The prospects of a pro soccer team coming back to Buffalo are on the rise, if the group making the push can build a new stadium to go with it.
Connecticut-based developer John McClutchy and his JHM Sports Enterprises is teaming up with Buffalo real estate partner Dennis Penman to bring a United Soccer League expansion franchise to the city.
"Buffalo is no stranger to the beautiful game,” McClutchy said. “Youth soccer is especially strong, with over 10,000 registered players and a supporter culture that has a great foundation with its American Outlaw chapter. When you combine this with Buffalo’s vibrant downtown community and its growing millennial population, the time is right to get the ball rolling on bringing a USL Championship club to this great city.”
To officially land the team and satisfy the league, it's contingent the owners construct a venue large enough to hold 10,000 fans. They're currently looking at possible sites and conducting economic feasibility studies.
The City of Buffalo has an assist on the search, but Mayor Byron Brown says it's too soon to say if taxpayers would help foot the bill.
Could the city handle two new stadiums if the Buffalo Bills decide to move downtown with the other brand of football?
"As we become more of a global city I do think there is room for two stadiums in Buffalo," Brown said.
Officials with the USL say the Buffalo market checks off all of their desires for expansion with community interest in soccer, a strong local ownership group, and the ability to construct a stadium.
Vice President for Communications Ryan Madden cited the area's 10,000 youth soccer participants and the strength of Buffalo's viewership for the sport on television as key reason to come to Western New York.
"It's a community that I think backs professional sports and one that in early conversations at least with both the general public and politically has shown a really strong appetite for a stadium project,” he said.
As a soccer fan, writer, and the owner of local amateur team FC Buffalo, Nick Mendola has been pondering the future of the sport here for years. He's excited by discussions he's had with the USL and the ownership group about what's to come with a potential soccer stadium and professional league.
"What's it like when there's a palace for Buffalo soccer?" Mendola said. "Soccer is the world's game. It's absolutely massive all over the world and it's massive here now. The fan base here, the people who come out to our games. We have a load of season ticket holders. People are hungry for that."
There hasn't been a professional men's team here since the Buffalo Blizzard indoor club played from 1992 through 2001.
The USL Championship tier has 36 teams across the county. It's considered a step below Major League Soccer, the top league in the United States, but still high level soccer.
If the ownership group is able to build the stadium, Buffalo's new USL Championship soccer team is shooting kickoff for the 2023 season, less than four years from now.
"So I think right away you've got a great hope, and I think with community involvement and inclusiveness and taking care of the average fan, which doesn't happen a lot in professional sports, they can knock it out of the park," Mendola said.