YUKON — The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced its 14th franchise Tuesday afternoon at a press event in Yukon. The team is a partnership between Oklahoma-based Sold Out Strategies and Spanish La Liga team Rayo Vallecano. Play will begin in 2016.
Sold Out Strategies’ Brad Lund, who was in charge of the Oklahoma City Blazers Hockey team in the now-defunct Central Hockey League, told those in attendance that the team would be run the same way, telling NASL.com, “Our philosophy is simple — this is the fan’s team … on and off the field.”
Rayo Vallecano’s owner, Raúl Martín Presa, was the only one who took to the podium Tuesday afternoon who actually earned his swagger: Presa bought the club in 2011 and, quite literally, saved it from being relegated to a lower league. (Imagine OU’s basketball team being dropped to SNU’s league.)
In reality, the NASL and the Rayo Vallecano/Sold Out Strategies Group could not have planned a worse time to announce this team, economically and chronologically. There are oh-so-many cards stacked against this team that I could write 10,000 words on why this franchise would be lucky to reach year three, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on four main points that pose the biggest obstacles to this team’s success.
In case you haven’t noticed, the economic conditions in our state are lackluster, and relief seems dauntingly distant. We have what’s called a non-diversified economy (unless “diversified” refers to drilling for both oil AND natural gas). The state’s energy sector is depressed until further notice, and the job market is flooded, a bad combination for any enterprise seeking to lure entertainment dollars away from people’s pockets.
Divided attention, diverted dollars
We are also in a section of the country where football, or, as it’s called in my house, “hand-egg,” is king, especially college football. For the rest of you: What are you, communists?
With college football perpetually safe from economic downturns, basketball and baseball comprise the two other major sports in this market. The almighty Thunder are safe as houses, that is (and I know I’m going to get ripped for saying this) until they go on an extended losing streak. I’m not talking about a run of a few bad games. I mean a run of a few bad seasons, say six or seven or 10. Will there still be an interest then? Will they still sell out the ‘Peake at that point? It happens in every sport. It’s part of the ebb and flow.
That leaves the “other” minor league team, the OKC Dodgers. It’s a rarity that baseball fans and soccer fans mix, so there isn’t a lot of crossover there, but there is still competition for the dollars, especially if kids are involved. Nobody wants to disappoint their children.
When Sold Out Strategies was first going to field a team in the NASL, it was going to be a battle between two teams launching at roughly the same time in two separate leagues: Energy FC and Rayo OKC.
Now, it’s a completely different story.
The Energy have had two seasons to cultivate their fan base and form a bond with them. OKC FC/Rayo OKC was losing fans during the same time. Yes, they were still operating their academy and their women’s teams, but the men’s teams were nowhere to be found. That upset a lot of people. Since NASL follows closer to the FIFA calendar, Energy FC will be entering its third season while Rayo OKC begins its first half season. Once again, advantage: Energy.
Location, location, location
The Energy will play at Taft Stadium for the second-straight year. Taft is in OKC proper, not in the suburbs. It’s easy to find from anywhere in the metro. Rayo will play at Yukon High School Football Field, which is a beautiful stadium, but it’s in Yukon. The biggest problem Rayo will have will be convincing people to drive 20 to 25 minutes from OKC to Yukon. The people in El Reno, Mustang, Piedmont, Okarche, Kingfisher, Calumet and all points west will absolutely love having a team in the west metro.
Choose your destiny
If you’re a hardcore soccer fan, you’ve chosen a side by now. You’re either an Energy supporter or an OKC FC/Rayo OKC supporter. Either one is fine, but can the city support both?
There are roughly 1.2 million people in the OKC metro area. Is that enough to support two soccer teams that play in different parts of the city and in different leagues? The only time that these two teams would meet is during the U.S. Open Cup competition every year. That is the only time that we’ll see an Oklahoma City Derby. That’s when you’ll have to decide: Are you a Red or are you a Green?
I know what I am, but I’m keeping that to myself.