Thursday, July 16, 2015

#TBT The Rochester Wizards

I read a really good article this week over on Empire of Soccer called The Rise and Fall of the Rochester Rhinos. It's a history of the only non-MLS team to win the US Open Cup, and their ascension to being an MLS expansion favor to almost going out of existence. The club is now appears to be back on their feet in the USL.

The reason I bring the article up is because Kansas City's MLS history almost became Rochester's MLS history. As I've previously mentioned, after the 2004 season, Lamar Hunt put the Kansas City Wizards up for sale. Throughout the coming 2005 season, many rumors surfaced about potential locations the Wizards were set to be moved to. From Tulsa, to San Antonio, to New York, to yes, Rochester. In fact, Rochester was arguably the favorite to land the Wizards. As the article mentions, after Rochester had failed in their bid to get an expansion team in 2005 when the league added Chivas USA and Real Sale Lake, they turned their attention to purchasing the for sale Wizards. At the time, Rochester was drawing pretty much the same if not more than KC was at Arrowhead, even though Rochester was in the minor leagues. According to one of the team's original owners, Steve Donner the deal to move the Wizards to Rochester was pretty much a done deal, "we had an agreement pretty much done in principle with Kansas City to move the Wizards here."

I remember being told later that it was far enough along that the Hunts were counting parking spots in Rochester for the upcoming move of the Wizards to Rochester. According to Donner in the article, one of the things that apparently held up the deal was that while the Hunts were going to pay the annual league expenses, in exchange they wanted equity in the stadium. The lack of their own deep pocketed partner seemed to be a main sticking point.

On the opposite side I still remember being told about Lamar Hunt's want to keep the team in Kansas City. In the end though we all know that Hunt didn't sell the Wizards to the Rochester ownership group in 2005, and with their financial issues over the next few years, it was probably for the best for the league. Instead in 2006, Hunt sold the team to OnGoal LLC, and a little less than five years after the sale,Sporting Park opened to a sell out crowd.

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