What was old is new again. One of America’s two oldest continuously operated soccer teams has changed hands. The Post and Courier broke the news about the sale of the Charleston Battery on Monday. After more than 20 years as principle owner of the Battery, Tony Bakker has passed the reins to B Sports Entertainment. The sale, which is part of growing interest by investors in lower-division soccer, could spark a renewed vigor for the venerable club.
Eric Bowman, a local entrepreneur, is at the head of B Sports Entertainment. Bowman was once a varsity football player at the United States Naval Academy before beginning a career in software development. Bowman helped to found SPARC, Teamphoria, and Infinite Takes, all companies in the Charleston area.
Many aspects of the Battery will remain the same under B Sports Entertainment, including the coach, general manager, and a significant core of players returning from the 2015 playoff team. Fans, though, are sure to notice several changes designed improve their experience on game day and beyond.
“We’re working on new ways of communicating with fans, telling stories, and bringing people closer to the action than ever before. We’re reviewing everything from our marketing to our merchandising,” said Dan Conover, Battery Director of Marketing and Communications. “We’re part of a larger company now, and the expectation is that we need to shoot for a higher standard.”
Enhancements will be made at MUSC Health Stadium, one of the iconic stadiums in American soccer at any level. The team plans to install a 3,000-square-foot video screen in the south end of the stadium by spring. The stadium’s audio system will undergo a complete overhaul. Wifi capacity in the stadium will be upgraded.
“And then we’re also looking at improvements to signage, to match day staffing, and to little things that touch fans – making the box office ticketing more reliable, improving concessions and the Pro Shop, etc,” Conover said.
The ownership group led by Bakker met USSF Division II standards for financial viability. This will not change under B Sports Entertainment, which was approved as an ownership group by the USL. The transfer of ownership, though, should be viewed in a larger context that the USL’s desire to transition from Division III to Division II.
The sale of the Battery is part of a bigger story that should cause fans of lower-division soccer, not solely those in the South Carolina Lowcountry, to undulate with excitement from their cores. Intelligent business people are purchasing stakes in American soccer clubs that do not participate in MLS, and have no reasonable expectations to participate in Division I in the near future.
Charleston is the third franchise in the USL in the past several weeks to be involved in change in ownership of some type. David and Wendy Dworkin, part owners of the Sacramento Kings in the NBA, purchased the Rochester Rhinos. A group of investors led by music mogul, Diplo, invested in a minority share of ownership in Arizona United SC.
This type of investment cannot simply be motivated by the prestige of owning a lower-division soccer team. Surely, the new owners must harbor some appreciation for the game, but they also expect a return on investment. That they believe a profit can be made in the lower-divisions in America is a harbinger of continued growth and prosperity of the sport in this country.