February 15, 2019

UConn, Premier League soccer games eyed for Hartford's Dillon Stadium

Photo | Hartford Athletic
Photo | Hartford Athletic
A rendering of soon-to-be renovated Dillon Stadium in Hartford.
Photo | Contributed
Hartford Athletic's co-owners (from left): Joe Calafiore, Bruce Mandell, and Scott Schooley stand with United Soccer League President Jake Edwards.
Photo | Hartford Athletic
The new artificial turf field at Hartford's Dillon Stadium.
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Construction crews broke ground on renovating Hartford's Dillon Stadium in Aug. 2018. The stadium is expected to be completed for the Hartford Athletic's first home game on May 4.

Owners of the Hartford Athletic say they are working to bring UConn and English Premier League soccer games to historic Dillon Stadium in 2019.

Hartford Sports Group (HSG) CEO and Chairman Bruce Mandell on Friday said the franchise is in negotiations with UConn to host the school's entire 2019 slate of men's and women's soccer games as it completes building a new home soccer stadium in Storrs.

Mandell also said the Athletic, the newest member of the expanded United Soccer League (USL), has been contacted by teams in the Premier League to play exhibition games vs. Hartford's new club at the roughly 5,500-seat Dillon Stadium in 2019.

The Premier League has several globally popular soccer players and teams, including Chelsea F.C., Manchester City F.C., Liverpool F.C. and Manchester United F.C.

"We have Premier League teams looking to play us this summer, it's never been done in Hartford," said Mandell of negotiations with teams in the top English soccer league. "There have been multiple teams engaging us to play an exhibition game."

The UConn and Premier League pursuits are part of a growing list of ambitious projects HSG, an investor group that includes co-partners Joseph Calafiore Jr. and Scott Schooley, is exploring to maximize use of the soon-to-be renovated Dillon Stadium.

In November, Mandell told Hartford Business Journal that HSG spent extra money to upgrade Dillon's artificial turf field in hopes it would field both professional rugby and lacrosse teams.

HSG has drawn inquiries from several rugby and lacrosse leagues, but he declined to specify which leagues are in play.

UConn has not yet released its 2019 schedule for men's and women's soccer, but their seasons typically begin in mid-August.

The school tore down Joseph J. Morrone Stadium last year, and is currently building a new venue for the 2020 season. The project is being supported by an $8 million donation pledged by former UConn soccer player Tony Rizza.

But even after UConn completes its new stadium, Mandell says the school is still looking play select soccer games at Dillon, similar to how the UConn basketball teams play in downtown's XL Center.

"We are building a relationship with UConn where they would be able to use the stadium," Mandell said. "This is going to be a mecca and a cathedral for the community of Hartford, Greater Hartford and the state of Connecticut."

A UConn spokesman on Friday confirmed the school has had discussions with HSG about playing its soccer games at Dillon Stadium, but no agreement is in place.

Adidas apparel deal

In addition to new potential opportunities for Dillon, the Athletic on Thursday announced it struck a multiyear deal with Adidas, which will become the team's official on-field apparel provider. The deal is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mandell said, though he declined to specify terms.

The Athletic will soon unveil game uniforms for its 34-game schedule running from March to October. Its home opener at Dillon is scheduled for May 4.

Renovations at Dillon are still on pace to be completed for the home opener, Mandell says. But the team has set plans to play games at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford if the Dillon renovations are further delayed.

The Athletic-Adidas apparel deal is not exclusive to the team's retail merchandise, which will be sold by specialty retailer TeamSports at its locations in Farmington, Glastonbury and West Springfield, Mass.

This story has been updated to include comments from UConn

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