Spurs push out NASL Scorpions in San Antonio

The MLS expansion battles have seeped down to the lower levels of U.S. pro soccer, where Spurs Sports & Entertainment -- owner of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs -- has reached an agreement to operate a USL team at Toyota Field in 2016, forcing out the NASL San Antonio Scorpions.

The move, contingent upon USL approval, follows the sale of Toyota Field from Scorpions owner Gordon Hartman to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County for $18 million.

As part of the agreement, SS&E has donated $3 million to Morgan’s Wonderland, a special needs theme park established by Hartman. SS&E agreed to a 20-year lease to run all operations within Toyota Field, while also pursuing an MLS franchise.

“The City and County’s purchase of Toyota Field is the first step toward bringing a Major League Soccer team to San Antonio,” said Mayor Ivy R. Taylor in a statement. “Spurs Sports & Entertainment is recognized as one of the best professional sports businesses and we are fortunate to have them as a partner in this effort.  Today’s announcement marks significant progress toward achieving our shared goal.”

MLS's intentions to expand beyond 24 teams has accelerated the interest of San Antonio. Toyota Field opened in April 2013 and has a capacity of 8,500. It would have to be expanded to meet MLS requirements. SS&E will also operate the South Texas Area Regional (STAR) Soccer Complex, which is located adjacent to Toyota Field. STAR Soccer Complex includes 13 fields that provide resources for many local youth soccer organizations and adult recreational leagues.

"Our goal," said Hartman, "was to field a team that would compete for championships while supporting those with special needs via a unique, unprecedented relationship where all net profits from the Scorpions and S.T.A.R. Soccer Complex were given directly to non-profit Morgan's Wonderland, the world's only fully accessible theme park. With two regular-season trophies, an NASL championship in 2014, a beautiful soccer-specific stadium, and over $1,000,000 raised for Morgan's Wonderland to benefit special-needs individuals, I'm proud to say that we've been successful."

The USL had 24 clubs in 2015 and has previously announced the addition of clubs in the Rio Grande Valley, Cincinnati, Lehigh Valley, Orlando and Kansas City for the 2016 season and Reno for the 2017 season. Austin will sit out of the 2016 season because flooding at the Aztex's home stadium left them without a suitable venue. The USL was to operate with 28 teams in 2016. San Antonio's late addition would make it 29.

In a statement, the NASL said it was working with Hartman to determine the future of the Scorpions, who joined the league in 2012 and have consistently been one of its best-operated teams.
'Every sports league in North America has experienced turnover in its early stages," it said, "and the NASL is fortunate to have a group of owners and league officials that has a tremendous understanding of how to work through change. Ownership and investment interest is at an all-time high, and we expect to be a 20-team league in the near future."

10 comments about "Spurs push out NASL Scorpions in San Antonio".
  1. Dean Mitchell, December 23, 2015 at 11:13 a.m.

    This sucks for the NASL.

  2. Glenn Maddock, December 23, 2015 at 11:47 a.m.

    Hartman & the City screwed the NASL by abandoning their team. The fans will quickly realize the USL is not as good as the NASL, but maybe they don't care. They are just gambling that MLS will show up. Unfortunately both these leagues are pursuing money-grabs, and over expanding too fast, and we'll start seeing club failures in the next few years because of it. If you don't know your history (NASL) you're doomed to repeat it!

  3. Wooden Ships, December 23, 2015 at 8:56 p.m.

    This will all sort itself out I believe in the near future (?). The US is on the verge of having enough professional teams and growing interest that a 3 tiered relegation-promotion environment will exist.

  4. Allan Lindh, December 24, 2015 at 12:19 a.m.

    Ah but Wooden Ships, if only it were so simple. The greedy billionaire owners in MLS aren't willing to face even the slightest chance of relegation, so the whole system will continue to get more lopsided. Too many teams and too much money in MLS, and lower division teams left with short end of stick.

  5. Wooden Ships, December 24, 2015 at 11:59 a.m.

    Can't argue that it seems insurmountable Alan. However, many of the hopes we had as players in the 60's and 70's have come true. What can I say, former coach too, which makes me an eternal optimist (slang for idealist). We are unike other US pro sports, eventually it will overtake them and not just because of demographics. What have I been smoking, nothing, but I am from those good old days.

  6. Jeffrey Organ, December 24, 2015 at 12:19 p.m.

    Greedy billionaires in MLS? The only reason USL and NASL exist as separate leagues is because of greed. The breakaway NASL owners made a high stakes bet that they could compete with MLS (or force a merger) by forming a more "international" league with no salary cap and eventual promotion/relegation. Guess what? The gamble has failed and the exit of the Scorpions is one more example of their failed business model. USL owners were smart enough to figure out that they needed to accept who they were and partner with MLS. They are the clear winners. That is why USL in San Antonio is a smarter play....if for no other reason than, while they await MLS expansion, they have the potential for built in rivalries with Rio Grande Valley and Austin (when they rejoin the league). The issue in SA is more complicated because SSE has made it clear, since Hartman had the unmitigated gall to build his stadium without the Spurs, that they view anybody running a SA professional sports team other than them as an enemy. Professional soccer has enough problems as it is building traction in this country without all the European baggage. Why everybody continues to operate under the delusion that we can build and operate a successful soccer league with a model that is different than other major sports leagues in this country is a mystery. Just because they do it a different way in England doesn't mean every minor league city in the US should feel like they are getting "the short end of the stick" because they can't have MLS dreams. Money rules and it means that the world isn't fair. Get over it.

  7. Wooden Ships replied, December 24, 2015 at 12:40 p.m.

    Jeffrey, good rebuttal and from what I know of the NASL desires to force a merge is true in some circles, but not all. Maybe some are upset with the way its gone down in SA, but the long range dismissal of a multi tiered set up hasn't gone up in smoke. For me, fair has nothing to do with anything, in the matter of continued growth of the sport in the US. Not counting baseball, most minor leagues exist in college. I see soccer doing it differently and ultimately will by pass college as part of the ascension. In my involvement of over 50 years, there has been incredible changes and shifts in the sport. Let me ask you this Jeffrey, and take fair out of it, would it be exciting for you to see a 3 tiered system? I appreciated your article.

  8. Jeffrey Organ, December 24, 2015 at 4:06 p.m.

    In an idealistic world, I would find a two-tier (NASL not included unless they rejoin USL) promotion/relegation system to have some fascination. In a practical world, not so much. I am an MLS season ticket holder and have absolutely no interest in paying to watch us compete in a second division under any circumstances.
    If promotion/relegation is ever is to happen two things need to occur. First, the USL must continue to grow and, more importantly, demonstrate a level of stability that hasn't existed to this point. Their current path is very promising and the league should continue to grow nicely..... with a combination of MLS owned or supported and independent teams. More time is needed for this to happen. Second, USL needs to become part of the overall MLS framework. I believe that MLS will eventually own (or have a much deeper integrated financial arrangement with) USL. When that happens, the MLS owners will have a reason to be more open to this concept. Until that time MLS owners have zero incentive to allow teams that have not paid expansion fees to get a free ride into the league.

  9. Scott Johnson, December 27, 2015 at 12:09 a.m.

    There are more important differences between European soccer pyramids and the US/Canada pyramid than pro/rel. Drafts, free agency, and all of that (or lack thereof) is the biggest. The lack of territorial rights is another big one--US sports leagues grant exclusive control over a given city to a given team, sometimes allowing two teams in large metros like NY or LA. In English soccer, anyone can start a team and put it wherever there is a stadium--London has 14 pro teams, five in the Prem and nine in the lower tiers of the pyramid. The insistence on not adhering to the FIFA calendar is another difference that is more important than pro/rel--and it's not as though there's no snow in winter in Europe...

  10. Scott Johnson replied, December 27, 2015 at 12:12 a.m.

    Can you imagine if Chelsea or Arsenal (or both of then jointly) had exclusive access to the London "market", however it is defined, and teams like Crystal Palace or Tottenham Hotspur (or lower-division teams like QPR or Milwall) didn't and couldn't exist?

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