ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Citing ongoing challenges with non-existent hotel tax revenue sharing, lagging sponsorships and season ticket sales, the Rochester Rhinos issued a critical call to action Wednesday, asking the community to help guarantee the future of professional soccer at Capelli Sport Stadium. At stake is not only the storied franchise, but 400 jobs and a number of philanthropic and youth sports programs affiliated with the team.
The request for more community support comes as deadlines for re-signing players loom. A decision on the 2018 season must be reached by November 30.
“We are at a crossroads, and need to find a path that will bring sustained success for the Rhinos and all they mean to Rochester,” said David Dworkin, the team’s co-owner. Dworkin purchased the franchise with his wife, Wendy, in March 2016 to prevent Rochester from losing professional soccer. “We want the Rhinos legacy to continue, and doing so means creating a partnership that includes more than just the players, die-hard fans and a few dedicated corporate supporters. New sponsors and the community have to join us – it takes a team to successfully run a team.”
The Rhinos estimate that $1.3 million in support is needed to protect the franchise, sourced from jersey sponsorships, season tickets, suites and new corporate sponsorships. In addition, the team is seeking a representative portion of Monroe County Hotel Room Occupancy Tax revenues, of which it currently receives zero.
The Rochester Rhinos ended the 2017 season in fourth place in the USL Eastern Conference with a record of 14-7-11. The team made the playoffs but lost to the eventual champion, Louisville City FC.
“There are critical needs that must be met in the next two weeks,” co-owner Wendy Dworkin points out. “For two years, we have dedicated ourselves to making Capelli Sport Stadium a premier venue for sports and entertainment. We’ve developed philanthropic programs for kids across the region, and right here in the City of Rochester. We’ve employed many people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. We are worried that some 400 full and part-time jobs could be lost if professional soccer doesn’t survive.”
SunCommon, a solar energy equipment supplier with offices in Ontario, N.Y. has been a sponsor for two years. Kevin Schulte, CEO of SunCommon, says, “We are a values-driven business that chooses to invest our dollars locally and this includes our relationship with the Rochester Rhinos. I think SunCommon and the Dworkin’s investment at Capelli Sport Stadium and the neighborhood in which it resides are critical to establishing a Rochester economy that will flourish. I am hopeful the rest of the Rochester business community will follow suit.”
The Rhinos would benefit from a share of the Monroe County Hotel Room Occupancy Tax – a 6% tax charged to hotel guests. The tax generated $8.1 million for allocation in 2017. Monroe County gave the City of Rochester $1.7 million to distribute. That amount was divided between the Blue Cross Arena and the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. Frontier Field received $500,000 from Monroe County’s portion of the revenue stream. Capelli Sport Stadium received none.
“Every time there is a soccer game or an event at the stadium, there are people staying in hotels and bringing business to Rochester,“ said Pat Ercoli, a former Rhinos coach and its current Chief Soccer Officer. “There are players, performers, and visiting fans all paying into the hotel tax and yet, Capelli Sport Stadium is not even on the list of recipients.”
The Dworkins have encouraged charitable organizations to use the stadium for community events and youth soccer development. In the past year alone, the Rhinos have partnered with Habitat for Humanity, Charles Settlement House, Foodlink, Camp Good Days and Special Times, among other charities, to offer children and adults special opportunities, free game tickets, as well as a chance to learn more about soccer.
Peter Robinson, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, University of Rochester Medical Center, says, “There is little doubt how integral a professional sports team is to the vibrancy of our city. Not only do the Rhinos players provide fans with great soccer to watch, the team encourages youth soccer development on many levels. As a community, we can all take pride in the ownership of the Rhinos and help by supporting the organization to make sure it continues to thrive.”
In 2016, the Dworkins entered a lease with the City of Rochester for Capelli Sport Stadium and invested approximately $600,000 in a new turf field. At the time, they were clear that keeping professional soccer in Rochester would be a group effort, of which they were proud to play a significant part. Other improvements they initiated were concession, suite and catering upgrades as well as additional stadium build-outs bringing the investment to $3 million, exclusive of the new turf.
The Rhinos Executive Team is reaching out to all segments of the community to secure $1.3 million dollars from new support. The organization plans to generate $600,000 from Executive Suites and Season Ticket sales and obtain at least 2,500 new season ticket holders by November 30, 2017. For an initial down payment of $50, fans can secure seats for the 2018 season and help preserve the history of Rhinos soccer in Rochester. Order Here. The Rhinos also need to raise $160,000 from jersey sponsorships and an estimated $540,000 from a combined increase of corporate sponsorships and a share of the hotel tax.
Retired Penfield Boys Soccer Coach John Butterworth says, “Owning the Rhinos isn’t a hobby for the Dworkins. They love the team and they value its place in the community. It would be a real shame if Rochester were to lose the Rhinos because we didn’t give them the support they deserve.”