San Antonio Spurs ownership group to launch USL team in 2016, eyes MLS expansion

San Antonio has again signaled its MLS ambitions, when, on Tuesday, it was announced that the city will be home to a USL expansion club in 2016.

Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SS&E), which owns and operates the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, announced in a press conference at Toyota Field on Tuesday that they have reached an agreement with Bexar County and the City of San Antonio to operate a USL franchise at Toyota Field starting in March 2016.

The team name, club crest and jersey design will be announced in the near future.

News broke last week that the city and county purchased Toyota Field, which served as the home of the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions from its opening in April 2013 through the 2015 season, from Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman. Located in Northeast San Antonio, Toyota Field currently has a capacity of 8,500, but can be expanded to hold more than 18,000 fans. Local officials told media on Monday that the stadium will be expanded if the city ever lands an MLS expansion franchise.

As part of the stadium purchase, SS&E donated $3 million to Morgan’s Wonderland, a special needs theme park established by Hartman.

Spurs Sports & Entertainment also agreed to a 20-year lease to run all operations at Toyota Field and to operate the USL franchise, with an eye on eventually moving the team to MLS.

“This deal wouldn’t be possible without the incredible support from both the City of San Antonio and Bexar County,” said Spurs Sports & Entertainment President of Business Operations Rick Pych, in a statement. “We are very excited to continue the growth of soccer in San Antonio, and we plan to operate a USL franchise as part of a proven path to Major League Soccer. We look forward to bringing the highest level of soccer to San Antonio.”

Atlanta United FC, Minnesota United FC, LAFC and a still-to-be-named Miami expansion team will join MLS in the next few years, bringing the total number of teams to 24. MLS' owners recently announced support for potential expansion to 28 teams

Five teams that played in the USL have entered MLS in the previous seven years, with ex-USL clubs Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and Orlando City SC all making the jump to MLS since 2009.

USL, which featured 24 teams in 2015, will field 29 clubs in 2016, with San Antonio joining MLS-operated outfits in Kansas City, Orlando, Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, as well as an independent team in Cincinnati as expansion clubs. In all, 12 of MLS’s 20 clubs will own and operate a USL team in 2016.

As part of the deal, SS&E will also operate the South Texas Area Regional (STAR) Soccer Complex, which is located adjacent to Toyota Field. STAR Soccer Complex includes 13 fields that provide resources for many local youth soccer organizations and adult recreational leagues.

“The City and County’s purchase of Toyota Field is the first step toward bringing a Major League Soccer team to San Antonio,” said San Antonio Mayor Ivy R. Taylor. “Spurs Sports & Entertainment is recognized as one of the best professional sports businesses and we are fortunate to have them as a partner in this effort.  Today’s announcement marks significant progress toward achieving our shared goal.”

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