PAWTUCKET — The USL Championship soccer team that will play its home games at the new Tidewater Landing soccer stadium here will be named Rhode Island FC, the team’s owners announced Monday.
The name was announced during a news conference at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center in the city.
“At long, long last, we are Rhode Island FC,” owner Brett Johnson said after a black curtain was yanked from a canvas emblazoned with the name and logo.
“Pretty sweet, right?” said Joshua Flanagan, a Pawtucket native who emceed the event.
The name Rhode Island FC follows in the tradition of European soccer clubs, which tend to have names like FC Barcelona, Liverpool FC, or S.L. Benfica — not the sort of [broad regional location for marketing purposes] plus [bird or mammal of prey that can be slapped onto merchandise] naming conventions that many American non-soccer expansion teams use.
The FC stands for “football club.” As is traditional in soccer fandom, supporters of the club will come up with a nickname, Johnson said. Whatever the nickname, Johnson says the team and its owners will give supporters something to cheer for: Rhode Island FC will compete for championships, he pledged.
“This stadium, this team, this state is going to get behind it,” said Johnson, who, like other attendees, was wearing a Rhode Island FC scarf.
The name underscores the team’s Rhode Island roots — “a team for all Rhode Island,” as boosters call it. The developer behind the team, Fortuitous Partners, has stressed that it’s Rhode Island’s club. Unlike other pro-level teams in the state, like the Providence Bruins of today and Pawtucket Red Sox of yesteryear, this team won’t look up to a franchise in Boston. It’ll be solidly in, for, and of Rhode Island, the team’s owners say. The team is currently set to kick off in 2024 in the USL Championship, the second tier of American men’s soccer.
The team’s crest includes bay blue and amber, a combination of a fiery orange and the gold from the state’s official flag, the team said. The logo includes bolts of lightning and an anchor. Rhode Island FC traces its soccer lineage to the turn of the last century, when the first professional African American soccer players in the United States, Oliver and Fred Watson, played for teams in the Pawtucket area in the late 1800s and early 1990s.
The unveiling of the name and crest was set to be followed by a barnstorming tour of all 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island as the club’s representatives fanned out around the state. Locations ranged from a wiener restaurant to bars to a public library.
The club’s crest was developed with input from residents across the state, according to a press release. Eight community listening sessions were held, in addition to and two surveys conducted in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Rhode Island-based NAIL Communications designed the identity and crest.
“In soccer, players and supporters wear the club crest over their hearts,” Rhode Island FC co-founder Michael Parkhurst, a Cranston native who played for the U.S. men’s national team, said in a news release. “Our team is a club for every Rhode Islander and we cannot wait to open our doors to welcome long-time soccer fans and folks new to the beautiful game into our home.”
The club is already selling team merchandise online at rhodeislandfc.com. And starting Tuesday at 10 a.m., people will be able to put down a $24 deposit for season tickets, a nod to the starting year of 2024.
The announcement comes as team supporters try to move past the questions over the financing of the stadium and bring people’s attention to the pitch. The stadium is the most expensive in USL Championship history at $124 million, and the state and city of Pawtucket will pay for $45.5 million of that. (Borrowing costs make the actual cost to taxpayers higher, putting into question the ability of the stadium alone to pay for itself.)
The original financing deal didn’t involve any public support for the stadium, just the infrastructure around it. But because of cost inflation, the developer asked the state to shift its dollars toward the very first phase of the overall project — the stadium itself. The financing deal also leaves for another day questions about housing and commercial development around the project. Fortuitous Partners say it’s still fully committed to the entire development.
Democratic Gov. Dan McKee was the decisive vote on the board of Commerce Rhode Island to shift those funds after a heated debate. Republican Ashley Kalus, McKee’s opponent in the election last week, featured the deal in attack ads leading up to the election, and a poll showed that a majority of Rhode Island voters opposed the public financing of the project. But McKee won by almost 20 points.
The stadium will be off Taft Street in Pawtucket, south of Division Street. It sits on the banks of the Seekonk River, on a site once polluted with the remnants of town gas operations. The environmental cleanup that had to happen to make the stadium a reality mostly finished a few weeks ago.