In 2016, Forbes named the Pawtucket Red Sox as the 21st most valuable minor league baseball team. In 2018, they announced their intentions to move to Worcestor.
It was a tough blow for a city already down on its luck. The Memorial Hospital there closed in 2017, and rumors swirled of Hasbro moving its headquarters from the city.
But things are looking up in the city for once, with the announcement of a $400 million redevelopment plan in the downtown area that features a professional soccer stadium, an indoor sports complex, a hotel and office space.
“It will transform this area into a vibrant hub of activity like we haven’t seen in decades,” said governor Gina Raimondo at the announcement.
And the best part? It will pay for itself.
But is there really an interest in Rhode Island for soccer? Will this new stadium — poised to host a United Soccer League team — actually attract any fans?
It’s difficult to say. Soccer is experiencing a worldwide boom in popularity, and the USL is looking to expand, especially with the loss of the Ottawa Fury just last month. And given the popularity and decades of success that the PawSox experienced in the city, it’s clear that there is an appetite for sports.
However, it isn’t as sure a bet as the big four American sports — football, baseball, basketball and hockey. On top of that, it’s the largest development project in Pawtucket history, and the promise for it to pay for itself is optimistic at best.
For that reason, the project as a whole does not seem like a wise endeavour for Pawtucket. It’s enormous price tag and unrealistic expectations, like having it pay for itself, is dangerous. That’s not to say the abstract concept of the development is bad — it is simply the misguided planning that makes is a recipe for disaster.
However, the USL team will be successful. It is clear from decades of the PawSox that an undercard team can and will thrive in the city. The Pawtucket team’s monopoly on soccer in the state will also prove beneficial.
It may struggle to economically compete with the New England Revolution, in the more-competitive Major League Soccer, but will likely still draw a large following in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island is also a smaller market, which can foster more devout fans. While the Ottawa Fury is now defunct, the organization allowed fans to chat with players on the field after the game, forming a camaraderie and dedication that few other professional sport teams experience.
Another vote of confidence for Pawtucket’s future team is the expansion of soccer elsewhere in mid-sized cities. Louisville, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Buffalo and Queens are in the midst of efforts to build their own soccer stadiums.
While the project as a whole may have its flaws, there is reason for optimism in the case of the soccer team.
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