JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Soccer fanatics and footballers of all ages may soon have a new place to play if the proposed plan for an indoor soccer facility on the city’s Southside is approved by council members next week.
The project deemed XL Sports Complex is requesting a rezoning of an approximately 8-acre parcel of land on Baymeadows Way West to permit for an indoor and outdoor sports complex.
XL Sports World or XL Soccer, as it was introduced in Raleigh, N.C. nearly a decade ago, is a soccer-centered sports facility that offers both indoor and outdoor fields for competitive and recreational 6-on-6 play. XL Sports World has since expanded to offer a total of seven locations along the East Coast. The closest one in proximity to Jacksonville being the facility in Orlando.
“They’ve become pillars, structural pillars in the soccer community and in the communities, themselves,” XL Sports World CEO, Ciaran McArdle, said. “They are not the type of places that someone would come just one time and then once again in 12-months time. We get a weekly return rate of customers that come and play their soccer games here every week.”
McArdle said the construction on the currently undeveloped land should cost around $5 million. Pending a favorable ruling by the Jacksonville City Council on the rezoning, the building could break ground within three months.
Parking has been the biggest concern, according to Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton, whose district the facility would be built in. Becton, who also is chairman of the Land Use & Zoning Committee, said he personally reached out to entities inside the nearby industrial park to inform them of the public hearing earlier this week.
Despite initial concerns, Becton said nobody in the community voiced any negative comments or disputes with the proposed development.
“I don’t think there is any reason for the full council to not pass it,” Becton said, when asked about the upcoming city council meeting. “I think the L-U-Z recommendation certainly carries a lot of weight to the rest of the council and I don’t think there was any reason for anyone to have any reservations about this facility.”
Becton further acknowledged the project by referencing several other sports facilities around Jacksonville that have found similar favoritism amongst local municipalities. One of those facilities he mentioned was Project Family, the massive indoor sports facility that was just recently approved by St. Johns County commissioners.
“I just don’t think it’s necessarily district-oriented,” Becton said. “Jacksonville, with the Armada has had a very big following, with USA soccer coming to Jacksonville and playing games, it certainly has been noted that we have a big soccer community out there.”
The unanimous decision by the Land Use & Zoning Committee to approve the rezoning request earlier this week is perhaps a good omen for McArdle and the future of XL Sports World. If all goes well at the city council meeting next Tuesday, XL Sports Jacksonville could be open for business by summer 2018, according to McArdle.
The Beginning of XL Sports World
McArdle, himself, is no stranger to association football. After spending most of his early life around the sport, McArdle made the move from Northern England to the U.S. nearly 20 years ago to pursue his passion.
“It’s really been my whole professional career, even though my degree was in electronic engineering and my masters was in avionics, I became a soccer official," McArdle said. "It really has been a passion of mine.”
His first job in the U.S. was a coach for the Harvard University Soccer Camp. Based out of Boston, Ma., McArdle spent his time traveling around the six-state region of New England coaching a sport he still to this day makes time every week to play.
Admittedly biased about his sport, McArdle shows no regrets about his decisions to pursue what some might think of as just a hobby or seasonal source of entertainment.
“It’s the greatest game in the world,” McArdle said when asked about soccer and what it was that led him down this road.
Long before venturing into the world of operating large-scale sports facilities, McArdle and fellow soccer coach Kris Lamb co-founded a travel company that would help them show fans the “birthplace of soccer” and connect them to to the professional clubs and games they follow here in the U.S.
XL Sports Tours started in Boston over 16 years ago by taking teams over to England on 10-day trips. Headquartered now in Orlando, Fla., the business has customers around the world and has organized trips to 29 different countries.
It’s not all about touring and sightseeing though. XL Sports Tours gives local players an opportunity to play internationally by organizing matches and tournaments in different countries. This is something, McArdle said would be available to select teams and players in Jacksonville.
Even though it's never been done, McArdle said he would eventually like to organize a trip that would allow fans and players a chance to attend a professional soccer match in London and a Jacksonville Jaguars game at Wembley Stadium the following day.
McArdle said he hasn’t had any discussion with the Jaguars organization, but does have a working relationship with a distant cousin to the team, Fullham F.C., which is also owned by Shahid Khan.
“We take teams there and we train there and play against their youth academy clubs,” McArdle said of Fullam F.C. “They are always really receptive to us.”
XL Sports Jacksonville
The turnout to soccer events held in Jacksonville over the past few years is what got McArdle interested in opening a facility here. The growing young adult soccer population in this area is what he hopes to attract.
“One of the reasons we were successful in Orlando is nobody had built a very nice place to play soccer, rather just a warehouse where you throw some turf down and roll the doors open,” McArdle said. “Nobody had built some place to hang out and play.”
The building will be roughly 50,000 square-feet. The inside will house two separate boarded turf fields that are 135 feet-by-80 feet each. In addition to the side-by-side turf fields, there will be a hard-surface multi-purpose futsal soccer court at the back of the building that will be available for volleyball, lacrosse and field hockey.
As is tradition with most XL Sports facilities, a pub-style eatery will be located on the premises and offer patrons beer, wine and food for purchase.
“Typically, our adult teams come, they play, they have a beer and a bite to eat and they go home,” McArdle said. “So, it becomes almost like a community center.”
A community center that McArdle said isn’t solely targeted at those who are of legal drinking age. XL Sports offers a variety of youth programs that range from competitive play to developmental classes. The youngest current participant is an 18-month-old, with the average age group being 4-12 years old. In terms of the adult programs, McArdle said they are most popular among those in their 20s and older.
A typical soccer season at XL Sports lasts for eight weeks and costs around $75. The fee breaks down to about $10 per visit, which includes a schedule for the entire season, regulation balls and referees.
“All you have to do is rock up at your game time and then we take care of everything else,” said McArdle.
An open house hiring event is slated to be held when the facility gets closer to opening. A total of 15 to 30 positions, not including referees and coaches, will need to be filled within the first 24 months. McArdle said XL Sports will be looking to hire local sports enthusiasts and those who are interested in future sports careers.
“Jacksonville is very much like Orlando; very much like Atlanta, in that you don’t know it’s a soccer town unless you live there,” McArdle said. “And Jacksonville is a really, really strong soccer town.”