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2017 home opener a new milestone for Orange County SC

Saturday’s derby is intriguing, but new venue is a big deal.

Orange County SC are the final team in USL this season to host a game, as they get their chance on Saturday in the second 405 Derby of the campaign against LA Galaxy II. While any rivalry game is a big deal, the headlines may be more for the new digs than anything else.

The club has moved in the offseason from UC Irvine’s Anteater Stadium to Orange County Great Park as their home venue. It’s a move that makes a lot of sense, between keeping the team in a central location in Irvine, the new stadium being built at the Great Park for sporting events and the fact that the team has trained here for years already.

Of course, this will not be the unveiling of the new permanent stadium. Instead, the team is following the lead of other USL teams like Phoenix Rising FC and Sacramento Republic FC in building a “pop up” temporary stadium to play in until the permanent venue is ready.

Here’s a panoramic view of the stadium noting it’s a temporary venue:

And here’s a better look:

As the latter tweet notes, it sounds like they’ll be selling beer (an improvement on playing at a college stadium) and there will be vending options for food, too.

The team appears to be putting a lot into this home opener, as they should be. Between T-shirt promotions, plenty of promoting the game and tickets on social media, visits to local schools and the like, the club understands they want to make a good first impression, both to those attending Saturday’s game, and outside observers watching the game.

It’s no secret that attendance was a major problem in the past for Orange County, especially last season. With very little promotion and an uncertain future until James Keston bought the team in the fall, OC had the worst attendance figures for the league among independent, non-MLS2 teams (and the figures quoted in that post for the Blues look suspiciously high, on the whole) in 2016.

And to the club’s credit, they haven’t stood pat, instead putting in considerable effort into improving the numbers attending games this year, first with the ownership change, and then the rebrand. From there, the affiliate agreement with Los Angeles Football Club was a no-brainer on several levels, and should provide some boost in attendance this season, and finally the venue change and renewed effort at marketing should ensure more people will be showing up for games this season.

The temporary venue holds 5,000, and with it being a local game for both teams, will it be a sellout? It’s possible, but I think even reaching 3,500 actual attendants would be a good start for the team. This team will probably always have to work upstream to get significant attendance numbers in a very crowded sports and entertainment market, but the price point and location should be attractive to enough people alone, if they know about it and the soccer and whole match experience is entertaining enough. Throw in the LAFC tie-in, the rivalry game in this one, and the excitement of it being the first home game of the season, and it’s sure to be a good occasion, as well as a learning experience.

Saturday’s game is just the first home game of the season for Orange County SC, and before long the team and fans will settle into Great Park being their home, in either the temporary or permanent stadium. But the first game is a big deal, and hopefully the work put into, the performance on the field, and the hoped-for crowds that turn out will ensure it’s a landmark night for the club.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!