July 24, 2013

Prodigal focuses on own efforts in OKC football feud

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


As Oklahoma City's soccer landscape heads toward a future battleground for fan, media and commercial attention, Prodigal LLC can only focus on itself and making its team the best in the region, Executive Vice President John Allgood said.

Prodigal, which also owns Oklahoma City Barons hockey team, faces opposition in their hunt to grab the attention of all the local fans they identified in demographic research from Sold Out Strategies (SOS), who has its own plans to bring in a soccer team.

"We just have to worry about ourselves," Allgood said. "That requires figuring out the best system and getting the best venue possible in the city."

Last week, Prodigal announced that the expansion team they will be in charge of operating when the 2014 United Soccer Leauges PRO (USL PRO) season kicks off will have its own stadium in a few years' time. Days later, Mayor Mick Cornett revealed that discussions he had with SOS co-owner Brad Lund revealed they also have plans to build a stadium, should their wish of fielding a North American Soccer League (NASL) team in 2015 at Taft Stadium be granted.

The NASL is scheduled to hear a presentation from SOS today, and if they like it enough to approve the company's plan of adding to their eight-team league, Oklahoma City will be in a unique position nationally as one of the few places with two professional soccer teams.

But, that's not phasing Prodigal, Allgood said, as the company is focussed solely on carrying its plans forward. Although, he did mention their work would be made easier if they were the only sheriff in town.

"It's obviously better if there's one team," Allgood said.

There is also the sticky situation of a legal dispute between USL and SOS regarding their NASL team bid. SOS owns current amateur team Oklahoma City FC, which plays in a USL league. At dispute is whether or not the contract between SOS and USL prevents them from bringing in a team from a competitive league.

As it stands, the city's soccer fans look to be in line for a front row seat at a shootout at the OK corral. The USL PRO and NASL are, essentially, on the same level when it comes to soccer hierarchy in the U.S., meaning the two companies could end up competing for the same fans, media attention and commercial revenue. 

Certainly there is something to be said about the NASL holding the Division II ranking from the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), despite only existing in its current form since 2009. The USL system was founded in 1986, and while the formation of its rival has taken a chunk out of its top leagues -- in the form of a couple of teams, players and clout -- and despite it holding the Division III ranking, the league's longer history in the American game and its contacts with the Division I Major League Soccer (MLS) played an important role in Prodigal's decision.

"We felt like it was the best path for us," Allgood said. "The other part is we feel comfortable with their front office. We started exploring the opportunity about three years ago, and we felt USL PRO was the right choice." 

Three years would put Prodigal's timeline for beginning their search for a way into soccer in line with the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, which is widely considered a success for captivating American audiences.

Allgood said that certainly helped, but the main reason for Prodigal's interest came from the overall growth of the sport in the youth ranks.

"The main reason has been the growth of soccer over the years," he said. "My daughter plays in the Oklahoma Premier Leauge, so I've been involved at the youth level. I was surprised with how communities are so involved with youth soccer. As I did the research, I found out there's 30,000 kids in Oklahoma City playing soccer. It's just the right time for us."

Prodigal became more confident in their decision to pursue a team when television audience figures for the FIFA Confederations Cup held in June were released earlier this summer. 

"Oklahoma City was ranked sixth in ratings in the country," Allgood said. "We actually tied New York for viewership."

Currently, Prodigal has no place to play their team, but Allgood said they are in talks with three different venues, none of which he was at liberty to name. With Stars Field in use by Oklahoma City FC -- owned by their competitors in the imminent football feud -- and Taft Field also leased by SOS, pickings in Oklahoma City proper appear slim.

But, it's the future plan of having their own soccer-specific stadium that gives Prodigal's efforts a glamorous sparkle.

"A few years later -- and whether it's three years or five years, I don't know -- we'll build a 7,000-seat stadium that can have multiple uses," Allgood said. "Obviously, soccer would be the main use. But, we'd also design it with the ability to host concerts, some high school football games, and other events."

After some time with the minimum capacity ground, Allgood says the plan includes expansion that the company hopes will eventually lead to the team joining MLS.

"If the corporate support, the fan support and ticket sales, and the on field success is there, we'd like for it to be in MLS within the decade."

Because of the aforementioned legal dispute, SOS's Lund was not able to comment much on his company's bid. The NASL was formed to compete with MLS, so the likelihood of SOS's team some day merging with the current top league in the land is very small.