JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- You can call February a month to remember in Jacksonville with several big sporting events from the Davis Cup to U.S. Women's Soccer. Friday night Major League Soccer made its debut at EverBank Field.
The city hopes this is the first step in Jacksonville scoring its own Major League Soccer franchise, but it's not just soccer city leaders are trying to attract. The mayor has his eyes set on turning the River City into a sports hub.
About 7,500 fans showed up to watch the first match of a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Union to play in Jacksonville. Despite thousands of empty seats Alan Verlander, Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment, said for an exhibition game, it's about the turnout he was expecting.
"The mayor has a big vision in wanting to take sports to whole a new realm and creating a global view for Jacksonville through sports, so this adds to this whole mantra of doing that. So that's what we are trying to do that, but we really want to attract a soccer crowd and community and in doing that you really ultimately get a franchise," said Verlander.
For the Dearie family, they said they would love to see the city score a professional soccer team call Jacksonville home.
"It would mean a lot because for the kids soccer, it's obviously huge. We are members of Ponte Vedra Storm, and all three of them play so having a professional league here would be great for them to come and look up to the really great players they are putting out on the fields," said Jerry Dearie.
While the Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact ended the night without scoring, some said it's a win for the city.
"When we host events in city venues, it creates revenue. But then again it's a branding issue. It's saying to the soccer community and the sports world we are a sports town," said Verlander.
Sunday, EverBank Field will host a college lacrosse tournament. On February 23rd, Monster Jam will be held there.
First Coast News