That’s how long the Rochester community has to get their USL team’s budget over the line, or one of the most celebrated clubs in modern American history is done.
The Rhinos are the last non-MLS team to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and have claimed four other titles including the 2015 USL Cup. They once regularly averaged 10,000-plus in attendance during a sustained MLS push, but have since seen a dramatic drop-off to 2,000 fans a game despite making the playoffs in 21 of 22 seasons.
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What’s cause those problems? Some point to the location of their soccer-specific stadium, while others say the community never got over the failure to join MLS. Regardless, supporters have not come close to filling the facility, one which boasted 15,000-plus for hometown hero Abby Wambach’s post-World Cup homecoming against the WNY Flash in 2015. The Flash moved to North Carolina after the 2016 season.
Rochester’s celebrated coach, Bob Lilley, left the club for Pittsburgh on Tuesday, leaving Wednesday’s community press conference with Rochester owner Dave and Wendy Dworkin, minority owners of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, to loom large.
The Rhinos estimate that $1.3 million in support is needed to protect the franchise, sourced from jersey sponsorships, season tickets, suites and new corporate sponsorships. In addition, the team is seeking a representative portion of Monroe County Hotel Room Occupancy Tax revenues, of which it currently receives zero.
Here’s how longtime Rochester soccer writer/booster Jeff DiVeronica phrased it:
That 2500 figure is 500 more than the aforementioned reported average last season. It’s a massive ask, and the Dworkins saved the club from disaster with a purchase before the 2016 USL season. It’s easier to imagine Rochester-area businesses laying out sponsorship dough than a rush of season ticket holders and a share of the hotel revenue tax.
Let’s hope for it: The Rhinos are an important club in modern American soccer.
This comes on the heels of more significant growth for the league, which announced a Memphis team and Atlanta United affiliate this week. The USL also announced the rebranding of Harrisburg City as Penn FC on Wednesday.