‘Rhode Island FC’ drops anchor at Pawtucket soccer stadium site

BRETT JOHNSON, co-founder of the new United Soccer League team in Rhode Island, unveiled the name and logo at an event on Monday. /PBN PHOTO/NANCY LAVIN

PAWTUCKET – Subtlety is not the goal behind the branding for Pawtucket’s new United Soccer League team.

From the name “Rhode Island FC” to the anchor incorporated into the team crest, the Ocean State is front and center. Which is exactly the message that Brett Johnson, project developer, wants to send.

“Rhode Islanders are grounded in who they truly are, and nothing symbolizes this better than the anchor,” said Johnson, the co-founder of Rhode Island Pro Soccer and principal of development company Fortuitous Partners, said during a media event on Monday. “We are fully committed to Pawtucket and fully anchored in Rhode Island.”

The Blackstone Valley Visitor Center quickly assumed the air of an enthusiastic, if small, pep rally with music pumping and cheers echoing as a black curtain dropped down to reveal the amber and navy design. 

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“Let me be very clear and let me throw the gauntlet down, our team is going to compete for championships from day one,” Johnson said.

Designed by Rhode Island marketing firm NAIL Communications, the crest is shaped to resemble the bow of a ship as a nod to Rhode Island’s maritime industry, while the lightning bolts shooting out from the base of the anchor are intended to represent the “energy” and “passion” of the state, Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Michael Parkhurst, the team co-founder, highlighted Pawtucket’s soccer history, with clubs formed during the late 1800s manufacturing age – J & P Coats FC, Pawtucket Rangers and the Pawtucket Free Wanderers – playing walking distance from where the new stadium will be. 

The announcement also marks the beginning of what Johnson said is an unprecedented marketing strategy for a professional sports team, with a daylong tour across the state that includes stops in all 39 cities and towns. 

Yet despite the many platitudes Johnson offered, there was little detail on the next steps in the project. The stadium is slated to open for a 2024 season, with fans able to put deposits down on season tickets starting Tuesday and merchandise already for sale on the club website. 

For now, the riverbank land where the stadium is planned remains a dirt and gravel pit with chalk outlines marking the pitch. Johnson said vertical construction would begin within two weeks, but brushed off questions about the rest of the project.

The 10,000-seat USL stadium is just one piece of what Fortuitous Partners has planned as a larger, mixed-use development that incorporates housing, retail, and infrastructure on both banks of the Pawtucket River. Proponents tout the revitalization of long vacant properties and the jobs and profits the state could receive. But critics warn that the state could be left on the hook for the $36.2 million in tax-increment financing it has agreed to funnel into the project, especially now that nearly all of the public money is being used to pay for the stadium, rather than the later, public amenities. 

Asked for updates on the later parts of the project, Johnson responded by saying he would “step on the gas” once the stadium was completed. He deflected questions about the struggles of other stadiums, which have not brought in the fans – and  revenue – expected. Parkhurst was even more direct, stating he was “not there” to talk about the finances of the project.

The company plans to reveal the newly hired team president later this week, with next steps including “an extensive search” for a coach and general manager, then players. Parkhurst said some of these players will be from the area, again emphasizing the importance of local ties.

A Cranston native who later went on to play professionally with Major League Soccer, Parkhurst was also vague about his role in the company, describing himself as an “ambassador.”  

As for a team nickname, that will be left up to fans to decide, Johnson said.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com

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