Professional soccer is returning to Tulsa! The Tulsa Drillers have announced that they have purchased majority interest in an expansion franchise in the USL PRO League. The Tulsa team will begin play in the spring of 2015 with home games slated to be played at ONEOK Field.
The Drillers will be majority owners of the new team with Prodigal LLC holding a minority interest in the squad. The USL PRO team will mark the highest level of professional soccer in the city since the Tulsa Roughnecks played their final season in the old North American Soccer League in 1984.
"We are very excited to be involved in bringing a high level of professional, outdoor soccer back to the city of Tulsa," said Mike Melega. "We feel that Tulsa is a great soccer market, and this return is long overdue."
The new team will share ONEOK Field with the Drillers. The USL PRO regular season runs from late March through mid August. Playoff games are held during the month of September. In 2014, the USL Pro regular season will consist of 28 matches with each team playing 14 home matches.
There is also the chance that Tulsa could host exhibitions and U.S. Open Cup games as well.
The USL PRO league began a unique partnership with Major League Soccer, the top professional soccer league in North America, prior to the 2013 season. Through the partnership, some USL PRO teams entered into affiliation agreements where the MLS team provided players to their clubs, similar to Major League Baseball's player development partnership with Minor League Baseball. It is anticipated that the Tulsa club will begin an affiliation with a MLS team prior to its inaugural season in 2015.
"We think the USL PRO structure and its partnership with Major League Soccer provide the city of Tulsa with the best opportunity to have a successful and long-term franchise," said Melega. "Over the years, Major League Soccer has looked closely at successful USL teams when selecting expansion cities, such as with Orlando moving to MLS in 2015. If the fans of Tulsa support the return of professional, outdoor soccer to the city, we feel that Tulsa has an excellent chance to move onto the radar of Major League Soccer as they consider future expansion cities."
"Prodigal is pleased to partner with the Drillers to bring professional soccer back to Tulsa," said Prodigal LLC owner Bob Funk Jr. "The fact that five of the last six MLS expansion teams have come from USL PRO showcases the fact that the USL PRO model is the best way for teams to experience success. We also look forward to playing games against and fostering a Turnpike Rivalry with our in-state neighbors."
The playing surface at ONEOK Field will be converted into a soccer pitch prior to each game with the field running from first base toward the left field wall. The dirt infield areas will be covered with sod to provide a complete grass surface playing field.
All seating and hospitality areas currently at the stadium will be used for the soccer matches. The initial plan is to utilize the Budweiser Terrace area as a Supporter's Section for hardcore fans who are interested in creating a festive atmosphere for all matches. Capacity at ONEOK Field will be very similar to the 7,833 figure that is used for baseball events.
The actual name for the new Tulsa team has not been determined. Plans are for a Name Your Team Contest in early 2014 with fans submitting their suggestions for the official name.
The team will begin taking deposits for season tickets immediately. Depositors will be given priority for selecting seat locations based on the dates that their deposits are received. Deposits will be $25 per seat with refunds given if a suitable location cannot be obtained.
As with the setup for baseball, several different seating tiers and price points will be available within ONEOK Field for soccer matches. Exact details and prices will be announced at a later date.
About USL PRO:
USL PRO is the strongest, best operated and most experienced North American men's professional soccer league below and in support of MLS, both on and off the field. Focused on franchise stability and longevity, USL PRO will have 14 teams compete in its 2014 season, including expansion franchises in Oklahoma City and Sacramento.
In 2013 USL PRO began a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership with MLS that has further elevated the quality and stature of USL PRO, strengthened the competition in both leagues, and established a solid foundation for future collaboration. MLS teams will choose to either field a reserve team in USL PRO or affiliate with an existing USL PRO franchise by 2015.
In addition to league play, USL PRO teams will continue to compete in the national Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and various domestic and international exhibitions.
Approximately half of the teams in the league boast a decade or more of operational experience. It also has the distinction of being the longest standing pro league affiliate member of the United States Soccer Federation, with more than two decades of successful operations.
In 2013, the USL PRO league had teams operating in cities such as Pittsburgh, PA, Phoenix, AZ, Richmond VA, Dayton OH, Charlotte, NC, Charleston, SC, Wilmington, NC, Rochester, NY and Los Angeles, CA. Orlando captured the league title by posting a memorable 7-4 victory over Charlotte before over 20,000 fans at the Florida Citrus Bowl.