Risers pondering league membership, an indoor schedule and a new stadium

By Steve Gunn
LocalSportsJournal.com

MUSKEGON – This may be the offseason for the Muskegon Risers pro soccer team, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes.LSJ Logo incert

The team may be close to joining a league within the next few weeks, after spending its inaugural season playing an independent schedule.

The Risers have also scheduled a second indoor exhibition game, on Feb. 13 at L.C. Walker Arena. Public interest in that game will help the team’s management determine if it wants to explore the idea of fielding a permanent indoor team in the winter, on top of playing in the summer.

Finally, the Risers are working to build support among downtown Muskegon business owners for a new home stadium on Mart Dock property, close to the Shoreline Inn off Lakeshore Drive.

If all goes well, the team could begin play at a new facility this summer.

The possibility of competing in a pro league in the coming season should be determined by the end of the month, according to Risers owner Matt Schmitt.

While Schmitt is open to the possibility of joining a league, and having his team play for a championship this year, he says he was happy operating independently last summer, and would have no problem doing so again.

The Risers, who played their home games at Reeths-Puffer High School in 2015, caught on well with the public, averaging between 1,000 and 1,500 fans per home game.

“We were presented with an opportunity to be part of a league while still maintaining the flexibility to also play a non-league schedule,” Schmitt told LocalSportsJournal.com. “At the end of the day we want fans to have a fun experience, and I don’t think being in a league would contribute to that as much as other things that happen at our games.

“But it is beneficial for us to develop relationships with teams throughout the Midwest, and a league offers that opportunity.”

One plus about joining a league would be having an instant supply of teams to play every summer, Schmitt said.

“I wouldn’t have to spend time making phone calls and exchanging emails with other teams around the Midwest, trying to set up a schedule and figuring out who we’re going to play from one year to the next,” he said.

While the Risers ponder the possibility of joining a league, they are also planning their second indoor soccer exhibition on Feb. 13. The first indoor game on Dec. 12 drew between 1,500 and 2,000 fans.

If the second game draws well, Schmitt said the team will study the possibility of making the Risers a year-round entity, playing outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter.

“We still have to gather more feedback (about the first indoor game), but the initial impression is that everybody had a blast and there’s a pretty big demand for arena soccer,” Schmitt said.

“It would be a matter of trying to find a balance between keeping people engaged year-round versus deluding our brand.”

In the meantime, the Risers are still pursuing their plan to establish a new outdoor stadium in downtown Muskegon.

Schmitt hopes the promising crowds the team drew last summer – and the significant attendance at its indoor exhibition game – will be enough to attract a lot of support.

It would cost about $100,000 to build the new facility, and Schmitt hopes to raise part of that money through contributions from downtown businesses and organizations.

“I think the arena soccer game demonstrated the concept of having soccer downtown, and started to open a few people’s eyes about how it could have a positive impact,” Schmitt said. “I’ve been taking the time to talk to downtown businesses about possibly supporting us. If we get enough of them to back us we’ll be in good shape.”

Schmitt says another key will be finding another entity to share the stadium.

“If it’s only us utilizing it, it wouldn’t make sense from a business standpoint,” he said. “We’re talking to a few other people and organizations that might also be tenants there and make it a year-round facility.”

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