Supervisors will be asked today to spend $280,000 to make Tucson one of the top destinations for spring training for half of the Major League Soccer teams.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wants to dip into the county contingency fund in order to bring 10 teams from the professional soccer league as well as a team from Mexico for two weeks of preseason training.
Under the terms of the proposal, up to $200,000 total would be given to 10 MLS teams to offset some of their costs to train in Tucson, and another $80,000 would go to bring a team from Mexico to participate in a "major soccer competition."
County officials predict the economic impact of 10 MLS teams, one Mexican league team and the media covering the games could inject $3.9 million into the local economy in spending by the teams, players, media and fans.
Four resorts - the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Omni Tucson National Golf Resort and The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa - have already indicated they would be interested in hosting the teams during the preseason training. Having the teams stay at a hotel in an unincorporated part of Pima County, where the county recoups some cost via bed taxes, is one of the few strings attached to Huckelberry's proposal.
Greg Foster, one of the co-owners of FC Tucson, calls the $280,000 an "investment" in establishing a long-term, sustainable model for spring training for Major League Soccer. FC Tucson is a franchisee in the United Soccer League's Premier Development League.
A few years ago, he said, MLS teams were largely disorganized when it came to practicing during the off-season. Teams would travel to a warmer climate and simply find local amateur teams to play against.
Professional league soccer started playing games in Tucson in spring 2011, when one game was played between the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City. The game, held at Hi Corbett Field, was sold out.
The 2011 game proved Major League Soccer could bring in large crowds to watch the teams play, Foster said.
Last year, a total of 19 games were played over the course of two weeks with 13 teams participating.
"The (preseason) model is working quite well," Foster said.
County funds would be transferred to Metropolitan Tucson Convention & Visitors Bureau for the promotion of tourism related to MLS preseason training, a memo from Huckelberry to the board states.
Tom Tracy, the former chair of the Pima County Sports and Tourism Authority, said, "The project holds great promise," in part because of the involvement of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, which he believes has demonstrated a good history with public funds.
Currently, the county gives the Kino Stadium District an annual subsidy of about $1.5 million from the general fund to pay for maintenance and operations. The taxpayers are also on the hook for $3.3 million a year until 2016 to pay off debt associated with the stadium district.
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4346.