Fans cheer New Mexico United during a game on September 9, 2019. The NMU announced that it has self-imposed a capacity limit of 75% (9,250) fans for much of the 2021 season. (Roberto E. Rosales / Journal)
Back to the laboratory for a short time, back to the drawing board for a permanent home.
That is New Mexico United’s latest outlook after Albuquerque voters last month turned down a loan to fund a downtown stadium for the USL Championship football franchise.
United owner and CEO Peter Trevisani said the club continues to plan to build a football-specific stadium in the Albuquerque area and has no plans to move. “We’re not going anywhere,” he said.
For now, however, the NMU is working on expanding its stadium sharing arrangement in Isotopes Park – also known as the Lab.
United’s three-year sublease to host home games in the city’s baseball park expired after the 2021 season. The Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes are the main tenant of this facility, and Trevisani said talks are underway with Isotopes President Ken Young about an extension of the sublease.
“Ken and (Isotopes General Manager John Traub) were great partners and we had great conversations,” Trevisani said in a recent interview. “We are confident that we will have a place to play next year and beyond.”
Trevisani’s confidence is evidenced by the fact that United recently started selling season tickets for the 2022 season. NMU communications director David Carl said early sales were brisk.
Negotiations to return to Isotopes Park would always be on the club’s agenda for the next season. A new stadium would not have been completed even after the recent bond had passed.
Even so, Isotopes Park cannot serve as a permanent home for New Mexico United. The USL Championship has set a goal of 2026 – the year the World Cup comes to the US – to have all of its clubs as primary tenants in football-specific stadiums.
Will McClaran, director of strategic communications for the USL championship, said the league expects to meet its target in 2026. Louisville, Colorado Springs, and Phoenix have opened new stadiums for the past two seasons, and Oklahoma City voters recently approved a civic project that includes a new venue for that city’s USLC franchise (which will be on hiatus in 2022 because the Stadium it will use in 2021) under renovation and unavailable).
McClaran said the league is working with United to explore stadium alternatives.
“Every market and every project is different, but the goal of the USL Championship remains the same – to become a top 10 league in the world – and our clubs have to be primary tenants in a football-specific stadium to achieve that. McClaran said in an email to the Journal. “… As a league, we are well on the way to achieving this and are confident that New Mexico United, with one of the largest and most passionate fan bases in the country, will also achieve their goal of a football-specific stadium.”
New Mexico United’s Kalen Ryden (left) shows his love for the crowd as he celebrates at Isotopes Park with Juan Pablo Guzman after scoring a goal against Charleston on July 12th. (Mike Sandoval for the journal)
New Mexico United ranked second behind Louisville in home attendance last season, averaging 7,727 fans per game, despite lack of season ticket sales and pandemic restrictions. United said it imposed a 75% capacity limit (9,250 fans) on itself for much of the 2021 campaign.
McClaran didn’t say clubs that don’t have primary tenants in football-specific stadiums by 2026 will have to move, but he made the USLC’s expectations clear.
“If this is not possible, clubs must make difficult decisions that are in their best interests to achieve long-term success,” said McClaran, “and that may include examining relocation options.”
Trevisani estimates stadium planning and construction to be a three to five year project and weighs up numerous options. Moving is not one of them.
Trevisani mentioned several locations for a potential stadium project, including the West Side of Albuquerque and the Mesa del Sol neighborhood, where United has changing rooms and practice facilities. Trevisani said local casinos have also expressed interest in a possible partnership, but said those talks are preliminary. He declined to name the casinos.
One of the top considerations for any stadium location is the availability of parking, which was one of the objections that residents of the inner city corridor made to the recent bond issue. United haven’t ruled out a downtown stadium, Trevisani said, but the club are not pursuing any of the four locations recommended in a recent feasibility study.
“Ideally, we want a place where there is plenty of parking and we can mostly have weekend games,” said Trevisani. “Lots of people can’t come to games during the week, so we want to build a place that won’t conflict with weekend concerts or other events.”
Trevisani said United hope to build a stadium that can accommodate 10-12,000 fans. USL championship standards require a minimum of 5,000 seats.
As for funding, Trevisani still provides for some level of private-public partnership, but nothing in the sense that voters on the $ 50 million bond project have been turned down. This proposal would have funded a facility similar to Isotopes Park, a city-owned stadium that has been leased to Isotopes since 2003.
Prior to the November election, United’s group of owners pledged $ 10 million in additional construction costs and pledged to pay $ 22.5 million in rent and concessions over a 25-year lease if the bond project is approved. Trevisani said United’s group of owners remains poised to invest heavily, but said a specific dollar amount has not yet been set.
“The city had a plan that mimicked Isotopes Park, and we got involved behind it,” said Trevisani. “Voters didn’t think a city stadium would make sense and we respect their decision. But we also pledged to spend $ 32.5 million on a stadium we wouldn’t have owned. I think it’s a great commitment and we’re still ready to invest a lot in the future. “
Trevisani has also campaigned for a professional women’s soccer team to be brought to Albuquerque, but “the logistics at Isotopes Park can’t do that right now,” he said.
“As soon as we have a stadium map, it will be possible, so we’re not giving up. If we’d stopped when we first heard no, we would never have started New Mexico United. We are committed and will continue to learn. “