HIDALGO — The previous four professional sports teams to enter the Rio Grande Valley market have quickly faded away or experienced myriad issues. Meanwhile, one that was here for almost a decade folded in June.
The Rio Grande Valley Flash are hoping to not continue that trend.
On Thursday at a news conference at State Farm Arena, the Flash were announced as the newest team in the Professional Arena Soccer League and the third tenant at the arena, joining the Vipers and Magic. The franchise has a three-year lease agreement with the City of Hidalgo to play at the arena and will begin its 16-game season Nov. 17.
Last season the league had 12 teams and had an average announced attendance of 656 fans per game.
When this season starts, the Flash will look to avoid the issues that have plagued the area’s newest professional franchises in recent years.
Some of those issues — such as general disinterest, stadium problems, geographic isolation, and a lack of ownership and league stability — led to the end of the RGV Bravos (soccer) and longterm questions about the McAllen Thunder (baseball) and RGV Magic (indoor football). The RGV Grandes played one season in the Premier Development League (soccer) but dropped down to an Under-20 league for 2012. The Killer Bees (hockey) folded in June after a severe attendance drop and heavy financial losses, and a replacement junior franchise hasn’t yet been finalized.
Gerardo Guerra Lozano, the owner of the new franchise, thinks the Flash can avoid those problems. For one, he operated the Monterrey Flash, an indoor team which competed in the Mexican offshoot of the PASL last season. And unlike the Bravos — who played at Valley View High School and couldn’t sell alcohol — and Grandes, whose home field was a baseball stadium, the Flash have a venue suitable for their needs.
“Soccer for the people, the Hispanic people that live in this area, we have it in the blood,” Lozano said. “We’re going to be near the people and invite them to support (the team).”
The Flash will play in a division with teams based in Beaumont, Allen, Chicago and Rockford, Ill. The league has teams spanning from Harrisburg, Pa., to Tacoma, Wash. in a geographical setup that’s similar to what’s happened recently in the Central Hockey League, a big factor in the Bees’ demise.
Commissioner Kevin Milliken, however, said geography won’t hurt the Flash, noting that 16 games of travel are easier to handle than a typical hockey season. He said having the Flash in a division with teams in the same time zone will help with travel logistics, and that trips to Chicago and Rockford will require only one plane flight because of their relative proximity.
The recent addition of the Beaumont franchise also helps make travel more feasible, giving the Flash two teams in driving distance.
“It’s not (a concern) with me because I’ve studied the travel,” Milliken said.
Lozano said he’s wanted to place an indoor team at State Farm Arena since 2005, but that talks between him and the city heated up around one month ago, a timeframe Milliken and Hidalgo mayor Martin Cepeda confirmed.
That’s also around the same time talks with prospective junior hockey owner Donald Stone began to sputter, but Cepeda said that wasn’t a factor in the effort to bring in the Flash. He said that after taking office in mid May he was having talks with the Bees about their future and their financial situation.
“When I came in I said we need another sports team,” Cepeda said.
Brian Sandalow covers sports for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4436 or via email at email@example.com.