By RENALDO DORSETT
A PROFESSIONAL soccer franchise could be heading to the Bahamas as one of the leading leagues in North America looks to continue its expansion effort, The Tribune can reveal.
Local businessman Burton Rodgers is leading the bidding process for his group that seeks to establish a United Soccer League (USL) team based in the Bahamas.
Should the bid receive approval and plans follow through accordingly, the Thomas A Robinson Stadium would become the home of the first professional Bahamian franchise to play in a North American league.
“The conversation about this has been going for a while and we have been undertaking the lengthy process of trying to make this happen,” Rodgers told The Tribune yesterday. “The planning is still in the very early stages and there is much left to be done, but all of the project’s stakeholders are very excited to be involved in this process. I’m a sports fanatic and I’m attracted to everything in the sports world. I attended several of the major soccer matches at the stadium - Totteham versus Jamaica and the Bahamas against the US Olympic team - and I realised firsthand the potential the sport could have here. It’s the number one sport in the world of course but the growth recently in North America has also been tremendous.”
Rodgers is working in conjunction with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), one of the world’s leading sports and entertainment presenters, the government, the National Sports Authority and the Bahamas Football Association on the project. In May, 2015, the government of the Bahamas signed a consultancy and management services agreement with AEG.
Rodgers said the vision for the franchise began with a meeting between himself and Alan Kates, Managing Director of AEG Bahamas.
“I approached Alan and the conversation started. When the suggestion came about, everyone was responsive to the idea. You have an elite place to play in; the facility is the biggest concern for any venture of this magnitude. It’s obviously the first time I’ve been involved in something like this so it takes having a team of people that have been involved in the process with something like this. There is no guarantee that it will happen but you go through the process, through the checks and balances, hope for the best and thus far it has been going extremely well. If we can land it it would be one of the biggest sporting milestones in the history of the Bahamas.
“We have never had a North American sports team based here in the Bahamas and owned by a Bahamian. AEG was one of the co-founders and lead investors in Major League Soccer (MLS), so to have them as a consultant and adviser is a golden opportunity for a local Bahamian investor. It’s like parterning with Bill Gates and Microsoft in the information technology industry; you’re working with the leaders of a specific field.”
Rodgers has been involved in developing major real estate projects domestically and internationally. In late 2013, he founded a company called Out Island Resorts Company Ltd with the objective of managing and acquiring hotel properties in the Family Islands of the Bahamas and creating an outstanding atmosphere for tourists travelling to the archipelago. He currently serves as an executive of the February Point Development in Exuma.
“This is much bigger than what happens on the field, there are opportunities all around this,” he said. “Furthermore, this team is here in the Bahamas but we want to get the entire region involved with this. Everyone in the Bahamas will have to be involved because it won’t be my team, the franchise will belong to the country. The Lakers represent Los Angeles, the Knicks represent New York so this team so in that same regard, has an opportunity to represent the Bahamas.
“You can’t always sit back and wait for things to happen, sometimes you have to create your opportunity and you seize the moment. I want to be successful and run a profitable business of course, but I also want to do something great for the country, something that the country can be proud of. When you’re in business you can’t be afraid of risk and I’m willing to take that risk. You eliminate a lot of that risk by putting the right team together. There is support from the government, the private sector and as time goes by we will continue to pursue even more support in a unified effort.”
The USL is a professional men’s soccer league in the United States and Canada that kicked off in 2011. USL is sanctioned as a Division II Professional League by the United States Soccer Federation, placing it under Major League Soccer and equal to the North American Soccer League (also Division II) in the hierarchy.
The league was formed to consolidate USL’s position within the American professional soccer landscape and focus on stability, commercial growth and the professional development of soccer in four main regions throughout the United States and Canada.
Based in Tampa, Florida, it has 30 teams, mostly US-based but three in Canada, and continues seeking expansion franchises. The USL is the feeder league to the MLS and is split in tow conferences, Eastern and Western, with Tampa and Orlando the closest to the Bahamas. The 30-week season runs from March to October.
An average team roster would have 22 or 23 players governed by a salary cap and teams would play an equal number of home and away games over the regular season, in the Bahamas probably in the evenings. The name and colours of the team would have to be decided.
While no immediate timeline has been set, the bidding process has been on schedule and according to Kates, is wholly supported by AEG. However, a kick off in 2019 could be considered a realistic target.
“Mr Rodgers is in the midst of preparing a bid to attain a pro franchise for the Bahamas and AEG is fully committed to assisting him in ensuring that he has the best means and support to bring a said franchise to the Bahamas and we are very excited to assist in that regard,” he told The Tribune. “I would say that there are numerous hurdles to cross and I know that Mr Rodgers is preparing with the assistance of some wonderful global supporters to ensure that the best possible presentation is made to the USL and to ensure that he has the best bid to see.
“He is in the beginning stages of this. I would safely say that the Thomas A Robinson Stadium would be a premier venue for a professional soccer team. Of course, AEG has connections in the soccer world and sports and entertainment business, so we are more than confident in putting this forward with the support of the Bahamas Football Association and the government of the Bahamas. Realistically it is in the very early stages, but there is rapid progress being made in taking it to the next level.”