay, why not?
Future home of pro soccer? As long as they pay, why not?
USA TODAY Sports

USL PRO is an interesting league. There are two teams in a major market, a handful of mid-major markets, some medium sized ones, and even teams in small metro areas that do not scream "pro sports here!" More interesting may be that within all market size segments, there are teams that are succeeding and teams that are struggling at the gate.

Clearly Orlando City is awesome. Sacramento is off to a great start. But overall the 2014 per game average is basically the 2013 average (comparing 2014 wikipedia info to kenn.com's 2013 data). Teams generating that much interest survive, and do so for some time. Teams not getting a thousand fans disappear, or are completely supported by other entities (Los Dos down in LA).

Boise would not be the smallest market in USL PRO. It would be close to the smallest, but there are very limited pro sports options so that would be a small advantage. It isn't near a major airport, but does have frequent flights to Seattle or Alaska at under 200$ per person.

Team 2013 Avg Attendance TV Market Rank 2014 Stadium Capacity Close Major Airport Same?
Orlando 8056 18 5300 Orlando Yes
Rochester 5898 78 13768 Buffalo Kinda
Charleston 3554 65 5100 Charlotte No
Pittsburgh 3273 23 3500 Pittburgh Yes
Wilmington 3162 131 6000 Raleigh-Durham No
Richmond 2527 57 22500 DC Kinda
Phoenix 1532 12 12880 Phoenix Yes
Harrisburg 1456 43 5000 Philly No
Charlotte 807 25 2500 Charlotte Yes
Dayton 753 64 5000 Cincinatti Kinda
Blues 718 2 2500 LA Yes
Sacramento 20 8000 Oakland No
Galaxy II 2 30000 LA Yes
Oklahoma City 41 4000 Dallas No
Expansion
Tulsa 60 Dallas No
Colorado Springs 89 Denver Kinda
Boise 110 Salt Lake No


Interestingly Boise is in the ROOT Sports territory and so soccer fans in the area get to see both the Sounders and Timbers games. Their closest MLS team though is RSL. At this point it is a kind of shared territory, with a faction of RSL supporters claiming it as their own. However, they are confined to streams and live events. Boise State does not have a men's soccer program so there is a gap in coverage there. Nearby schools are also devoid of men's soccer at the highest college level, except BYU which has a PDL team branded after it.

The city is wealthier than the Idaho average with a higher than typical retail spending rate, decent housing values, and where about 600 million dollars a year are spent on accommodations and food within the city. This is generally a decent tax base for stadium projects as people don't like to tax themselves.

Boise would need a stadium or major renovations. The Boise Hawks play at Memorial Stadium (this is not Seattle's Memorial, nor Renton Memorial, where previous versions of the Sounders played). It is 25 years old and there was once a plan for it to be replaced. PDL soccer was part of that dormant plan.

"Soccer is a major part of our planning," Rahr said. "It will help make this facility work. If we get [a multi-purpose stadium] done, we want one of their franchises."

That plan looks like an 8-20 million dollar project, which is on par with other modern USL PRO stadia.

There are lots of reasons that Boise compares well to other markets with teams at the lowest pro level of American soccer. That it is also true for dozens of cities.

But the only thing that really matters for a Sounders Reserve side comes down to money. Seattle has a facility right now that is suitable, though not ideal, for lower division games. Starfire also hosts the First Team so that would make co-training easier. There would need to be some expansion of offices and locker room facilities, which would cost Sounders FC some amount of cash.

The thing that Boise, Idaho or another market in Washington needs to compete with is simple. Can they provide enough financial support through local ownership and improvements to make up for the ding to the primary mission of helping the First Team? This would be slightly offset by a secondary benefit of overall brand building, and maybe even stretching the Academy catchment area.

In the end, if Boise wants a USL PRO team, its civic leaders are going to have to be the people who make it happen.