Though the operators of Breese Stevens Field announced the soccer league Madison will join in 2019 on Thursday, fan Riley Olson is already a committed supporter.
Olson, 25, bought his supporter club tickets that earn him a standing seat in the fan section, which will be complete with drink rails and located behind the east goal. With a local professional soccer team, Olson, an Arsenal Football Club fan, said it will be exciting to attend games in person.
“To have someone that is here in the city means a lot,” Olson said. “It’s not like an annual trip (to Europe) to watch a game … It’s nice to be able to come to games every time and enjoy it as a fan.”
Madison Pro Soccer, a branch of Big Top Events, will join the United Soccer League Division III starting in March 2019. The team name and colors will be decided through a community engagement process.
Big Top Events runs the historic Breese Stevens Field stadium and entered into a new 10-year contract with the city of Madison on Tuesday. The city also committed to $1.3 million in upgrades to the facility, including a new speaker system, locker rooms and additional seating that raises the seating capacity from 2,800 to 5,000.
Big Top Events also announced Peter Wilt, a veteran soccer executive, will manage Madison Pro Soccer. Wilt most recently co-founded the National Independent Soccer Association.
“We’re building this from the bottom up," Wilt said. “It’s going to be Madison’s team. It’s the world’s game, but this will be Madison’s team.”
The team will be owned by Big Top Events president Vern Stenman, Big Top Events chief operating officer Conor Caloia, Jim Kacmarcik and Steve Schmitt.
Big Top Events has pursued professional soccer as the future of the facility for the past year. Locking down a longer contract and seeking upgrades to the stadium were in an effort to secure a soccer team.
Stenman said Breese Stevens Field drove the group’s interest in pursuing soccer.
“We feel very confident that its best use and its best future and the most exciting time for the community around us is in front of us today,” Stenman said.
Stenman also said Madison’s demographics of young professionals living on the near east side will support a robust fan base.
Dozens of soccer fans turned out for the announcement, which took place on the field, cheering and waving commemorative scarves. The announcement also prompted a delay of a girls' soccer game between Middleton and Madison East high schools, which Caloia said was fitting.
“The idea of this event taking place right before a high school soccer game kind of epitomizes everything we’re trying to do here with Madison Pro Soccer, with Breese Stevens Field,” Caloia said. “This is a community facility, and we really want the community to really make this facility what they want it to be.”