Franchise Owner Is Taking Long-Term View
Though the Zodiac is in first place in the Pacific Division of soccer’s A-League at the halfway point of its second season, team owner John Frankhouse is already looking ahead to next year.
“Next season is the one we will look back on to see if we have any regrets,” Frankhouse said. “The first two years, we’ve sort of been in the experimental phase.”
Frankhouse, a local mortgage banker, says he has already lost more than $1 million in his first two years as owner. He said he recently considered selling the team, but after weighing two attractive offers, Frankhouse decided to remain “committed to this thing for an indefinite period of time.”
“For me, money is not the most important thing,” Frankhouse said. “I’m trying to promote soccer in the Orange County area.
“It’s about putting something back into the community. From a business standpoint, most people would have probably accepted one of the offers I had to buy the franchise. But I realized this is something that’s going up, not down.”
Obviously, Frankhouse is not talking about attendance, which has dropped significantly this season since the Zodiac moved from Santa Ana to Irvine. Last year, the team finished 11-17 but averaged an announced attendance of 1,278 at Santa Ana Stadium. This year, the Zodiac is 11-6 and leading its division by seven points but is averaging announced crowds of 487 at UC Irvine. That’s third lowest in the 28-team A-League, ahead of only San Francisco and Worcester (Mass.).
“What we find is that no one really knows about us,” said Frankhouse, who blamed himself for some of the team’s image problems.
“My background is limited,” he said. “I got my cuts and bruises over the last couple years. Now I’m seeing what needs to be done. I’m laying all the groundwork for next year.”
Part of that groundwork has already been laid. Frankhouse has hired a new president, Chris Connally, and a new marketing director, whose name he would not divulge. They will take over on Aug. 1.
Connally is a former professional soccer player in Wales and a former president of the Pennsylvania Natives, an A-League team that folded in 1996. Connally initially called Frankhouse about purchasing the Zodiac. Frankhouse was so taken by Connally’s knowledge of soccer that he hired him to take over as president, a title Frankhouse now holds.
“We started out with no experienced personnel,” Frankhouse said, “so we couldn’t do what we wanted to do.”
Frankhouse said the plan next year is to be more visible in the community and spend money promoting the Zodiac. Where the team will call home is another question.
“It’s been trial and error the first two years,” Frankhouse said. “We’re exploring different options, seeing what will work best.”
Even though the ownership has called this a building year, the players still have to go out and win games, which is what they’ve been doing. Eddie Soto, the Zodiac’s leading scorer with 20 points, said the season has been both gratifying and disappointing.
“It’s frustrating because you’re out there playing well, but there’s nobody out there to see you,” Soto said. “Hopefully, now that school’s out, we’ll get more kids out there. UC Irvine’s a great place to watch a game. We should be selling this place [1,500 seat-stadium] out every night.”
Soto, who played at Cal State Fullerton, offered some tips for the new marketing director.
“San Diego is a great atmosphere for soccer,” he said. “I have more fun playing down there than I do at [Irvine]. They have special nights for various groups. They have a Brazilian Samba band playing all during the game. It reminds me of my beach soccer days.
“I think it would also be great if we could have some of our games televised, at least by a local cable company. The fans would get to know us better and they might want to come out see us.”
Soto, who played at Cal State Fullerton, said he fears worse days are ahead for the beleaguered U.S. World Cup team, which scored only one goal and lost all three games while failing to advance out of pool play in France.
“I felt really bad for the guys,” he said. “I grew up playing with a lot of them. A lot of these guys are pretty old now. They’re going to have to start going to the guys who are in college or in the MLS. There’s just not much there.”
The Zodiac will continue play in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on July 8 against the Dallas Burn of MLS in Old Panther Stadium. The park is located in Duncanville, a suburb of Dallas.
The Zodiac won its second-round game in cup play with a 2-1 victory last week over the Austin Lone Stars, a Division III team. Gustavo Leal scored the game-winning goal, his first since the season’s second game.