Exclusive: Hawaii eyeing professional soccer team for New Aloha Stadium

Sports

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The state of Hawaii is looking to become the home to a professional sports franchise once again.

A contingent of five lawmakers and three Aloha Stadium Authority Board Members met up in Tampa, Florida for a meeting to bring the United Soccer League to the islands. This soccer team would play in the proposed New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District (NASED).

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The United Soccer League currently has 43 teams across the nation in two leagues, of which 31 play in its top-level Championship League, featuring west coast cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles. It is looking to expand from 65 to 70 over the next half-decade.

“We are very, very interested in Hawaii because of the community-driven nature that our clubs instill in their markets,” USL Vice President of Club Expansion Dan Holman said. “The fact obviously with the NASED project is massive, we are very much interested in transformational projects.”

Hawaii State Senator Glenn Wakai hopes more tenants in the NASED can help with finances. The project is cleared by the state legislature for $350 million. Currently, $170 million in general obligation bonds has been allocated.

“If we just say ‘build the stadium for six football games,’ it’s going to be a very difficult facility to finance,” Sen. Wakai said. “So, we’re trying to do our due diligence now to make the stadium attractive to say that, you know, developer you come in; we have three top-notch tenants ready to come in because we cannot be chasing one-off events where the Cowboys and Rams game was a one-time event.”

The state is also investigating a Major League Rugby franchise as a tenant. The stadium would be effectively rented out to a new tenant.

University of Hawaii football is the venue’s main attraction, but they generally play six or seven home games a season. Under their current schedule format, a USL season would more than double that figure in-home dates.

Last week, former Hawaii Governors Neil Abercrombie, Ben Cayetano and John Waihee called for UH to build a 22,000 to 27,000 seat stadium on campus and for the NASED project to be scrapped.

“Our Rainbow Warrior Division I football team cannot survive if it has to wait for years for a new stadium to even begin construction,” all the governors said and agreed.

Officials expect to break ground on the real estate project of NASED in early 2023. There is no firm timeline for when demolition or construction will begin on the stadium itself, but a request for a proposal on the stadium is expected by the end of 2021.

Sen. Wakai knows the clock is ticking.

“To be honest, I understand what the governors are coming from the process has been a little slow,” Sen. Wakai explained. “We were supposed to get the stadium RFP out in July. We’re going to get it out in December — that is unacceptable. We need to not be having delay of game penalties; we need to get moving downfield.”

The contingent also toured Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and gained ideas of what could be possible and beneficial with NASED.

“The stadium executive director was able to give us a look from everything from the bowels and the locker room, all the way up to the luxury box suites,” Sen. Wakai said.

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Sen. Wakai and others were impressed with how stadium suites function and how they could generate revenue.

“The lesson, I think, is that we have to be creative, and we have to really look at trying to grow the luxury sector — or sector of the entire entertainment experience. No longer is it just filling seats and putting butts in seats. It’s about getting them earlier, feeding them, giving them some alcohol, giving them a really different air-conditioned fan experience,” Sen. Wakai added.

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