The Hallowed Halls of Frisco

Canton, Ohio, and Cooperstown, N.Y., are known for one thing: they are each home to a major sports hall of fame. Canton is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Cooperstown has the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Many people hope that the 2017 opening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame Museum at Toyota Stadium, through a partnership with the U.S. Soccer Federation and FC Dallas (FCD), means that Frisco will one day be held in similar regard by American sports fans. “The addition of the National Soccer Hall of Fame to Toyota Stadium and the City of Frisco presents an interesting opportunity for both to become a nationally centralized landmark for soccer in the U.S.,” said Peter Welpton, a longtime local soccer fan who helps run the soccer blog for The Dallas Morning News. “Unlike most soccer-playing nations, the U.S. does not really have a singular location, official or otherwise, for the sport.”

Between 1999 and 2010, the National Soccer Hall of Fame had called Oneonta, N.Y., home. However, financial difficulties led to the February 2010 closing of that facility, and U.S. Soccer, the federation that oversees the sport, immediately started looking for a new permanent home.

FCD president Dan Hunt is the son of the late Lamar Hunt, who was a member of the Pro Football and National Soccer Hall of Fame and was instrumental in growing American soccer. Lamar owned the Dallas Tornado of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and was also a founding investor of the current top-level American professional league, Major League Soccer (MLS).

Along with his brother, Clark Hunt, who currently runs the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League (NFL), Dan wanted to make Frisco the Hall of Fame’s new home. “It’s sort of been years in the making,” Dan said. “I would say, 18 months ago, I started having more active conversations. Things like this do not happen overnight, and once I got that exclusive window, I talked to Mayor Maher Maso about this. In passing comments, he said, ‘We’re supportive of this and what you guys are doing.’ I was able to talk to George Purefoy [the city manager] a little bit, but hammered the framework out in June. That’s when the real conversations actually happened.”

Making it Official

Around September of 2015, news leaked that Frisco would indeed be the Hall of Fame’s new home, but nothing was official. On Sept. 30, 2015, the Frisco City Council approved the improvements to Toyota Stadium. These improvements will center around the south end of the stadium, where the Hall of Fame will be located.

On Oct. 14, 2015, the official announcement was made during a press conference at Toyota Stadium. Toyota Soccer Center, which is 145 acres, includes 17 regulation-sized, tournament-grade soccer fields and the nationally-renowned youth development program. City officials, including Mayor Maso and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati were in attendance as the plans for the $39 million facility, which will span nearly 100,000 square feet once completed, were laid out to the public.

The facility will be a partnership between FCD, U.S. Soccer, the Frisco ISD and the City of Frisco, each of which will share costs of these improvements. In addition to the Hall of Fame, other improvements to Toyota Stadium (which opened in August 2005) include new locker rooms, a new press area, new audio and video equipment for the facility and a new premium seating area. The museum will feature U.S. Soccer memorabilia, including the Women’s World Cup, Gold Cup and Lamar’s U.S. Open Cup trophies. There will be Olympic medals and additional memorabilia from the U.S. win against England in the 1950 World Cup. Toyota Stadium will also be the permanent location for the annual National Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Local soccer dignitary, Kenny Cooper Sr., who once played for Lamar with the Dallas Tornado, and whose son, Kenny Cooper Jr., has had two stints playing for FCD, is among those excited about these improvements and the Hall of Fame’s opening.

“It is a dream come true, especially for all the former Dallas Tornado players who still live here,” Mr. Cooper said. “Special thanks to the Hall of Fame for understanding Lamar’s vision for soccer in the USA. Great credit to Clark and Dan Hunt and the entire Hunt family. Special thanks to the [FCD] coaching staff and front office staff over the years. They have allowed Lamar to follow his dream and vision for professional soccer.”

A Variety of Benefits for Frisco

Frisco residents who are not soccer fans are probably wondering how these improvements will benefit them. Besides the opening of the Hall of Fame, Dan feels the new event space on the stadium’s south end will attract new events, including concerts better suited for smaller venues.

Since the stadium’s opening, Toyota Stadium has lured big shows to the facility, with Jimmy Buffett being an annual visitor, and festival-type shows like the alternative rock-themed Edgefest. These improvements will allow Dan and his staff to entice more acts to come to Frisco, giving local residents, soccer fans and non-soccer fans, as well as fans of any type of music, more diverse entertainment options.

“This is a gigantic enhancement to the overall Toyota Stadium and Toyota Soccer Center experience. We think it will allow us to bring more major events,” Dan said. “We can do amphitheater-type shows, so 5,000-person shows, that’s going to be a real target for us starting in 2018. Everything from music to concerts to whatever we can come up with.”

The improvements could also lead to other sporting opportunities coming to Frisco, not just soccer-related events. “We actually think it will help us recruit other football games. We think it will help add to our international [soccer] game base. I think it will allow us to attract a major international opponent each year for FCD. The U.S. national team programs, for both men and women, will be here on a more regular basis,” Dan said.

Dan feels the improvements should allow FCD to host at least 10 more major events per year, adding to the local economic impact, which is about $5 or $6 million annually (from the Jimmy Buffett concert alone). That added impact should lead to more hotels being built near the facility, which would further increase the local tax base.

Since 2010, Toyota Stadium has hosted the NCAA Division I Football Championship. The current contract between the NCAA and the City of Frisco expires after the 2016 game this month, but Dan hopes these improvements, especially the new locker rooms, will ensure that game remains in Frisco for years to come.

“This is a marquee football game. It is one that is watched all over the country,” he said. “It is great for the universities. I actually believe it is a great recruiting tool. We heard that North Dakota State (which has played in the game for four straight years) has had a tremendous upswing in their recruiting in the metroplex (because of the game). When you are playing in a marquee venue in front of huge crowds, I believe that will help them.”

Construction on the National Soccer Hall of Fame Museum at Toyota Stadium begins in early 2016. Completion of the improvements is scheduled for December of 2017, which is when the Hall of Fame should open. At that point, Frisco will be home to yet another unique attraction that cannot be found in other cities. “Frisco now has that opportunity to become the equivalent (of Canton and Cooperstown) for the sport maintaining the fastest growth in this country,” Mr. Welpton said. “It should be a fantastic addition, along with all the other attractions, both present and coming to the city.”