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Portland Deal with Minor League Soccer Club – What Residents Should Know

Tomorrow, Monday November 13th, the City Council will be voting on Order 64 to authorize a deal with Portland United LLC to bring Division III club soccer to Portland. This order would authorize the use of Fitzpatrick Stadium as the new team headquarters and would commit Portland for up to fifteen years with the club. What should Portland residents know about this potentially far-reaching arrangement?


For about five years, a local investment team comprised of real estate developers Jonathan and Catherine Culley, Gabe Hoffman-Johnson (two-time All-America soccer player at Falmouth High) and NESN broadcaster Tom Caron (added to the investment team earlier this year) have been fighting to get a United Soccer League (USL) One club franchise off the ground here in Portland. One of the most controversial elements of this endeavor has been the location, form, and ownership of a soccer stadium that can accommodate the franchise.

The first public discussions about stadiums took place in the summer of 2021, when “USL to Portland,” the investment team’s nonprofit advocacy group (led by Hoffman-Johnson,) floated two possible locations, both owned by the City of Portland: Fitzpatrick Stadium and the Preble Street Fields off the Back Cove. These plans were the culmination of behind-the-scenes discussions with the city’s Park Department and Housing and Economic Development Committee members. The Back Cove location was quickly ruled out since it would render the city’s new $40m stormwater overflow system inaccessible for maintenance, leaving only Fitzpatrick as a viable option. Initial plans for Fitzpatrick called for the removal of the track around the playing field, and replacement of the track at either Dougherty Field or Payson Park. However, the club has since been granted a size variance by the league, allowing the team to play on a non-conforming field.

This September, after a year and half with no substantive updates, USL announced that “USL to Portland” had been granted its expansion team and was expected to start in 2025 with Fitzpatrick Stadium as its home. However, at the time of this announcement, the lease agreement for Fitzpatrick had not been made publicly available for review or approved by the City Council.

At an October 10th meeting, the first publicly available draft of the lease agreement was reviewed (albeit briefly and with almost no comment except from our Parks Director’s endorsement) by the Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee. The Committee unanimously agreed to send the agreement in its current form to the council for full review and acceptance. That agreement now stands before the Council for approval.

The Agreement in Detail

The agreement between the City of Portland and the newly-formed Portland United LLC is about 30 pages long, appearing between pages 361 and 390 of a 471-page Council Meeting Agenda at time of writing. A fiscal impact analysis drafted by the city precedes the agreement in the agenda as part of a staff memo.

Most of the agreement is boilerplate and noncontroversial. However, specific details are worth further consideration. Accordingly, the points below are intended to inform the reader about key elements that may help consider the practicality and fairness of this agreement. This is not intended to offer a complete overview of all aspects of the agreement, but rather to call attention to select factors that may be important to Portland residents.

Fiscal Impact on the City
(See impact note in agenda, pp. 355-356)

  • Because the city is waiving its standard use fee for the first ten years (approximately $128k for 2024), city staff projects a slight increase in the City’s overall property tax rate, an approximately $0.01 increase in the municipal tax rate,for the “duration of [the] agreement.”
  • The capital improvements that the Club will make to Fitzpatrick could be understood as partially offsetting the loss in use fee revenue. However, these improvements had not been included in the city’s 5-year Capital Improvement Plan, indicating that the city had not deemed these improvements to be necessary or worthy of public expenditure.
  • The signage revenue, which is projected to be $30k for the first year, (discussed further below,) will also partially offset the lost usage fees. But this is not enough to fully offset lost revenue from usage fees.
  • City staff correctly acknowledges that the impact on Portland’s budget will be minor and they could be offset more theoretically in the form of broad economic benefits. But in practical terms, this still amounts to a financial cost for the city and taxpayers.

Field Use

  • The city must grant 25 regular game days per year to the club, with exclusive field use starting at least 6 hours before kickoff (to accommodate prep and practice for teams.)
  • In terms of date selection, the city is required to send the Club a list of 40 “offered” dates (30 weekend dates and 10 weekday dates) before September 1st of every year. The club then has ten days to choose 25 of those dates. At that point, those dates become final and therefore unavailable to other potential field users like Portland school teams.
  • Field paint may be removed and reapplied with city authorization. The agreement requires the reapplication of paint to the city’s satisfaction. However, the agreement sets forth no mechanics or timing for paint removal and reapplication. This may pose additional difficulties for public field use depending on how long reapplication takes.
  • In addition to game dates, the city is required to “work with the Club in good faith to provide the Club additional access to the Stadium… for Club practices and other training.”

Financial Elements

  • As noted above, the city is waiving regular field usage fees for ten years (through the second 5-year lease period if the contract is extended.) For 2024, the loss in revenue from paying sources is estimated to be $128,000, so the total foregone revenue to the city will be at least $1.28m over ten years. (It will most likely be considerably higher, since typically each year usage fees increase).
  • The club commits to performing exactly $1,000,000 worth of “improvements” to Fitzpatrick. However, most of these improvements are specifically required for the club (such as the largest line item: $500k USL-compliant light fixtures,) and not concerning items that were on the city’s radar for more general improvement. Other improvements include cosmetic and technological improvements to the press box for video and streaming, new audio equipment, new locker rooms (although the home team locker rooms are for exclusive use of the club and will not be accessible to the public,) club storage (also exclusive to the club,) a new ticket entrance, and other miscellaneous technology items and “experience elements.” Presumably, all improvements, including non-fixed ones like audio systems, streaming devices, etc. will be owned by the city. However, the contract does not explicitly specify the nature of ownership for these amenities.
  • The club is agreeing to pay $200,000 to help install a turf field in another public park in the city. It’s unclear where this would happen, and if there is another park that would be suitable for such a field. Regardless, the cost for new turf fields are estimated to be significantly higher than the club-contributed $200,000. If the field never gets installed, the city must return these funds to the club.
  • The city will receive all parking revenue collected by the Club.


  • The city is granting exclusive signage rights to the club for the duration of the contract (up to fifteen years total). This appears to pertain primarily to advertising signage but also applies to scoreboards and Club branding, and even signage for Portland School teams. From the agreement “the Club shall have the right to (1) operate, manage and control all scoreboards and signage at the Stadium at all times during the Term of this Agreement.” The only exception is that scoreboard use will be granted to others outside of Club games.
  • The Club will collect all signage revenue and give 15% to the city. Per city analysis, this is estimated to be worth $30,000 to the city in 2024, which means the Club’s portion (85%) would be $170,000.
  • The city has the right to place its own signage, but only in places not presently in use by the club. How this comports with previously mentioned provisions is, at present, unclear.

Performance of Physical Alterations

  • Lengthy sections of the agreement set forth parameters for the work that the Club will perform to modify Fitzpatrick for its intended use. The Club will submit its initial construction schedule to the city by May 1, 2024. The city has 20 days to approve these plans.
  • Generally, construction will be performed between July 1, 2024, and the first day of the USL preseason in 2025.
  • The Club agrees not to unreasonably interfere with the “use, occupancy or enjoyment of the Stadium by other Stadium tenants or their patrons” during construction. The agreement reiterates this point stating “[i]n no event will the Club allow its construction or any other activities to prevent any other Stadium tenant or licensee or their patrons from occupying and using the Stadium and the Stadium Premises for an event at the Stadium.” This same protection of use is not explicitly afforded to the general public or for walk-in, unscheduled use.
  • The Club is required to submit its specific construction plans to the city for approval. However, this will happen on a “time to time” basis as opposed to according to a strict schedule.

Miscellaneous or Ambiguous Elements

  • At time of writing, Exhibit B, “Description of Exclusive Premises,” is blank or missing. These are the areas (such as the home locker room, storage, or perhaps a clubhouse that the public will never have access to). Presumably, these are intended to be completed later. However, this seems like an important part of the contract that should be available at this public approval stage.
  • At time of writing, Exhibit C, “Description of Stadium Premises” is similarly missing, presumably for later addition. This also seems like an important part of the contract that should be available at this public approval stage.
  • It appears that alcohol can be served at games, without restrictions. Per the agreement, concessions are under the full control of the club, and alcohol is included as part of the definition of “concessions.” Given the notoriety of soccer clubs and rowdy alcohol consumption, perhaps this topic is worthy of greater attention.

Steps Forward

At this late juncture, with strong support from public figures like Governor Janet Mills, it is unlikely the City Council will reconsider this agreement. However, forward momentum and a highly successful public relations campaign should not be confused with good policy. As of now, the only real cost incurred by the city is the time staff has spent negotiating and reviewing this agreement. On the other hand, Club investors have surely spent considerably more time and money throughout this process. However, this private cost should not be a consideration that overrides the interest of Portland residents and taxpayers.

On the other hand, there will undeniably be economic benefits to the region with the arrival of a minor league soccer team. The league believes the benefits to Maine’s sports tourism economy will generate more than $10 million in tax revenue for the region and create upwards of 50 permanent jobs. Residents of Portland may assess the veracity of this claim and weigh these purported benefits against the undeniable costs as discussed above.

One Perspective on Fairness

It is the opinion of this writer that certain components of the deal should be sent back to the drawing board and renegotiated by city staff to ensure a more balanced and equitable arrangement. And, if a more balanced and equitable arrangement cannot be reached, then the arrangement should be rejected in full and the Club should find an alternate location for the Club’s headquarters. Some of the components that should be revised are:

  • The waiver of use fees, which are not offset by stadium upgrades that primarily serve the Club.
  • Selection of Club-exclusive dates. As worded, Portland public school teams will only have the option to select from dates that have not already been chosen by the Club. This contradicts messaging from owners and club boosters that the Club would be on equal footing with Portland schools when it came to field use.
  • The advertising revenue-sharing arrangement, which should be at least evenly split between the parties. The 85/15 arrangement seems highly imbalanced and wrong given that the club is not paying use fees.
  • General vagueness surrounding specific plans for the site (see the note above about the blank exhibits). The public deserves to see concrete plans for stadium changes prior to the agreement receiving Council approval.

The writer also believes that the agreement is deficient for the following reasons, and should be revised accordingly:

  • The city’s fiscal impact analysis should have captured the potential for additional transportation and field rental costs if Fitzpatrick is unavailable to school teams. Although, admittedly, budgets are unlikely to increase even if such costs are incurred. This means the school department and its students will simply be required to do more with the same amount of funding.
  • The agreement should have explicitly protected the track surrounding the field. The agreement does not mention the track, raising questions about the Club’s long-term intentions.
  • Related to the first point, the agreement should have included language explicitly shifting the cost burden of any unforeseen expenses related to Portland’s public school teams needing to travel and rent other fields. Team branding materials (such as signage) might also be necessary for both relocated events (for example, home games that need to take place in other facilities) but also for placement of signage over Club signage at school games.

If you would like to offer public comment on this deal, be sure to be present at tomorrow’s City Council meeting at City Hall, November 13th at 5:00 PM.

B. Beiderbecke Beiderbecke is a Portland local whose professional background spans public policy and legal writing. He is a lifelong Portlander, a Portland Bulldog, and an active community member.


  1. Kathy F Kathy F

    I guess that Portland High School is out and an investment team with a for profit venture is in for using Fitzpatrick Stadium as their home. So much for tradition and history.

    And if the general revenue is $10 million a couple of questions come up – With that much revenue:
    – Why isn’t this investment team willing to build their own stadium?
    – Why will Portland taxpayers need to absorb any costs for this project. There was an analysis done city staff stating increase in property taxes?
    – Was a market analysis done that was specific to Portland. If so, why hasn’t that been made available to the general public?
    – Can the ASL provide verification that their other communities are generating the same revenue in ratio to their population bases?

    • Joel Costigan Joel Costigan

      The USL schedule and PPS schedules do not and would not conflict. Portland High School does not hold practices or games at the same times the USL team has proposed holding their practices and games

  2. Taylor Mannix Taylor Mannix

    “Selection of Club-exclusive dates. As worded, Portland public school teams will only have the option to select from dates that have not already been chosen by the Club. This contradicts messaging from owners and club boosters that the Club would be on equal footing with Portland schools when it came to field use.”

    I wanted to comment on this as someone who is a coach with Portland Athletics to disagree with the premise. I feel this statement is anticipating a relationship that doesn’t involve communication when already there has been HEAVY communication w/Portland schools and the city.

    Gabe Hoffman-Johnson has also taken time this past season to show up to games to support Portland High School soccer on more than just one occasion. To insinuate they won’t be fair to Portland Athletics and other Portland schools is an unfair assumption.

    • B. Biederbecke B. Biederbecke

      Hi Taylor – I wrote this piece.

      The intention wasn’t to draw into question the personalities or intentions of team ownership. And, based on everything I’ve read, Hoffman-Johnson seems like a standup guy who’s committed to an inclusive vision and doing this as rightly as he can.

      But with that in mind, a potentially 15-year contract should not be entered into lightly based on existing personalities on the ownership team or verbal assurances that the public is not aware of. The agreement is actually quite clear about how date selection process works – the “offered dates” must be given to the Club between 8 and 15 months before those dates are needed. For example, this means that in late August of 2023, public school teams will have to both anticipate their games for spring of the 2023-2024 academic year AND the fall of the 2024-2025 academic year, so that they can send the Club an “offered dates” list that excludes them.

      In my opinion, accurate prediction of dates so far in advance seems borderline impossible and more like guesswork. So by the time that public school teams know the dates they need, it’ll be too late to exclude them from the “offered dates” list, and they’ll just have to work around the Club’s chosen dates (which are locked). Am I way off? Or is the characterization of the process as outlined in the agreement inaccurate? The object here is to better understand these policies, not spread misinformation. So any light you can shed, especially about what has been conveyed to Athletics Department, would be greatly appreciated

      B. Biederbecke

      • Taylor Taylor

        The characterization of the process is probably because the pro league needs to schedule their games in advance.. but as was discussed in the subcommittee meeting this has been a huge area of focus.

        They’ve had multiple meetings with the athletic department and the city on this very point. In the city’s eyes scheduling is a non issue, as far as the schools go, they will get everything they need. It’s been a massive consideration and I know they have worked very hard to ensure they provide/maintain equivalent access for primary users. They are not the primary user. Plus, they would not have the city staff and subcommittee support if this was going to negatively impact the schools.

        Also, this is not rich people trying to profit. It’s built by a founder and the community itself to use soccer to make Portland a better place. I’ve been following since the beginning and it’s been organic as can be. The idea of rich people trying to profit is comical.

        Appreciate your article though, it is well written and brings up good talking points and concerns. Keep up the great work. Thank you for a healthy conversation on the subject.

        All the best.

      • Joel Costigan Joel Costigan

        Public school coach here…

        USL games are on Saturday nights. I cannot recall a single time in my coaching tenure (13 seasons as Deering’s head coach) that we played a Saturday night game. Football plays on Friday nights; boys soccer plays on Tuesday or Thursday nights, or Saturday mornings; girls soccer plays on Monday and Wednesday nights.

        This perceived conflict with school schedules should not even be a concern. In fact, the USL team would only be the top 3 or 4 renter in the city. Practices would also be held during school hours and would not conflict with student practice times

      • Joel Costigan Joel Costigan

        A further clarification. You are a little off. Athletic Directors don’t plan game times based on “times they will need.” Home game schedules are determined BY the Athletic Directors based on availability provided to them by the city of Portland, and in conjunction with other Athletic Directors throughout the SMAA. The city owns these fields and alots times each day to the schools (typically Monday through Friday, after school until 7:00pm). After 7:00pm, usually adult rentals like Casco Bay Sports come into the field. The USL schedules do not interfere with the school schedules.

  3. Kathy F Kathy F

    In the article… “ The club is agreeing to pay $200,000 to help install a turf field in another public park in the city.”

    – Why is another field needed if there won’t be any issues with schools and the public being able to use Fitzpatrick Stadium?

    – Are both the track AND the field event areas staying at Fitzpatrick Stadium? If not, are they going to be included in the new field?

    – If the new field will be including track and field spaces… the cost for the new field drastically goes up.

    – If the track and field spaces are remaining at Fitzpatrick Stadium, it should be put into the lease agreement.

    • Joel Costigan Joel Costigan

      The city still needs more turf fields for the times students do hold their practices and games. These times do not conflict with the USL schedules. Another turf field is also another way that the city can generate income from rentals.

    • B. Biederbecke B. Biederbecke

      Hi Kathy –

      The city’s park director, Ethan Hipple, clarified that the the turf field has been on the city’s wish list for some time. I’d imagine that the need for such a field will be greater now that this agreement has been approved by the Council, although it sounds like something that was already wanted.

      I would recommend contacting city staff for greater clarity on the other points.

  4. Jake Jake

    The city needs this team!

    • Kathy F Kathy F

      Please clarify why the City of Portland “needs” this team.

      • Alexandra Alexandra

        Unity, community, inclusivity, opportunity! FUN!

  5. Brian Brian

    I’m concerned that this write up seems to ignore the fact that there has been consistent communication with the city around all of these items. The club has been engaging with stakeholders for years to ensure the community is central to the club’s efforts.

    The financial aspects seem to be very mutually beneficial… The trade off of waiving the use fees in exchange for $1,000,000 in improvements to the facility, among lots of other things…

    I don’t believe the city makes any money off the signage at the other minor league venues like the expo and hadlock field… so I don’t see how this agreement that gives the city 15% each year is ‘unfair’. That additional revenue of $30k/year for 10 years is $300,000, and when added to the $1MM in improvements, that exceeds the $1.28MM in ‘lost’ use fees over ten years… and doesn’t include the creation of 50 full time jobs, plus tax revenue from events, merchandise sales, etc. Also, way to just breeze past the potential economic impact of more than $10,000,000…

    So from a financial perspective, we’re pretty equal. From a scheduling perspective, there actually has been communication with the interested parties, and if there is no concern from them, why are we getting up in arms over an entirely hypothetical problem?

    Plus, no shit a potential 15-year contract should not be entered into lightly… how are you so sure that this is, in fact, being entered into lightly and without consideration? You think that the Parks Director and the Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee just glazed over it and approved the proposal for full review without putting some thought into it? Basic research would indicate otherwise, given the amount of communication we know for a fact has taken place…

    It’s fairly obvious that there hasn’t been much research on the club and their efforts to this point. I’d highly recommend going to the website ( and their social media (@USLtoPortland) and taking some time to understand how much the club has prioritized making a positive impact in the community, as well as how much the community has already embraced what the club is trying to do. It would be a lot more helpful than whatever this piece is…

    • B. Biederbecke B. Biederbecke

      Hi Brian –

      This piece was not intended to be an all-encompassing look at outside factors in making this deal. Rather, it was intended to be a look inside the 4 corners of the agreement (at the end of the day, that’s all that matters in terms of legal enforceability). To the extent that content outside of the agreement was included, it was purely to give the reader a basic understanding of the facts at hand. Performance of interviews, etc. fell outside the scope of this objective in addition to being a practically impossible given time constraints.

      You’re entitled to your opinions about the fairness of the contract. I obviously disagree. However, I would push back on your direction of others to the Club’s marketing material or social media accounts as a legitimate counterpoints to the contract terms. I don’t think those would have been valid sources for the purposes of this article or for others hoping to learn about the public policy implications of this agreement.

  6. Alexandra Alexandra

    This is a great way forward for Portland! From a sustainability perspective, why would we not allow the use of Fitzpatrick? Creating an entire additional stadium is unnecessary and would use resources and space that could be utilized elsewhere. The improvements, although not previously deemed “necessary” by the City, will undoubtedly benefit other users — and create a viable home for this exciting new development for Portland! Plus, how cool for young players to use the same field as professionals.

    All throughout the long history of this project, the mainstays have been careful consideration, clear communication, and an underlying love for Maine, our local community, and the power of soccer to unite and welcome individuals! To attempt to thwart this project because of unrealized threats or potential issues, is short-sighted and disheartening.

    I am sure that in 5 years time, after creating a home for professional soccer in Maine, these concerns will be long forgotten. The benefits will vastly outweigh any perceived downsides. I can’t wait to cheer on Team Portland!

    • Seth Seth

      Once “AAA” soccer loses money for a few years, they will pack up and leave i’m sure 🙂 Honestly these small time sports don’t make any money without handouts.

      • Really? Small time sports? United Soccer League players on the average get paid $46,368 per season according to a site that tracks soccer salaries. (There is a site for everything, isn’t there?) It was founded thirty seven years ago with almost all of the original teams still playing.

        • Kathy F Kathy F

          Please site your sources for these statements…

        • RJ RJ

          Noting that a small percentage of star players will make a disproportionately higher salary then remaining players, this drives up the average salary number. I would guess that majority of players will earn closer to USL’s minimum wage of +/- $32,000. Hardly a livable wage in Portland where a 1 BR apartment averages $2,650/month. The players will clearly need a second income to support themselves.

          On another note does anyone know what the average age of the players will be? I was recently reading a news release from the New England Revolution II that noted 3 players were graduating to the MLS Club; two aged 18 and one 15. They also noted that one of their players had won the MLS NEXT Leagues MVP under 17 award. I was a bit surprised by the presence of players under 18. I assume, similar to professional football, there is no minimum age for professional soccer. Will the Portland team provide career/life counseling for the players? Especially for young players that might not have completed high school yet.

          Lastly, does anyone know why thirteen USL1 & USL Championship Clubs abandoned the USL and joined the MLS NEXT – Major League Soccer League over the last 2 years? Is there reason for concern? I have to admit, with MLS NEXT having nearly 30 teams and 4 regional divisions set up, the possibility of rivalries between teams where local fans can easily travel to neighboring communities to attend games becomes a big plus. Within USL1 Portland’s closest competition is in Richmond, VA with the remaining clubs much further away in the Midwest and west coast. Hardly a convenient or affordable trip.

          • Cat Eldridge Cat Eldridge

            $32,000 is doable if you’re sharing an apartment which is a reasonable assumption. There’s certainly more than a few individuals in Portland who if you figure they work part time make around that even if they’re pulling down $20 a hour and many aren’t. Younger couples do it by both working. And there are apartments cheaper than that — a search of the real estate listing stsillbdhows one bedrooms, though I think high, in the the eighteen hundred dollars range.

            (When my mow ex-wife and I move here in 1990, our first apartment was on the corner of Brighton and Noyes, owned by the Conti who some of you know from Pizza Villa. $500 a month.)

            You really don’t know how the wages are distributed on the team, nor do I. Let’s leave that up to the owners as it’s none of our damn business, is it? It’s like obsessing over baseball salaries.

            All I know is too many of you are trying your damnest to find reasons this won’t work. I like soccer, saw it play on dirt fields in Asia, but then I saw cricket, the world’s most incomprehensible sport, played there too. (Watch out for the scorpions underfoot !) I know that there’s enough of immigrant population here to support it so it will succeed.

          • Haven P. Haven P.

            Clubs left to move to MLS NEXT because that is a new league for MLS reserve teams and every team that left the USL are MLS reserve teams. This occurred because MLS and USL are competing leagues. This should be of no concern for the growth of USL as there are multiple expansion clubs joining the league over the next few years.

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