Professional soccer comes to the Monterey Bay area
Monterey Bay’s new professional soccer team is set to play its first home game May 7. The Monterey Bay Football Club, also known as the Union, is using a stadium built by the U.S. Army 70 years ago that sits at the entrance of what is now CSU Monterey Bay. The stadium was key to bringing professional soccer to the Monterey Peninsula.
Team owner Ray Beshoff, along with other investors, brought the team to the Monterey peninsula. They face challenges establishing the sport in a county that has not seen a professional soccer team in two decades. Still, with the newly renovated stadium, they are confident they can attract and grow a fan base that increases the value of the team over time.
Beshoff describes the renovation with all the excitement of someone describing their new car. That’s not surprising since Beshoff, an immigrant from England, made his fortune in the automotive industry.
An immigrant from England, he went from car salesman to owning three luxury car dealerships. And with his success, he and partners invested $5 million in the minor league soccer franchise, and are now spending another $12 million to renovate this stadium.
“It's a lot more fun than buying a stock,” he said.
The soccer club originally formed in Fresno. Known as the Foxes, they played two seasons in the city’s baseball stadium while searching for a more permanent soccer stadium.
Beshoff said the team would still be in Fresno if that search had been successful.
“We’d have our own stadium and we’d be developing the franchise,” he said.
The Fresno Foxes were winning games and the city had an established group of dedicated and fired up soccer fans called Fire Squad Fresno.
“They had this thing where they would march from a brewery downtown with the drums, [and] the smoke flares chanting the whole way,” said Stephen Hicks, the sports director at local television station ABC 30. “This huge group would move from the brewery into the stadium, and they would just continue that chant for 90 minutes.”
Hicks said the city and the team worked together to find a better location for the club. But in the end, there was more finger pointing than stadium building.
“Fresno F.C. put out a release saying we're doing our best and the city's not meeting X, Y and Z,” Hicks said. “Then Lee Brand, the mayor at the time, put out a release saying it's not my job to subsidize professional sports.”
That’s when the club, now known as the Union, decided to move to Monterey, where a stadium existed that could be renovated to play soccer.
But even with a place to play, the club still faces challenges.
Stephan Szymanski teaches sports management with an emphasis on soccer at the University of Michigan. He says it is hard for a minor league soccer team in the U.S. to make it on ticket sales alone. It has to look to other revenue sources, like the stadium itself.
“What you want to see is that concerts and other kinds of events that take place so you're using it for all those things,” he said.
Beshoff said that is a possibility. Soccer games will only occupy the 6,000 seat stadium for less than 25 days a year, leaving plenty of opportunities to host other events.
“I think concerts are good. We've had a lot of inquiries from different events,” he said. “We’ll probably do some other sporting events.”
The team has been playing away games while the stadium is being completed. One of the designated places to watch those games is the Britannia Arms Pub in downtown Monterey.
On a recent Saturday night, Beverly Van Pelt sat with her husband and a half finished glass of stout, focused on a match between Monterey and El Paso.
Van Pelt is a fan, and a former graduate of CSU Monterey Bay. She remembers the stadium from her days on campus. To her, the team is as much about community as it is about sports.
“These are our local guys now,” she said.“We are going to have our own professional league soccer in our stadium, at our school, in our city. So we're very excited.”
Back at the stadium, Ray Beshoff also talked about communities. He hopes the team will help bring together the diverse areas of Monterey Bay.
“There's a bit of a wall between Monterey and Salinas and we're trying to break that wall down,” he said. “We call it a Monterey Bay F.C. Union, and it's the union of the land, which is Salinas — [where] people who grow their vegetables and work in the fields — and the sea, which is the fishermen.”
That diversity is reflected in ticket prices. Some single game tickets sell for as little as $10. Season tickets can cost up to $2,500.