Bobby Brett attended one Spokane Shadow soccer game last summer and he was sold.
And on Monday, the Shadow was sold - to Bobby Brett.
Head of the ownership groups that own the Spokane Chiefs and Indians, Brett made it three of a kind by acquiring a majority stake in Spokane’s year-old franchise in the United States Interregional Soccer League.
“When you’re in the sports business, you always want to see what the competition is like,” said Brett.
“I’d read about them in the paper, went out to see a game one night, got my hot dog and sat in the stands and watched. When I saw the product and the type of people who were there, I thought this was something I should get involved with. So I found out who the owner was and called him up.
“We had lunch - and I bought.”
Actually, Brett bought out - for an amount he declined to reveal - 34 of the original 36 investors, who launched the Shadow in February under the banner of Spokane Pro Sports. Retaining their minority interests are Jeff Heimbigner, the team’s general manager, and Dave Berto, who played for the club last season.
Heimbigner will become the team’s vice president for soccer operations, responsible for player-related matters. Brett will be the president and oversee business operations.
“With Bobby’s group involved, we’re confident that his marketing resources and the soccer community will allow the Shadow to reach the next level,” said Heimbigner.
“The original group were friends of soccer, and when this option came up the people who contributed and invested to get it off the ground were willing to move on and give up their stake to help soccer progress.”
The Shadow finished 4-8 in its inaugural season in the USISL, but made some promising inroads at the gate with an average attendance of more than 1,800, according to Heimbigner.
In 1996, the Shadow will play a 20-game schedule - half at home - plus an exhibition with the A League’s Seattle Sounders.
“For a first-year franchise, I think the Shadow did a great job of getting off the ground,” said Brett. “They proved there’s a market for minor-league type soccer in Spokane. What we bring to the table is a marketing and promotion background. We’ll be trying to build on what they did - increasing the season-ticket base, making games fun, the family entertainment aspects.
“I was amazed at the grassroots interest in the sport. We might be getting involved at the perfect time.”
And while the club will continue to make Spokane Falls Community College home - with possible games at Central Valley High School - Brett noted “one thing we’re going to work for in the next couple years is to get a permanent soccer facility in town - whether it’s an existing facility that’s enlarged or a new one.”
Brett envisions that as a community facility, available to high school and college teams as well as youth tournaments.
Brett and his brothers purchased the baseball Indians in 1985 and added the hockey Chiefs in 1990. And though the soccer club’s April-August season shadows the Indians’ baseball season, Brett envisions no drain from either concern.
“I think you have a core of fans for any sport,” said Brett. “When I was out there, I didn’t recognize many of those people. And each time we’ve added one of these properties, it’s made our core business better.”
On the field, the Shadow remains a team in transition. Heimbigner is still trying to determine whether NCAA regulations will allow coach Einar Thorarinsson to return, since he’s become the full-time coach at Gonzaga University. In addition, the player roster will continue to evolve.
As members of the USISL’s Premier League, Shadow players are not paid “and that won’t change this coming season,” Heimbigner said. “Whether it changes in the future, we’ll see.
“The base of this team will always be local players, as it was this past season. But to compete and have success, I think we’re going to need four or five players from outside the area to add to that. With the involvement of Bobby Brett and his group, the whole visibility of this franchise will change now. I think the word will be out that the operation has taken a jump forward.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo