If Omaha fans turn out for professional football, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle reasons that they might turn out for professional fútbol as well.
Speaking this week at a reverse trade mission featuring representatives from 11 countries in Europe and Asia, Suttle told the crowd at Creighton University that he thinks Omaha would have the perfect pitch for a Major League Soccer franchise.
Citing attendance of about 23,000 at the first two Omaha Nighthawks games at Rosenblatt Stadium, Suttle said Omaha should be considered for an expansion MLS franchise.
“We're testing the market right now with what's being done with the Omaha Nighthawks,” Suttle told the World-Herald Tuesday. “Look at the success story, all of their games have been sellouts. That's unheard of in (United Football League) history.”
Suttle said the city, to his knowledge, has had no formal talks with MLS officials.
The MLS has 16 teams, including the Kansas City Wizards, Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids — the three with closest proximity to Omaha — but plans to expand to Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2011, and Montreal in 2012. The league also is possibly eyeing the addition of another franchise in the southeast United States, either in south Florida or Atlanta, according to various media reports.
Starting in late November, the Omaha Vipers, members of the seven-team Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) will begin play at the Omaha Civic Auditorium, which seats 9,300 for sporting events.
When the Vipers were announced in August, Suttle said that a professional soccer franchise is something that he and Hispanic business leaders in the community had talked about three years ago.
The Vipers are owned by Frank Oñate, who also owns La Mesa Restaurant.
Suttle said the unfinished TD Ameritrade Park would be the perfect home for an MLS franchise. The new home of the College World Series will seat 24,000, which is comparable to some of the top soccer-specific stadiums in the United States, including the 25,000-seat Red Bull Stadium in Harrison, N.J.
If it were to happen, Omaha would be, by far, the smallest U.S. city with an MLS team. According to the most recent U.S. Census projections, the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area is 59th in overall population with 849,500 residents. The smallest city with an MLS franchise is Columbus, Ohio, ranked 32nd by the Census Bureau with a population of more than 1.8 million.
Phone messages left with the MLS were not returned Tuesday.
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