Sky Blue FC has made finding a new stadium a priority as the National Women’s Soccer League team looks to overcome recent troubles and find new relevance in the New York metropolitan area.
The team currently plays at the 5,000-capacity Yurcak Field, which is on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J. In large part because of the stadium’s remote location and lack of public transport options, Sky Blue has continually struggled to draw crowds at the arena. In 2018, Sky Blue drew a league-low 2,531 fans per game.
Sky Blue is now looking to find new full-time venue from 2020, with a focus on a location elsewhere in New Jersey, while executives are also aiming to become part of a double-header at Red Bull Arena, the home of the New York Red Bulls, this season.
“There are a lot of things we need to look at. A lot of very high-level macro things like where is our home venue going to be in the future. I think Rutgers has been a fantastic springboard for us to start with, but looking long-term we have to be in a place that has more amenities for our fans, like a videoboard for example,” Sky Blue interim general manager Alyse LaHue told SportBusiness.
“For us, we’re certainly exploring New Jersey as a primary option, but for us we need to find the right fit so we may have to look over state borders. We’ve always had a neutral moniker being Sky Blue, we’ve sort of become a regional team in a lot of ways without there being a team in New York City or Philadelphia for example – we’ve able to cover that entire footprint. But of course one of our owners is the Governor of New Jersey [Phil Murphy] so New Jersey is near and dear to his heart,” she said.
Looking to capitalize on a potential Fifa Women’s World Cup boost, LaHue – who has taken over general manager roles following the resignation of Tony Novo in April – is also seeking to secure a local TV deal.
“It’s a difficult market to crack, being in New Jersey and New York City. Obviously media wise, it’s hard to get into that coverage,” said LaHue, who was speaking at the ‘Kicking and Screening’ soccer film festival in Manhattan. “So for us we have to find new ways to connect with fans on a grassroots level plus also where we can look to get our games broadcast on local networks so more people will tune in and realize that we’re in their backyard.”
There were multiple reports in 2018 about the sub-standard playing, training and living arrangements for Sky Blue players, which led in part to two 2019 NWSL Draft picks choosing to play abroad rather than for the club.
The club has looked to address these issues, by for example finding new apartments for the players. But it is clear there is still much more work to do.
“We’ve looked at things on a micro level, like taking care of our players, finding better housing for them, making sure they have a better training environment this year. I think we’ve ticked off a lot of those boxes but now I have to look at bigger, long-term things for the club, not just for this year but for the next three to five years,” LaHue said.
“The club has taken strides to create a better product. We’ve seen that the owners have been committed to catching up to the rest of the league, making sure we’re not just scraping by. We want to become a destination for players. There’s no reason that with all this great talent coming out of New Jersey that we can’t create a destination for them to come home to play. That’s what we want to build. This market is so important from a national standpoint for the league and it’s an important media market in the United States so it’s really important that we put out a good product and do really well, not just for Sky Blue and the local market but for the league as a whole,” she said.