Pro soccer, 5,000-seat stadium coming to Northwest Arkansas

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 21,024 views 

A rendering shows what the stadium for the new professional soccer team might look like. The goal is for the stadium to open in Rogers in early 2026.

A Tampa, Fla.-based professional soccer organization is partnering with a new Arkansas team to bring professional soccer to the state.

The United Soccer League (USL) and USL Arkansas announced Wednesday (July 12) plans to establish men’s and women’s soccer teams and build a 5,000-seat stadium in Rogers. Preliminary estimates show the stadium will cost about $15 million, and the aim is for it to open in early 2026.

USL Arkansas is led by co-founders Chris Martinovic and Warren Smith. Martinovic, a former professional and college soccer player, started working to bring pro soccer to Northwest Arkansas about four years ago. Smith, who helped establish the San Diego Loyal SC, joined the effort in late 2022.

“As a former player, I am delighted to bring professional soccer to Northwest Arkansas, a region that so richly deserves it,” Martinovic said. “I have seen firsthand the power of soccer in bringing communities together, and I am excited about the positive impact this club will have on our region.”

The stadium will be built on 11.5 acres at the southwest corner of Lazy L Street and Bellview Road, north of Pinnacle Hills Promenade. USL Arkansas has secured the land through an agreement with Rogers philanthropist Johnelle Hunt, the landowner. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but USL Arkansas is expected to purchase the land.

Smith highlighted the importance of the stadium location near other amenities and restaurants as games typically last about two hours but people want to be entertained for four. He noted that Steve Lane with Colliers International in Rogers provided market research and helped to select the stadium site in the Pinnacle Hills area.

“This has become the new living room for your region, and [Lane] articulated to us why it made sense,” Smith said. “We’re excited about the location, and I think we’ve got the right place to start a club.”

USL Arkansas is collaborating with U.K.-based Greyville Sports for the project design. It’s designed similar stadiums, including the Austin Bold Stadium. A contractor will be selected after the design is completed.

While the preliminary estimate is about $15 million, a more definitive cost is expected during the design process. The stadium will be a modular facility allowing flexibility based on market needs and might also be used for community events, concerts, graduations or high school sports. Smith noted the site could accommodate a 15,000-seat stadium if warranted. Similar stadium projects have been completed in Austin, Texas, Loudoun County, Va., Phoenix and Sacramento, Calif.

“This kind of facility, which we liken to an above-ground erector set, generally costs about 15%-20% of a traditional brick-and-mortar facility,” Smith said. The site will include a 350-space parking lot. Land adjacent to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel on Green Acres Road will allow for an additional 400 parking spaces. USL Arkansas also is working with the city to develop a plan for the best options for fans, traffic and pedestrians. The goal is to “ensure a seamless, enjoyable experience that allows visitors to fully engage with the area’s attractions,” Smith added.

ECONOMIC IMPACT
According to information provided by USL, an independent analysis shows the economic impact of establishing a new USL club ranges from $50 million to $200 million annually, depending on the market. New clubs also have the potential to create hundreds of jobs.

Smith said the goal is to have 35 full-time staff, between 50 and 100 part-time employees, and about 50 players, including the men’s and women’s teams.

“I have been visiting my family here for 33 years and have watched how this community punches above its weight class creating a dynamic place to live, work and play,” Smith said. “We look forward to the beautiful game adding to that while working with local authorities, community leaders and most importantly, the fans, to create a soccer club that reflects the unique spirit of this community and that makes us all proud.”

According to a news release, USL Arkansas has started a campaign to learn from the community what it wants to see from the club. The official name, colors and branding are expected to be developed through the process over the coming months.

“While we are building a club, our aim is to build a symbol of unity for Northwest Arkansas,” Martinovic said. “That’s only possible by listening and will be instrumental in shaping the identity of our team.”

USL Arkansas plans to complete an economic analysis after the stadium is completed and both teams have started playing.

“USL Arkansas represents a new chapter in the USL story,” said USL Deputy CEO and Chief Real Estate Officer Justin Papadakis. “Northwest Arkansas is a rapidly growing region with a vibrant community, making it the perfect location for this expansion. We have successfully partnered with Warren in numerous markets, and his experience coupled with Chris’ passion for his community are the perfect ingredients to create something special for this emerging region. We can’t wait to see the positive impact this club and their teams will have on the local community and beyond.”

LEAGUE PLAY
The Northwest Arkansas teams are expected to start playing in their respective leagues in 2026. The men’s team is expected to begin playing before the start of the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the United States, while the women’s team will start after it.

The men’s team will be part of the USL Championship, and the women’s team will compete in the USL Super League. In 2023, the USL Championship includes 24 teams playing a 34-game season from March to October throughout the United States. The league has Division II sanctioning from the U.S. Soccer Federation. The USL Super League is set to begin play in August 2024 and feature 10-12 teams. Seasons will run from fall to summer, like in soccer outside the United States. The league plans to receive Division I sanctioning from U.S. Soccer.

The news release shows the average attendance at USL Championship games exceeds 5,000 people. Some exceed 10,000 fans, including games for Louisville City SC, New Mexico United, Sacramento Republic and Indy Eleven.

The United Soccer League was established in 2010 and consists of three men’s leagues, two women’s leagues, and player development and youth platforms. Alec Papadakis is the CEO.

LEADERSHIP BACKGROUND
Martinovic is chief customer officer for Arcadia Consumer Healthcare, a private equity-held company. He moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2007 and worked in leadership roles for over 15 years for Bayer Consumer Care. Martinovic is a former USL and NCAA Division I college (Seton Hall) soccer player. He’s also a youth soccer coach and resides in Rogers.

Smith has worked in the sports industry for more than 25 years and built top-performing teams, including Sacramento Republic FC and San Diego Loyal SC. Recently, he’s focused on helping cities build soccer clubs across the United States, including in New Orleans and Oklahoma City. Smith resides in San Diego but said he’s been visiting Northwest Arkansas since 1990 when his grandmother moved from Missouri to Bella Vista, and his parents moved to Bella Vista in 2003.

Wes Harris, managing director of USL Arkansas, is its first employee and is tasked with building the club from the ground up. Responsibilities include community engagement, public relations, and system and process development. He will work with the USL league headquarters, fundraising and representing the club throughout Northwest Arkansas. He has more than 15 years of leadership experience in the consumer goods industry, including roles at Johnson & Johnson and Haribo.