The Fort Worth Vaqueros, temporarily homeless heading into the 2015 season, are rolling heading into their May 16 home opener.
Wednesday night, the team held its second annual jersey lottery in a raucous party at Lola’s, a bar off of Fort Worth’s West Seventh Street corridor. Tarrant County College, one of 36 entrants that paid $2,500 for a sponsorship and the right to be in a lottery to put its logo on the team’s jersey front this year, was the winner.
Last week, the team, which played its first minor league season last year at LaGrave Field on Fort Worth’s North Side, signed on to play the 2015 season at Texas Wesleyan University’s Martin Field. The Vaqueros had been sent off in search of a new home in the offseason, when LaGrave’s owner closed it.
The Vaqueros, which played eight home games last year, will play at least 10 this season. And they’re hoping to line up exhibitions, including one with Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas, Michael Hitchcock, the Vaqueros owner, said in an interview Wednesday.
The team’s choices for home field this season were two: the Fort Worth schools’ Farrington Field and Texas Wesleyan, Hitchock said. The team fielded inquiries from suburban cities, but is committed to remaining in the central city and being a part of its revitalization, Hitchcock said.
“Being in the city is important, just to be near the action, where people live, work and play,” he said.
Texas Wesleyan, which has had a budding relationship with the Vaqueros, agreed to let the team sell beer at Martin Field, where the school’s men’s and women’s soccer teams play. The Vaqueros will create a “BeerGarden” and a “Vaqueros Village” that will include a KidZone, Food Truck Alley, and fireworks demonstrations at certain matches.
“The synergies all came together,” Hitchcock said. “We think it’s going to create a really cool community feel.”
The Vaqueros will “create” capacity for 2,000 fans, including sponsor tents and bringing in bleachers, Hitchcock said.
The ability to sell beer was key, with the accompanying sponsorship opportunities and beer being a “big piece of per-cap revenue,” Hitchcock said. The Fort Worth schools don’t allow beer sales at their venues.
“It’s the fan experience,” he said. “There are a lot of fans who want to enjoy an ice cold beer and the game with their family.”
The agreement with the Texas Wesleyan is just for 2015. But “the spirit of the agreement is if it works for us and it works for Texas Wesleyan, we’d love to explore” a longer-term relationship, Hitchcock said.
“We are thrilled to welcome the Vaqueros to our home in East Fort Worth,” Frederick G. Slabach, Texas Wesleyan’s president, said. “The Vaqueros are a strong Fort Worth brand that offers community and family-friendly entertainment. Just as important, this partnership will provide opportunities for our athletic training students, who will have a chance to work with upper-level athletes, and for our soccer team who will have opportunities to scrimmage with the Vaqueros.”
Fort Worth Mayor Pro Tem Sal Espino, an unabashed soccer fan, told Vaqueros fans at Wednesday’s party he wasn’t giving up on re-opening LaGrave Field. LaGrave’s owner, who owns other property around the field, wants to trade the ballpark for land in the area that he can develop as Fort Worth’s Panther Island major redevelopment plans picks up steam.
The issue has become mired in election politics, with Tarrant Regional Water District board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard facing tough re-election campaigns on May 9 against challengers Craig Bickley, Michele Von Luckner and Keith Annis, who have been critical of what they say is the TRWD’s lack of transparency and loss of focus on providing water to the region.
The Vaqueros eventually want to grow into their own soccer stadium. Hitchcock said the team doesn’t have a hypothetical timeframe for when it might be right to push for a new stadium.
“The biggest piece of that is land,” Hitchcock said. “It’s finding a partner who believes in what we’re doing. If somebody handed me land tomorrow, enough to build a soccer stadium, we could get this thing done.”
The Vaqueros’ jersey lottery is one small sign of the team’s building popularity. Last year, the team sold 14 sponsorships in the jersey lottery, at the same $2,500 level.
“The $2,500 is the sweet spot,” Hitchcock said.