The quest to bring professional soccer to Birmingham

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – It’s not an uncommon idea. Many people have tried to bring various professional sports to Birmingham over the years, although most of those attempts have been largely unsuccessful.

But a new grassroots movement in Birmingham to bring professional soccer to the city is gaining steam.

Morgan Copes and co-founder John Killian got the idea to bring soccer to Birmingham just seven short months ago. The two believe a team, which they are calling the Birmingham Hammers, would be a hit in the city as a part of a lower-tier professional soccer league.

However, their ultimate goal doesn’t stop with the North American Soccer League or the United Soccer League Professional Division. Instead, they hope to bring Major League Soccer to the city in the future.

“I think there will be a whole bunch of people coming in and, you know, supporting the team,” soccer fan Omar Alkahlout said.

The movement is still in its beginning stages, but the group held a fundraiser on Wednesday night to begin the process of funding a team in Birmingham.

“We’re really focusing on awareness,” said Copes. “Just kind of getting the word out there.”

Copes and Killian are not alone in their belief that Birmingham is prime real estate for a new soccer franchise. Roger Mendoza, the manager of Vestavia’s Soccer Locker store, has played the sport since he could walk. Mendoza believes Birmingham is ready for professional soccer.

“[Customers] ask who [the Birmingham Hammers] are, what they’re doing, and I give them the spiel,” Mendoza explained. “They sound very excited. They love it. They would buy season tickets.”

Perhaps the largest obstacle for the Hammers isn’t generating a following. It has nothing to do with whether or not Birmingham would be receptive to a soccer team. Rather, it has everything to do with having a place for the Hammers to play their games.

The entire transition from generating interest, funding a team and finding a place to play could have been much easier for the Hammers.

The Birmingham City Council had previously earmarked tax revenues for a multi-purpose dome stadium with the express purpose of supporting a professional sports team.  Instead, the money was redirected to shore up city deficits and to build the Birmingham CrossPlex.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell insists he would fully support a minor league soccer team moving to the city. However, he says Birmingham does not have the money to help support a team at the moment.

“If you have to make a choice between putting money into a sports facility or a sports team, and providing services, it becomes a difficult decision,” Mayor Bell said.

Despite the obstacles, Cope and Killian remain resolute in their goal. The group has garnered over 1,500 “likes” on Facebook. The two plan to remain vigilant in their quest to bring soccer to Birmingham.

“We are going to be tackling this as aggressively as we possibly can, but we have to do it at the right pace,” Copes said.

In the meantime, CBS42 plans to dig deeper into the issue, such as finding out how much money has been collected since January 1, 2009, and tracking down when the city plans to redirect the revenue for its intended purpose – to build a sports facility in Birmingham.

Copyright 2013 WIAT-TV CBS 42

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