Rhode Island FC to play inaugural 2024 season at Bryant University

Updated at 3:16 p.m.

PAWTUCKET – Rhode Island FC is going to college in 2024.

The professional soccer club announced Friday it will play its inaugural season in the United Soccer League Championship at Bryant University’s Beirne Stadium in Smithfield. The stadium, first built in 1999, serves as the home of the university’s football, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and men’s and women’s soccer teams.

In speaking to reporters on Friday, Rhode Island FC President Brett Luy said Beirne Stadium fits the team’s professional needs with all the amenities and facilities that Rhode Island FC and visiting sides will need for training and match day competition. He also said utilizing Bryant’s stadium will help Rhode Island FC honor its commitment to the Blackstone Valley area.

“We have the latitude to come in and make it our own special experience,” Luy said. “Bryant University allows us to continue to build upon the relationships that we’ve established here in the Blackstone Valley.”

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Professional sports at Bryant University is not uncommon. The New England Patriots held their training camp at the Smithfield campus for two decades before Gillette Stadium was built in 2002.

“Bryant University is happy to welcome Rhode Island’s new professional soccer team to play their inaugural season at Beirne Stadium on our Smithfield campus,” Bryant University President Ross Gittell said in a statement. “We appreciate the enthusiasm that pro sports teams bring to our community and look forward to being part of the excitement.”

Luy said the club looked at various facilities around the state, including Pierce Field in East Providence, that could meet USL standards, such as field size and capacity. He said there was a “finite” number of facilities in Rhode Island, including those on university campuses, that could accommodate the team.

Ultimately, Bryant’s Beirne Stadium was the “best holistic solution” for Rhode Island FC for 2024, Luy said.

However, work needs to be done to get Bierne Stadium to meet the USL’s 5,000-fixed-seat capacity requirement. Currently, Beirne Stadium, according to Bryant’s website, has a capacity of 4,400, still enough to accommodate the team’s estimated 4,000 season ticket members. Luy said Rhode Island FC will work with the university to augment the facility and add approximately 1,000 seats to the stadium.

When asked if the new seating will be permanent, Luy said the seats will be rental for sure, and it will be up to Bryant if the university wants to continue maintaining and utilizing them beyond 2024. It’s currently unclear how much it will cost to increase Bryant’s stadium capacity – Luy did not presently have exact figures and plans are still preliminary. Rhode Island FC spokesperson Mike Raia said no tax dollars would be used for the team’s presence at Bryant.

Luy also confirmed that while Brown Stadium at Brown University has a large capacity – 20,000 seats – and field turf for use, the field dimensions at Brown are too small to house a soccer field in that stadium.

The team is also working with Bryant on parking strategies for both on campus and areas across the street to meet the crowd size, Luy said. He also said Rhode Islan d FC is paying a rental fee to utilize the stadium, but declined to disclose how much that fee is.

Bryant will serve as Rhode Island FC’s home while construction, and its financing, are still being rectified with the club’s future home. Financing woes have slowed the $124 million Pawtucket soccer stadium project at Tidewater Landing, where the new United Soccer League team is supposed to play – with the stadium’s opening pushed back to 2025. Pawtucket officials confirmed on March 23 that the issuance of $27 million in public bonds for the 10,500-seat United Soccer League construction, a cornerstone of the financing plan, was delayed, citing economic uncertainty from rising inflation and a potential banking crisis. This comes after the project broke ground in August 2022 and construction began in November.

When asked if Bryant or any other facility would be used if the Pawtucket stadium’s construction is delayed further, Luy said he anticipates Tidewater Landing will be ready for 2025. He said he has “full confidence” in all parties involved to close any financial gaps and be “ready to go for 2025.”

“The work is ongoing down the road [from our offices] and they’re going at full clip,” Luy said.

Rhode Island FC’s 2024 season schedule will be released at a later date.

(UPDATED throughout to include comments from Rhode Island FC president Brett Luy and spokesperson Mike Raia.)

PBN Special Projects Editor James Bessette contributed to this report.