By Mike Hembree
Greenville Chamber of Commerce President Carlos Phillips was working at the Louisville, Kentucky, chamber in 2015 when that city joined the ranks of American towns with a professional soccer team.
Four years later, Phillips is working in Greenville, and he once again is welcoming a soccer franchise — this time the Greenville Triumph.
“I’ve long believed that professional sports have the potential to elevate a community’s profile, and professional soccer can do so on domestic and international levels,” Phillips said.
Greenville’s professional sports landscape widens this month with the arrival of the Triumph, a team in the new United Soccer League Division III. The Triumph will play its home matches at Legacy Early College.
The Triumph joins the Drive baseball team and the Swamp Rabbits hockey team to give Greenville professional sports competition that stretches across much of the calendar.
The presence of sports teams that ignite the community can be critical in the overall attractiveness of a particular area – both for businesses and for individuals looking to relocate. The building of Fluor Field downtown and the Drive’s success often are spotlighted when magazines and other entities rank Greenville in a variety of categories – among the South’s best cities, one of America’s best downtowns, one of America’s “cities on the rise,” etc.
“Greenville has been receiving significant and well-deserved recognition in many areas, and I’m sure that the heightened presence of professional sports will fuel further recognition,” Phillips said. “The impact of the Greenville Drive on our community transcends athletics. The Drive has enhanced Greenville’s sense of place while fueling entertainment value and rooting interests. More importantly, though, the Drive has positioned itself as a community asset, and they take great pride in their position as an influencer and key contributor to our continued regional growth and success.”
Greenville businessman Joe Erwin, majority owner of the Triumph, said discussions with Phillips encouraged him to pursue pro soccer for Greenville.
“I saw what this does for the retention and recruitment of young urban professionals, which is our future,” Erwin said. “Carlos said that we know that it is absolutely mission-critical that we recruit and retain young urban professional talent. He said if we don’t get a team in this new division of the USL that other cities of similar size around us will. Then we’ll be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Erwin pointed to the arrival of the Drive in 2006 and the loss of the Greenville Braves minor league team in 2004 as examples of the importance of pro sports to a community.
“We saw what happened when we lost the Braves,” he said. “It was a blow to the psyche of Greenville. We went from one of the top towns in the Southeast as far as sports go to ‘loserville.’ We couldn’t keep a Double-A Braves franchise? It was a lesson never to be repeated.
“Fluor Field is cool. It gets talked about across the country. Even if you don’t go to the games, it does something for the community. We think soccer can be profoundly impactful in much the way baseball has. We want to help Greenville get on more top-10 lists.”
The Triumph will extend Greenville’s pro sports reach from downtown to the West End. The team will play its home games at the Legacy field this season and possibly next year before a planned move to a new stadium. Team officials hope to build solid connections with residents of City View, Monaghan, Berea, Nicholtown, and surrounding communities.
William Brown, founder and executive director of Legacy, said he expects the team’s impact to be significant in the areas near the school.
“They’re going to be giving a lot of folks part-time jobs working the events, and they’ve set up internships for our scholars,” Brown said. “They’re interested in being involved in the community and giving back in a positive way. We’re fortunate in Greenville to have people who control these pro teams who want to be a part of the community and aren’t just in it for what they can get. It’s probably not that way everywhere.”
Doug Erwin, Joe Erwin’s son and the Triumph’s vice chairman, said the team will appeal to a range of demographics. “We want to market and tailor the game-day experience so there’s something for everyone there, from pregame fan fests to bands, face painters, bounce houses, a beer garden,” he said. “This is what the Drive has done so well.”