Chukchansi Park was built and designed for baseball.
It’s Frank Yallop’s job to convince soccer fans around here otherwise.
“I need to make sure this is a soccer experience the people here haven’t had before,” Fresno Football Club’s general manager says from behind the desk in his new office. “Make sure when a fan comes to a stadium, they go, ‘This is a soccer stadium.’ ”
In the two months since Fresno officially joined the United Soccer League – with president and primary owner Ray Beshoff forking over a $5 million expansion fee – Yallop has been busy assembling the new operation.
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A storage area just inside the right-field tunnel was converted into a cluster of offices. (Yallop’s wife, Karen, picked out the colors and decor.) The longtime MLS coach and former former Ipswich star brought aboard familiar names Jeremy Schultz (assistant GM) and Jordan Wiebe (director of marketing & communications) from the Fresno Fuego and a sales staff that includes former Fuego great Milton Blanco.
Last week Fresno FC joined up with Adidas, the global company that also outfits soccer giants Real Madrid and Manchester United. The club’s navy and steel blue uniforms are being designed, along with shirts, hats, scarves and hoodies.
Now comes the step fans thirsty for professional soccer in the central San Joaquin Valley have been waiting for: Season-ticket packages for Fresno FC’s inaugural 2018 season go on sale Monday at fresnofc.com.
So far, the club has accepted some 300 deposits at $50 per seat. Yallop expects that to surge as soon as season tickets are actually available – and fans get their first look at the new configuration.
Chukchansi Park is certainly no stranger to soccer. It has served as home to the amateur-level Fuego (which Fresno FC is taking over) and numerous pro exhibitions.
The new club will play on a field aligned in the same direction as when Liga MX clubs play there, with the baseball mound removed. Except the actual pitch will be larger (110 yards by 72 yards), closer and run more parallel to the lower deck than what’s been previously done.
“The big thing was making sure someone who buys a ticket to the game is going to have a great view,” Yallop says. “There’s nothing worse than going to a soccer game at a baseball stadium and the field’s in the middle of the outfield. It’s too far away.”
The city’s craved this. Here it is. It’s ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Fresno FC general manager Frank Yallop
While Chukchansi Park seats 12,500 for baseball and has drawn more than 16,000 for Mexican futbol clubs, Yallop would prefer no one has a bad seat. By not selling tickets in sections that aren’t great for soccer, capacity will be set at 8,400 unless there’s overflow.
As always, the best seats will cost the most coin.
Fresno FC’s season tickets are divided into four levels, plus a section for youth soccer and families. Prices start at $240 for the supporters section behind the north goal, climb to $360 for seats facing the penalty box areas and $500 for lower midfield.
Want a premium experience? Season tickets in the upper-level club section go for $1,200, with a row of field-level seats selling for $1,500.
“Literally between the stands and the pitch itself, which has never been done here before for soccer,” says Fred Matthes, the club’s vice president of tickets.
Each package includes 20 games, 17 for the 31-week USL season that runs from mid-March through mid-October, plus two preseason exhibitions against MLS clubs and one U.S. Open Cup date.
Season-ticket holders will save about 25 percent over single-game seats, which will go on sale later, and be invited to certain team events.
“We’ll have at some point ‘Pick a Seat Day’ for the first 500 or 1,000 or whatever people who put deposits down,” Yallop says. “When you buy a seat you’re going to know exactly where you’re sitting.”
$240 price of least expensive season tickets located in the Fresno FC supporters section
The goal, according to Yallop, is to sell at least 3,000 season ticket packages between now and kickoff. The club expects to play at Chukchansi Park for two years before finding a permanent, soccer-specific home.
“This city has been craving for professional soccer, and now it’s here,” Yallop says. “Now we need the community and the city to really get behind the team and make sure that it is successful.”
In previous stints with the San Jose Earthquakes, Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire and Phoenix Rising, the 53-year-old Yallop always has been the head coach. In Fresno, it’s his job to find one. Preliminary interviews have started, and Yallop expects to announce a hire by the end of October.
Yallop has also started the process of identifying players who could make up next year’s roster and speaking to their agents. Unlike minor league baseball, USL franchises make their own personnel acquisitions and carry their own payrolls.
I want a hungry coach, and I want one that’s going to play an attacking style. We have to entertain our fans as well as win.
Most player signings will occur in November, December and January. Yallop envisions a diverse roster sprinkled with international players but has something special in mind for Fresno FC’s first signee.
“I’d love to be able to sign someone who came up through youth soccer in the Fresno area because I think it’s important to the community to know one of their own has made it and is playing for his hometown,” Yallop says.
“I can’t guarantee that’ll happen, but I’m hoping.”
Valley soccer fans have waited years for a pro franchise. They’ll have to wait another six months before Fresno FC actually takes the pitch, but the pieces are starting to come together.