How NOT to reboot a franchise

This week is the 3rd round of the US Open Cup, a beautiful soccer tournament that involves clubs from all levels including MLS. You can find all games on ESPN+ and it’s worth checking out if you have the package. Atmospheres vary wildly, as do the facilities. But every once in a while you get pure magic like Orlando and Cincinnati three years ago or Detroit City last night. In Rochester, NY there are actually two teams that hosted games this round and that’s not a good thing.

First, we have the Flower City Union. This small outfit quietly began last year and they are classified in the Third Division, but not with USL League One, but rather NISA. Even though it’s a much lesser known place, it can lead to greener pastures as Miami FC, Oakland Roots and Detroit City all recently left here to the USL Championship. The team is one to root for and outside of the slightly confusing (for the rest of the country) team name, this is a franchise starting things out the right way.

On the other hand, we have an absolute joke in Rochester New York FC. You may remember a year ago when national headlines were made as Leicester City star Jamie Vardy became co-owner of the team. This story has many layers and I’m nowhere near qualified to get into it, but basically, the Rochester Rhinos were one of the most popular teams in all of the United States back in the 1990s. I know, because I was there. They regularly drew over 10,000 to games at a minor-league level and Frontier Field was the place to be. After years of pining for a soccer stadium, they got one in 2006 for $35 million. MLS dreams were dashed by that point, but their own place still meant that many thought they’d continue to thrive. However, attendance and interest dropped year after year, some of it unexplained, but some of it contributing to a bad stadium location, parking challenges from a mostly suburban crowd and other general ownership missteps. In 2017, the team essentially folded, errr…went “On Hiatus”

That hiatus tag meant they were still alive and they got new owners in David and Wendy Dworkin. Their last name brings thoughts of aloof-ness and unfortunately pictures and press conferences fail to dispel that notion. After four years of essentially nothing, they splash Vardy as a co-owner in probably the most bizarre pairing that you could ever think of in sports. The team has finally got back on their feet in 2022, but in a way that is light years from the Rhinos and even further from generating any type of interest in the Rochester area. First, the League: they are playing not in the USL or even the smaller NISA. They chose MLS Next Pro. That’s right a new league that is full of reserve squads. They are the only independent team in here! And even worse, nobody cares outside of passionate MLS fans who want to know how their younger talent is doing. Playing in anything but the USL isn’t going to move the needle, especially with a sport that struggles to gain new interest (America’s Sport of the Future since 1972!). Next, we have the team name: Rochester New York FC. What in Sam Hill is “New York” doing in the name? Do they think they’ll draw state-wide interest? people from NYC? They even made the NY the most noticeable part of the logo. This reminds me of the ill-conceived notion of the Buffalo Bulls (NCAA) branding as State University of New York for everything to try and draw more interest. Yuck. Finally, we have the stadium. They are playing at a Community College. Instead of returning to the 13,000-seat stadium downtown, they ended up (or couldn’t get a deal done) on a turf field with some bleachers. Even crazier, is that the Flower City Union are the ones using the downtown stadium. This is just another chapter in the sad story of the Rochester Rhinos and unless the Union can build from the ground up, it’s likely the last chapter as the “reboot” couldn’t be more screwed up.

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