Thomas Payne Interview: Part 2

As Rayo OKC and Miami FC continue to roll out one impressive player announcement after another, there is one team that has thus far escaped any kind of media coverage, and that’s the newly founded project of Carmelo Anthony – Puerto Rico FC. What many people do not know though, is who else is involved in building this franchise from the ground up – in the shadows of the now defunct Puerto Rico Islanders. Besides Adrian Whitbread, few people outside of soccer know who Tom Payne is, what his history in the sport was, and how he came to be the new president of PRFC. We sat down with Tom via phone, and asked him some serious, and not so serious questions.

Part 1 can be found here, part 3 will be out later in the week.

MFP: That transitions to my next question, how are you dealing with the economic factors down there, and how do you get buy in from those who don’t have the disposable income that most markets do?

TP: There’s a couple of things. To be frank, I haven’t seen it quite as much, but I was meeting with someone today who is from here, and I asked “what is with the economic issue, I keep hearing all these horror stories” and their answer was – and I think they may be right – the economic situation is endemic to banking, but people still get their money – they’re just spending it and not saving it. One thing I’ll tell you, coming off the holidays… people were in the mall buying stuff. I mean it was unbelievable. The mall here must be the busiest mall ever. People are spending. But we’re not going to run from that. We have ticket pricing at a very low entry level, and we think that is important. To be frank, the way our stadium is set up, close to half the stadium will be able to get tickets for $10 or less. For a professional sports team, that’s saying something. We aim to be the biggest professional sports team we’ve ever had down here. So yeah, we have to take it in to consideration. It’s not like at the Galaxy where I would sell field side seats for $250 or something – field side seats here will be at $50 or less. We want to be part of the trigger to turn things around, and people need something really positive to focus on. I think people are really interested in what we’re doing. If anything they’re clamoring for more information.

I bet 75 or 80 percent of the people on the island all live within a half hour of San Juan. So like any other metropolis, there are going to be areas that are impoverished, and there areas that are great. Certainly vacations are still coming here. We have some of the best beaches in the world. We are understanding of the situation, we keep a close eye on it, we think we’re doing the right thing when it relates to ticket pricing, but at the end of the day, we’re in it for the long haul. We need to also put ourselves in a position to succeed, as a business, as an organization, as a club, and we think that the entry-level ticket prices are fair. We’re likely to sell a big percentage of our tickets in that area.

MFP: What’s the capacity of the stadium?

TP: It’s near 12,000 but available seats are around 11,500. I tell you what though, I think we’ll have one of the better stadiums in the NASL for sure. It’s an old baseball stadium. But that actually helped create a little enthusiasm too. The mayor of Bayone is a huge supporter of the sport, and how it helps out the kids and the public, to the extent that he turned what was a baseball stadium into a soccer specific stadium several years ago. It’s the only soccer specific stadium on the island, and it plays very well as such. New York City FC played here not too long ago. It’s grass, it’s not field turf and football lines. You can take the train right to the stadium, there’s parking and I think the municipality charges $2. There’s all kinds of real positives. You can’t go to a game in the US at any level, and only pay only $2 to park.

MFP: From an outsiders perspective, I’ve never been to the stadium, I was going to ask about concessions and things like that.

TP: I come from a professional sports background, and so does Carmello although he’s on the other side of it, and we’re going to professionalize every element of the game production compared to maybe what is the norm here in Puerto Rico. I had people from that New York City FC game on December 11th, and they actually said that we’re better than they are in the US – we actually had real cooked food specific to the island. So we don’t have to have a huge 3rd party company that owns every single inch of the venue, we’re able to go out and find partners, whether they be sponsors or a concession company we want to work with. We think we’re going to do very well there. I think we’ll average a pretty good number of people per game and I think it will look good. Our games will be on television. These are all things that we think are important. It goes back to wanting to do the right thing on the island. We’re going to go out to a lot of cities around the island, and do free community clinics using our head coach and players and assistant coaches, we’re going to do all those things because we want people when they think of soccer, to think of PRFC. We’re not just here to sell tickets and sponsorships just to make the business case for our company, but we’re here to lift the island, to take the sport to the next level, we’re here to help promote and support the national team. To develop better players at the youth level, and there’s probably a lack of coaching here at a high level. You know how competitive that is in the US. Every U-12 kid in California most of them are getting really good coaching from people who might have been playing professionally. You don’t have it at that level or in those numbers here. But we look at it as our job and responsibility.

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