The Orange County Soccer Club will maintain its home field location at Championship Stadium inside the Great Park through its 2023 season. However, officials in Irvine have voiced displeasure about the city’s interactions with the club in contract negotiations and beyond.
While the Irvine City Council unanimously agreed to enter a one-year extension on the club’s Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday, Sept. 14, which is automatically set to renew every two years, city leaders repeatedly cited unprofessionalism and said the issue of rights to the stadium is being purposefully misrepresented by representatives of the Orange County Soccer Club.
During the meeting, Irvine Vice Mayor Anthony Kuo said he feels the issue is ripe for sensationalism.
“As representatives of the soccer club have shared, a lot of the rhetoric, a lot of the messaging, has been very accusatory, very impolite and I think in many ways, based on getting people excited,” he said. “As for me, I’ve personally had at least three or four conversations in the last month with representatives of the soccer club, so to suggest there’s no dialog is not true.”
The OCSC Communications Department released a statement after the meeting, thanking the Irvine City Council for their decision.
“We want to thank the Council members and City staff for their work to get to this point – all we ever wanted was certainty for 2023 and now we have it. And we want to thank our fans, particularly those who sat through six hours of deliberations last night and have endured a difficult and uncertain period for the club,” the statement read. “We also want to thank the fans of all other clubs around the world who have supported us through this journey – the soccer community in the US is stronger than many people realize and we are grateful for the support we received.”
Set to expire in November, the club’s current Memorandum of Understanding is based on an automatically renewing two-year agreement between OCSC and Great Park.
In August, the Irvine City Council discussed the possibility of not renewing the OCSC contract with the Great Park and entering an exclusive contract with the LA Galaxy II for Division 3 use. While the City Council opted not to discuss the issue in August, OCSC executives and fans publicly denounced the idea at City Hall.
At the time, Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi explained the core issue of the stadium went beyond the OCSC’s current Memorandum of Understanding and focused primarily on the frequency in which the community was able to access the facility.
Kuo added that he understood the need for “clarity and certainty,” and offered a motion that was quickly seconded by Irvine Council Member Tammy Kim. In his motion, Kuo suggested OCSC enter into a one-year agreement with the Great Park.
However, prior to Kuo’s motion, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan said she was under the impression that OCSC had not had a formal discussion with Irvine’s new city manager, and that she was not prepared to offer any agreement between the two.
“I think there’s a lot of work to be done, I don’t think the city manager and OC Soccer have met yet,” she said. “So, it’s hard to make a decision until that meeting takes place and they are able to negotiate the deal that they want to set forward.”
While Kim seconded the idea of a one-year agreement, she echoed Kuo’s statement regarding the tone and behavior of OCSC supporters.
“I’ve received so many nasty emails from the fans, and honestly I feel I’ve been supportive. I haven’t done any backroom deals, I’m not corrupt — neither are my colleagues. You don’t win favors when you’re accusing us of being corrupt,” Kim said. “I need you guys to reflect and think about the words you use in accusing myself and my colleagues of really awful things.”
Prior to the vote, Chi reiterated the fact that “misrepresentations are happening” regarding the aspect of contract negotiations between OCSC and the city of Irvine.
“As it relates to the ongoing relationship with the soccer club, our staff, in my opinion, has been treated in a way that has been less than professional and the city really has been treated less than professionally,” he said. “There’s this dialogue that the city is taking away their stadium — the championship soccer stadium does not belong to the Orange County Soccer Club — it belongs to the community of Irvine.”
Irvine Council Member Larry Agran said he would support the one-year agreement if it was supported by city staff, adding that it’s not Orange County Soccer Club’s decision.
“I don’t want to hear about what Orange County Soccer Club wants — I mean, I do — but I don’t want anything dedicated to us, and for that matter, I don’t want to hear what LA Galaxy wants — I want to hear what we want. What does our city staff think? This is a facility built by the city of Irvine on our land — we maintain it.”
Emphasizing his points about the challenges in communication between the city and OCSC, Chi added that the issues go beyond the status of the Memorandum Of Understanding.
“Our staff has had just an inordinately challenging time interfacing with representatives from OC Soccer Club — in fact, the soccer club has been late on paying their rent payments to the city 94% of the time since 2015. There are challenges in that relationship,” Chi explained.
While OCSC representatives did not comment regarding the frequency of late rent payments, the club is optimistic looking into next season.
“Hundreds of season tickets have already been sold for 2023 and, after all we’ve been through together this past few weeks, we can promise an electric game day atmosphere every weekend at Championship Soccer Stadium next season,” the club’s statement read. “This is a victory for common sense, for community and for soccer fans everywhere – a message that local sports are important, that everyone’s voice matters and that the soccer club you are part of is here to stay in Irvine, in Orange County.”
In its 2022 season, OCSC has won seven out of 30 games, losing 13 and finishing 10 matches in a draw. The club is currently in last place in the USL Championship League’s Western Conference.
There are four games left in the season, with OCSC playing on the road against Pittsburgh on September 24, then coming home to face San Diego on October 1. The club will travel to Texas to face the El Paso Locomotive SC and San Antonio SC in mid-October to finish the season.
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