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NM United series part 2: Experience at game to be similar to ’Topes

(Editor’s note: Expansion pro soccer franchise New Mexico United plays its first-ever game on Saturday. Today’s installment is the second in a three-part series on aspects about the team, the league and the fan experience. Part One)

New Mexico United apparently has tapped into a significant interest in the brand of professional soccer it is marketing.

The team has sold roughly 2,400 season tickets for the 17-game home schedule with an average price over $300 as it gets ready for its debut in the United Soccer League’s Championship division. United opens the 2019 season at home Saturday against Fresno FC and has sold over 3,000 single-game tickets for the opener at Isotopes Park.

“There’s something special happening with New Mexico United,” USL spokesperson Scott Stewart said. “The buzz being generated locally has been reflected by their ticket sales. They are without a doubt one of the highest expansion performers in the history of our league, and we can’t wait to see the stadium come alive on game day.”

Tickets are available on the team’s website (newmexicoutd.com/tickets). Season-ticket prices range from $179 to $1,399 for premium seats. The more expensive seats are located along midfield. The Zone 2 season tickets ($249) are sold out.

“We expect to sell quite a few more not just up until (Saturday) but through (Saturday),” owner Peter Trevisani said. “We’ve been able to see great interest in both levels. We really get lucky with the sight lines.”

The soccer field will be oriented north-south with one goal along the first base line of the baseball layout, and the other in left field. Team benches will be situated closer to center field, facing most spectators. NMU will open the right-field berm for more fans if space is needed.

The club is counting on walk-up purchases to drive up attendance, of course. Tickets available on game days will be slightly more than single-game tickets purchased in advance.

Having Isotopes Park as United’s home, sharing it with the Triple-A baseball club, “is huge for us,” New Mexico United technical director and coach Troy Lesesne said. “They’re the priority. We want to be respectful of that.”

The 34-game regular season features clusters of home games in the spring and fall. NMU has an even start with five home and five road games across its first 10 matches. The club has 53 days between Albuquerque games, playing five consecutive road matches in June and July. But the run in has seven of its final nine games at home in September and October.

Said Lesesne: “We want the team to be in a playoff position for that great home front.”

For comparison, fellow expansion side El Paso Locomotive hosts seven of its first 10 games. Its longest road trip is three games in 10 days starting in late June. Its longest gap between home matches is 25 days. Like New Mexico United, the El Paso Locomotive shares space with the El Paso Chihuahuas, a San Diego Padres baseball affiliate.

“In short, USL asks for a certain number of playable home dates for the year to come,” Stewart said. “For a club sharing a facility, like New Mexico United, the submitted dates are then analyzed with considerations for venue availability, noted blackout dates, rest and travel time, as well as other factors. The league then works with each club individually to cross-check and finalize all dates.”

The Isotopes’ front office met with other minor league clubs experienced in field conversions and hosting USL soccer matches.

“It’s been our pledge to the Colorado Rockies that soccer will not interfere with baseball in any fashion including batting practice, early work on the field, things like that,” Isotopes GM Jon Traub said. “We want soccer to go well, and at the same time we have to protect what our primary vision is — Isotopes baseball and player development for the Colorado Rockies.”

GAME-DAY EXPERIENCE: At Isotopes Park, it might not differ much from baseball to soccer. They’ll be the same Spectra concessions, ushers and security rules. NMU will offer $20 reserved parking steps from the stadium, but otherwise the standard $5 parking at the UNM lots remain. Club merchandise will be available. New Mexico United has already received jersey orders from 11 countries.

“The park will basically operate the same for soccer as it does for baseball,” Traub said. “We hope it goes well for United. New Mexico United has been very respectful and appreciative of experience we bring to the table. They really are trying to use the Isotopes model for how they operate and for the fan experience.

And get ready for music.

“The supporters, the crowds, the fans — soccer is a much shorter game,” NM United owner/president Peter Trevisani said. “It’s not uncommon for the supporter section to stand for the entire game, singing, musical instruments, smoke bombs, a different level of energy on and off the field.”

USL games are 90 minutes total with one 15-minute halftime. United may have some quick halftime entertainment on some dates, including youth small-sided soccer games. There is no overtime or kicks from the mark, so games can end tied.

“You don’t want to miss the first kick — the game goes quick,” Trevisani said.

The fun zone in right field won’t be open for soccer, though NMU may re-assess come summer. There are multiple theme days planned.

■ April 26 (7:30 p.m.): APS night for teachers and students.

■ May 5 (5:05 p.m.): Cinco de Mayo, note the special start time. The club is working with the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

■ June 5 (7 p.m.): Pride Night in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month.

■ Aug. 3 (7:30 p.m.): “Meow Wolf” Night, the recently announced sponsor of the home jersey gets a special celebration.

The club plans to open gates two hours before the 7:30 p.m. start time for Saturday’s season opener. The first 5,000 fans will receive a special New Mexico United flag with the club seal. That flag will not be available for purchase elsewhere.

All NMU games will be available live via ESPN+ online. Home games against the Tulsa Roughnecks (March 20) and El Paso (July 31) will stream on ESPN3.com.

The match against OKC Energy will air on ESPNews on June 5.

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