With just three home games to play before this year’s soccer season is over, Puerto Rico Football Club officials are celebrating a successful run that has drawn not only scores of local fans, but also diehard supporters who have traveled to the island to cheer on visiting teams.
This year’s 11-game schedule, which concludes Oct. 29, is expected to generate $1 million in economic benefits for Puerto Rico’s tourism sector, Tourism Co. Executive Director Ingrid Rivera-Rocafort confirmed to this media outlet.
“The sports tourism niche market is very important and has continued growing, generating a substantial impact for our industry and the local economy in recent years,” she said. “The Puerto Rico Football Club helps us promote Puerto Rico as an ideal destination for competitive international events, especially within the U.S. and Canada markets.”
Héctor Maldonado, sales manager for the Puerto Rico Football Club, confirmed that the four home games held in September at the Juan Ramón Loubriel stadium in Bayamón drew about 11,000 spectators, including supporters of the visiting teams from Florida.
“Puerto Rico is one of the North American Soccer League’s most attractive stops for fans to come support their teams, since it’s a trip to the Caribbean. The league level has improved in recent years and the teams have been reinforced with European and Latin American players, making this more attractive for fans to be able to travel to visit and see their team play,” Maldonado said.
“During the Puerto Rico Football Club versus Jacksonville Armada game, we had more than 70 visitors, including their staff and fans. Every time we have a visiting team and their technical staff, they stay at the Condado Plaza Hotel,” Maldonado said.
Rivera-Rocafort confirmed that the NASL soccer matches will generate some 1,320 room nights during the current season.Jacksonville Armada fans show their support of their team during the recent match-up with the Puerto Rico Football Club. (Credit: Diego Andres Cantor)
Some of the fans that follow their Armada team for the majority of the away games were cheering them on in Bayamón during the Sept. 17 match-up, confirming that their trip to Puerto Rico became a mini vacation.
“We travel all around following this group. We’ve probably been to about 75 percent of their away games these past two seasons,” said Darrell Jones, who along with wife Robin and two other couples, stayed at the La Concha Hotel in the Condado sector of San Juan.
“I love Old San Juan, I love the beach. We’ve not run across any issues,” he said, confirming they would be staying on the island for five days.
Meanwhile Robin Jones said it was her first time visiting Puerto Rico, describing her experience as positive.
“Everybody is so friendly, I feel so safe. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t what I expected at all,” she said. “I’ve already texted my children and their families, and we’ve already discussed that we’ll come back very frequently.”
Sebastián Cardona, who in 2013 was partly responsible for organizing the group of fans that now travels to support the Armada team, said Puerto Rico was attractive given its ties with the U.S. mainland.
“Puerto Rico is beautiful and it has a lot of potential for this sport. In a few years, when the local team once again gains momentum, it will be better,” he said, noting that when Puerto Rico’s soccer team was known as the “Islanders,” fan support was greater.
“Because this team is so new, people haven’t yet taken notice that it’s the same team with a new name and a new owner,” he said. “In the future, many people will want to come here to support. Coming here is less expensive than other places.”