The Tri-Cities FC Otters have signed an agreement with Boyd Sports to play their home games at TVA Credit Union Ballpark. This summer, the home of the Johnson City Cardinals will be turned into a soccer venue from time to time.
The Otters play in USL League Two, a developmental league and one that is considered the top amateur circuit in the country.
“We’re excited to have the Otters coming,” Cardinals general manager Zac Clark said. “We’ve flirted with this before and we decided this is a good time to do it.”
The Otters have played their games at Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium since their inception in 2016. They have eight home games scheduled for this summer, beginning with a May 6 preseason game against Asheville FC.
“The event needs to be better for people, and having beer and food and the ability for families to come out and make it a night, whatever they want to do, was the big transition,” said David Strickland, one of the Otters’ owners and the team’s coach. “It’s big for us to be able to offer a better experience for the community to come together on summer nights.”
While the infield at TVA Credit Union Ballpark consists of artificial turf, the outfield is natural grass. That’s where the soccer field will be placed.
FIFA rules state a regulation field is between 110-120 yards long and 70-80 yards wide. The USL’s minimum requirements are 110 by 65.
“We’ll be well above the league minimum,” Strickland said. “We should be 72 yards wide and we’ll be just shy of 120 yards long. There will be very ample space to play.”
Some seating will be installed in the outfield along the sidelines. The Perch, the stadium’s popular beer garden, will be behind one of the end lines near the goal. And yes, beer will be sold.
“They do a great job with the Cardinals,” Strickland said. “What better place for a soccer team and for kids to come out? They can eat sandwiches and burgers. Fans can go up to the Perch and maybe grab a beverage. There will be a lot going on. I think our two franchises coming together creates good synergy for the community.”
Strickland says it will be a better atmosphere than at Kermit Tipton, where the track keeps the stands far away from the action on the field.
“That was a struggle at Science Hill, how far away the fans were,” Strickland said. “This will put fans right behind the benches and right next to the field. They can put their two bits in. It will increase the atmosphere.”
The move got the go-ahead from the USL.
“We met out here and looked at the logistics for the stadium,” Clark said. “We looked to see if the soccer field can fit in the outfield. David went to the league and asked them a few questions They said they were in full support. They wanted them to move over here, so it made it easy for them to make the switch.”
The Otters will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the team, things such as ticket sales and sponsorships.
“We’re just going to be a host for them,” Clark said. “We’ll run the food and beverage department. We’ll add a few things. They’re going to run their show and we’re going to host them.
“The conversation was can we match the atmosphere and excitement of a Cardinals game for the Otters? That will be our goal. We will run the soccer games just like we run our baseball games, trying to recreate the atmosphere.”
The Otters finished fourth in the seven-team South Atlantic Division last year with five wins, five losses and four ties. Their total of 28 goals in 14 games was second in the division.