Colorado College men's soccer coach Horst Richardson could not be more pleased a new USL PRO franchise is moving into the city.
"It is a glorious moment," said Richardson, who is credited by many with jump-starting the sport in Colorado Springs when he took over at CC 49 years ago. "We are all very excited to see the quantum leap being made."
He wasn't the only one. Most of the 75 local Olympic sport and soccer leaders attending Thursday's formal announcement at the Penrose House were pleased at the news a team would begin play at Sand Creek stadium, a city parks facility adjacent to Security Service Field, in spring 2015.
No one was more excited than Ragain Sports, Inc. owner Martin "Ed" Ragain of Evergreen. He founded and is part-owner of ME Engineers Inc., a sports lighting firm with an office in Colorado Springs.
"It's a dream come true," he said.
About $1 million in improvements will be required for Sand Creek to meet USL PRO standards, said Ragain, who added that his franchise will contribute some of that money while the city may provide the rest. The exact amount needed is to be determined, he said.
The 1,500-seat facility will need to hold up to 3,500 for the franchise to generate enough revenue. A combination of permanent and temporary bleachers will be installed along with trailers for locker rooms and multimedia work.
Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said he hopes that location proves temporary with the team eventually moving into a multi-use downtown stadium, one part of the $251 million City For Champions proposal under the state's consideration. A decision on whether the city will receive half that cost in sales tax revenue is expected Dec. 16.
Bach said having pro soccer will provide another way the city may retain its young professionals.
A dream like Ragain's can become reality if the business succeeds. A number of previous pro franchises in the city have not.
United Soccer Leagues president Tim Holt is confident that will not be the case now, citing "a long-term, realistic business plan and good short-term and long-term venue options." The league has 13 teams slated for 2014 with several more for 2015 to be announced soon.
Colorado Springs fits the league's efforts to expand into the West, he added
"Colorado Springs has been on our radar for sometime," he said.
The league does not have a cap but suggests teams devote only "low six figures" for player salaries total, Holt said. Most are under age 27 and working their way up to Major League Soccer.
The league is working with MLS to have individual franchises sign affiliation agreements. Six have so far. There have been no talks with the Colorado Rapids, yet.
Getting an agreement is a priority by summer 2014 so the MLS franchise can have a say in the coaching hire and provide some players for four exhibition games (two home) that summer.
The team will hold a nickname and logo contest in the next few months and get merchandise out by the exhibitions.
"2014 will be a dry run for us," Ragain said, adding that he expects to have five to six working in the team office, including a general manager, and up to 30 working home games.
Pro success sparse in area
Professional sports franchises have mostly struggled in Colorado Springs.
Some include the Rocky Mountain Thunder of the Indoor Professional Football League, which moved after one season (1999) at World Arena despite the involvement of former Broncos receiver Mark Jackson.
Another World Arena tenant, the Colorado Gold Kings of the West Coast Hockey League, moved in from Alaska but folded after four seasons (1998-2002).
Two American Basketball Association franchises managed one season between them with the Colorado Springs Crusaders playing some games. The Colorado Storm moved to the Denver area before playing a game in the Pikes Peak region.
There are a couple area semi-pro football teams still active. A United Women’s Football League team, the Colorado Springs Koalas, folded before starting its inaugural season in 2007. The exceptions are in baseball with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Triple-A) completing their 26th season this summer. The Sky Sox of the Class-A Western League played from 1950-58.