An ownership group led by real estate developer John McClutchy Jr. has entered into a conditional agreement with the United Soccer League to bring a USL Championship club to Buffalo, New York, with officials targeting a 10,000-seat soccer-specific stadium for the team.

The USL Championship is the second-tier of club football in the US, below Major League Soccer (MLS), and the ownership group is targeting the 2023 season for kick-off. The awarding of the franchise is contingent upon the construction of a soccer-specific stadium in Buffalo, and completion of economic feasibility studies.

McClutchy is working with his long-term business partner, Dennis Penman of Penman Development Partners to identify and acquire a site to accommodate the stadium development. “Buffalo is no stranger to the beautiful game,” McClutchy said in a statement. “Youth soccer is especially strong, with over 10,000 registered players and a supporter culture that has a great foundation with its American Outlaw chapter.

“When you combine this with Buffalo’s vibrant downtown community and its growing millennial population, the time is right to get the ball rolling on bringing a USL Championship club to this great city.”

Outreach by the development team to various community leaders, sport organisers and soccer fans is underway and expected to grow in the coming months. Through his organisation, JHM Sports Enterprises, McClutchy is working together with Penman Development Partners to identify potential sites for the stadium. In addition, a series of economic feasibility studies are underway for the project with results expected to be released in December.

USL chief operating officer, Justin Papadakis, said: “The City of Good Neighbors speaks for itself. Buffalo is a tight-knit community and an exceptionally passionate and prideful sports town.

“Like our league, Buffalo is growing and the prospect of contributing to that growth with a USL Championship club is exciting. We know that there’s a lot of work to be done before a franchise can become reality, but the opportunity to unite Buffalo and energise its soccer community around a professional club has great value for the city’s future.”

The project also has the support of Buffalo’s Mayor, Byron W. Brown, who said: “This is a very exciting opportunity for the City of Buffalo and the entire Western New York Region. We have a vibrant soccer community and some of the nation’s most avid sports fans.

“My administration looks forward to working with John McClutchy, Dennis Penman and JHM Sports Enterprises as they explore the feasibility of bringing a USL Championship club to the City of Buffalo, and we welcome the chance to help them identify potential sites that would be suited for this development project.”

Discussing the stadium plan with local radio station WBFO, McClutchy said he is targeting a site in, or close to, downtown Buffalo. “We are looking at specific sites, but we have confidentiality agreements so I can’t disclose where the sites are,” he said. “But we are looking at sites that are in the downtown area of Buffalo or very close to it. All of which would have great access.”

Western New York previously had a USL team in the form of Rochester Rhinos, which played at Marina Auto Stadium from its opening in 2006 until 2017, when the club suspended operations. McClutchy said he is confident his ownership group presents a stronger business proposition. He added: “First of all, that’s not the way I run my business. I don’t want to be pejorative to anyone, but I believe that if you look back to the 1990s and see the transformation of the Rochester Rhinos from a championship team to a failure, it was management error that caused that failure.

“We run very successful businesses. We are very focused on how operate our businesses. We have reached out to experts at all levels, including people in the Premier League, in Europe, sports advisors as far as Great Britain and worked with USL. They had to vet us and our plan in order to be comfortable that we wouldn’t come back with a failure at some point in the future.

“Our stadium is going to be soccer specific. It is going to be state of the art. We have spent a lot of time visiting other stadiums and identifying what we want and what we should have versus what others may have which doesn’t work quite as well.”

Image: USL