Without a stadium, Fresno FC owner says soccer club is ‘almost certain’ to relocate

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story quoted Fresno FC owner Ray Beshoff’s stating that “all the other playoff teams had 10,000-plus at their stadiums.” Actual attendance for teams in the USL Championship’s conference quarterfinals round ranged from a high of 6,642 in Phoenix to a low of 2,749 in Salt Lake City. Fresno’s attendance of 5,352 for the Oct. 26 match was the fourth highest among eight playoff matches across the country.

Frustrated by an inability to come up with a location for a soccer-only stadium in Fresno, the owner of the Fresno FC pro soccer club declared Tuesday that he and his investment group “will almost certainly be relocating the team.”

It’s not exactly a new revelation, but the statement issued by Ray Beshoff – and a subsequent comment from the United Soccer League – provide the clearest indication yet that the team, which has played two years at Fresno’s Chukchansi Park, is unlikely to remain for a third season next year.

“It is very difficult – if not impossible for a club to truly thrive without its own stadium,” Beshoff said Tuesday. “From day one we knew that Chukchansi Park could only sustain our club in the short term.”

The team has been a tenant at the downtown baseball stadium, and reaps no revenue from ancillary sources such as parking or concessions.

Beshoff cited “the political realities of securing a soccer stadium for our club, coupled with the economic realities that make our current situation untenable for our club,” as the impetus behind the announcement.

“Time after time, our efforts to secure a soccer-specific home within the confines of Fresno have run into a brick wall,” he added. “While I’d like to personally apologize to our fans for these failures, I also firmly believe there is little more we could have done as an organization.”

How much hope remains?

Neither statement indicated a likely landing spot for the team, although Beshoff indicated in a separate interview that he’s had promising negotiations with California State University Monterey Bay to relocate the team to the soccer-only stadium at the campus.

But the owner has not completely closed the door on Fresno – at least, not yet. Before any final decision on the Monterey proposal, “we’ll see what finally happens here in Fresno. I’d say we’re 95% out right now, but something might still happen with that 5% in the next two or three weeks if people come to the table with ideas or suggestions that we think are tenable,” Beshoff told The Bee.

Beshoff laid at least part of the blame for lack of progress at the steps of Fresno City Hall. “I think mainly Fresno needs to decide if they want to have professional sports teams,” he said. “Every time we maybe potentially had a solution to the problem we hit a brick wall.”

“I don’t think anyone did anything willfully against us,” Beshoff added. “I just think as we went forward, every time we found a potential solution, it didn’t work. … We thought that maybe there would be a little more enthusiasm for having a stadium than what we saw.”

In the statement issued by the club, Beshoff said he believes that “if the city became committed to working in tandem on the stadium piece, the foundations for a great team could be laid, and a new owner, with a new team, could be successful.”

“However, it is clear that a solution will not come in time for Fresno FC,” he added.

Among the options that the team has explored – some on its own, some in conjunction with the city of Fresno – for a stadium site are the Selland Arena parking lot at the downtown Fresno Convention Center, the parking lot on H Street across from Chukchansi Park, the Granite Park recreation complex in central Fresno, Fresno State’s soccer/lacrosse field and potential sites in Madera County. All, however, have proven fruitless.

Game attendance down

What was probably the last Fresno FC Foxes game in Fresno – a USL Championship league playoff loss to the El Paso Locomotive FC –took place on Saturday. The official attendance for that game at Chukchansi Park was 5,352, but Beshoff said that only about 3,400 of those fans represented paid tickets.

Throughout the 2019 season, the Foxes averaged about 4,100 fans – 19th among the USL Championship league’s 36 clubs. That included about 1,200 unpaid tickets offered as comps to sponsors and other promotional giveaways, Beshoff said. Attendance this year was down almost 15% from the 2018 season, when the average crowd was more than 4,800. The team reported that its biggest attendance this year was 7,863 fans.

“The fans who did come, the Fire Squad and all those folks, were fantastic,” Beshoff told The Bee. “You couldn’t ask for a better group of people and soccer-committed. But when you look at the playoff game we just had … all the other (playoff) teams had 10,000-plus at their stadiums.”

In two years of operation, the Foxes ownership lost about $4 million – not unexpected, given that the team was effectively a start-up business, Beshoff said.

USL President Jake Edwards echoed Beshoff’s frustration in making progress on a stadium.

“We are disappointed in Fresno FC’s inability to secure a long-term stadium solution in Fresno,” Edwards said Tuesday. “We know the club’s supporters are disappointed too. However, it is an unarguable fact that without a stadium to call their own, the club cannot operate in a sustainable way and must look at other options.”

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand referred to the Foxes in the past tense as he addressed the team’s announcement Tuesday.

“I’ve worked with the Fresno Football Club owners and management ever since they first announced the team in 2017, and while I’m disappointed we couldn’t find a suitable stadium site, I understand their situation and respect their decision,” Brand said. “They have a responsibility to their investors and I have a responsibility to our taxpayers.”

“I appreciate what the team brought to Fresno and I applaud the fans who brought passion and a true love of the sport to every match,” Brand added. “We wish the Foxes all the best.”

Among the conditions of Fresno FC’s agreement with USL was that the city-owned Chukchansi Park – primarily a baseball venue for the Triple-A minor-league Fresno Grizzlies – would be a short-term site for the team’s games and that the team develop a soccer-only stadium for the long term.

“Across the country, communities are looking to attract USL Championship clubs and help in the creation of soccer-specific stadium projects,” said Edwards, the league president. “As a league, we support the club’s decision to explore other options, while also remaining firm believers in the future of professional soccer in Fresno.”

Beshoff acknowledged the problems in playing in a baseball stadium as a tenant.

“The expenses associated with converting a baseball field to be adequate for soccer every home game, as well as the lack of revenue from concessions and parking, was always going to make things difficult for us economically,” he said. “However, we felt those short-term struggles would be worth it as it would give us the time needed to build our foundation – in the form of a venue that Fresno’s soccer community could call their own.”

Fresno Bee columnist Marek Warszawski and reporter Anthony Galaviz contributed to this report.
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Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.