For a while now, I have been planning on writing profiles of certain cities or areas as possible homes for NYCFC’s second team. We know Patrick Vieira really wants an NYCFC II team similar to LA Galaxy II, not just a USL affiliate 1,800 miles away. The three areas for this series I picked were Hartford, Long Island, and Upstate New York. All three areas are close enough to NYC that players can move back and forth with relative ease. They will be evaluated on a wide variety of criteria, but any of these three locations could suffice, especially considering City Football Group’s (CFG) financial clout.
Hartford is a tricky place for NYCFC fans— but it’s a city near and dear to my heart. Having spent my life growing up around Hartford, I know the sports culture. When the September 23rd Houston Dynamo game got moved to Hartford, I was ecstatic. Many NYCFC fans based in the Five Boroughs were understandably upset; still, I urge you to put away your dislike for the situation and keep an open mind about the benefits of having a United Soccer League (USL) team there one day.
Population: 123,243 (Hartford), 1,486,436 (Greater Hartford)
Other Sports Teams: Hartford Yard Goats, Hartford Wolf Pack, New Britain Bees, University of Connecticut, Hartford City FC (NPSL)
Stadiums: Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, Dillon Stadium, CCSU Soccer Field
How Would Hartford Fit?
Even before NYCFC moved the Dynamo game, pro soccer in Hartford has been covered in controversy. The original Hartford City FC, owned by Premier Sports, bid to renovate Dillon Stadium and turn it into a 15,000 seat arena. Their plan was to play a season of indoor soccer soccer at the XL Center before entering the NASL in April 2017. The city was going to finance the $12 million stadium, and decided to pay Premier Sports $2 million for design and site preparation. A different group, Black Diamond, was going to pay for construction costs and lease the land.
In October 2015, however, the city ended their relationship with Premier Sports due to financial and legal concerns uncovered by The Hartford Courant. The Courant discovered that executives at the companies had been charged with embezzlement and failure to pay off debts. City Development Director Thomas Deller resigned because he knew this information, yet didn’t do anything about it. It turned out the city was right: James Duckett Jr. and Mitchell Anderson, two developers, were found guilty of wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering by a U.S. District Court.
This distrust of developers continued during stadium construction for AA baseball’s Yard Goats. This project was over budget and taking too long to build. Think moving one game is bad? The Yard Goats had to play an ENTIRE SEASON on the road. Part of the reason why former mayor Pedro Segarra lost to current mayor Luke Bronin in the September 2015 Democratic primary was due to his handling of the two stadium projects. Luke Bronin is not in favor of public funding for stadiums, so CFG are unlikely to receive public cash if they wanted to build in Hartford.
For Hartford City FC, however, legal catastrophes didn’t spell the end. A local entrepreneur, Aaron Sarwar, bought the copyright, trademark and logo for the team. The new iteration of HCFC played in the 2017 NPSL season and finished 3rd in the White Conference with a 5-3-4 record. They played at Central Connecticut State University, which holds 2,500. This is probably a bit small for a USL side, but training sessions could potentially be held there. The best outcome would be CFG buying HCFC (They wouldn’t even have to change the name!!), switching to USL, and using to one of the other stadiums in the Hartford Area.
The big stadium option, Rentschler Field, seats 40,642— it will be interesting to see how many people show up to watch the upcoming NYCFC match there, as it would be a good measuring stick for a USL side. Across six USMNT games at Rentschler, an average of about 29,000 people have shown up. Presumably, less would show up for a USL side. Still, FC Cincinnati has managed to draw large crowds, so if CFG thinks they can achieve something similar, this stadium fits. This option would require minimal investment from CFG, but this arena may be a too big.
The final stadium option, Dillion Stadium, is small to medium size, seating 9,600. It could, however, be expanded to 15,000, as the original HCFC planned to do. This would probably cost about $12-15 million, with CFG needing to foot the bill, as Bronin and the residents of Hartford don’t appear interested in paying for stadiums. (They are worrying about bankruptcy.) CFG, of course, could certainly afford the cost.
I believe the best plan for NYCFC II in Hartford is to purchase HCFC, move them to USL, and renovate Dillon Stadium. While they are waiting for the renovation to finish, they could play at Rentschler. The whole project would probably cost about $15-20 million, a manageable sum for this ownership group. Perhaps they could get some contribution from the state government, but that is unlikely. CFG should still consider this plan, however, because they could get a long-term USL partner as early as next season. And with all its depth issues, NYCFC needs one desperately.