The Brazos Valley has a known affinity for championships. Winning runs through the streets. So it is no surprise that the Brazos Valley Bombers have become a staple in this community. Coming off of four straight TCL Championship seasons, Owners Uri Geva and Chris Clark are branching out. This time the focus is on a different sport entirely. Soccer.
Starting this summer Aggieland will be home to a new franchise. The Brazos Valley Cavalry FC will call Nutrabolt Stadium home. We caught up with Cavalry Co-Founder Chris Clark to talk more about this new venture, the renovation project at the stadium, and what fans can expect from both the Bombers and the Cavalry this summer.
MW: Who is Chris Clark? How did you end up in BCS?
CC: After I graduated high school, I applied to several colleges, including some in the northeast. But ultimately I decided to not go off to college. The plan was to stay close to home, work while getting my associates degree, and then transfer somewhere to finish up school. After two years at San Jacinto college in Houston I decided I wanted to attend A&M. So, I moved up to BCS to find a job and save a little money in hopes of applying to go to school here. Soon after I arrived I started a company and never looked back.
MW: Tell us a little bit of history about the bombers.
CC: The team was started by my partner Uri Geva. When he started the team there wasn’t much to do for residents of Bryan/College Station. The hope was that [the Bombers] could help fill that void. The thought behind Bombers baseball has always been affordable family fun. And nine innings of baseball just happens to be the avenue to do that.
MW: How did you get started with the Bombers organization?
CC: I did an internship with the Houston Astros early in college and knew that working in sports would be phenomenal but never thought I would have the opportunity to do it. Then I met Uri at a business event. That was the first time I heard we even had a baseball team in BCS. I didn’t know they existed. He was looking for someone locally that could help him grow the brand. I remember sitting down and hearing the vision for what the Bombers could be. That was in January of 2009, heading into the team’s third season. I have now been with the team going on eight years. We were an Aggie 100 recipient last year. The team has been ranked in the Top 5 nationally the last four years. We have also been Top 15 nationally in attendance. That is really the best way to measure what we do. Both inside the white lines and outside the white lines.
MW: You mentioned that working sports was pretty much a dream job. What made working for the Bombers the right fit for you?
CC: It was a complete leap of faith. I had a background in big box retail but also an entrepreneurial spirit. And I was coming off selling a business. So, when Uri and I met there were a lot of different options on the table for my future. But I spent a lot of time praying about it and felt like this was the right direction for me. Uri was very clear with the vision for the Bombers. The team hadn’t really caught on in the community yet, but he knew exactly why the team existed and what their place in the community was. He painted a picture and I could see it.
MW: You are in the process of adding more teams to your ownership group in multiple markets. What has that looked like for you?
CC: We sat down and set the goal that we want 10 teams in 10 years. This summer we are adding number two and three. And we are already actively looking for our fourth franchise for 2018. The Bombers play in the TCL (Texas Collegiate League). So we are looking to add a few franchises to the TCL.
Texas A&M Texarkana was very open as we approached them about a starting a TCL franchise in Texarkana. We looked at that market, strong Chamber, strong community, in many ways it is very similar to Bryan/College Station. Market size is close to the same, the availability of things to do is about the same. Obviously Texas A&M Texarkana is not the same as Texas A&M. So the community isn’t as student driven. But the same need exists for something to do in the summer. So we are excited to launch the Texarkana Twins this summer as our second TCL franchise.
MW: You branched out from baseball for your third franchise. Can you tell us how that transpired?
CC: The PDL (Premiere Development League) approached us about creating a soccer team here in Bryan/College Station. The timing wasn’t the best because we are launching the Twins. But Uri has always wanted to have a soccer franchise. So the Brazos Valley Cavalry was born. Uri is very much the visionary. I am the integrator. I am a ones and zeros guy. He is the dreamer. It is important to have the dreamer because he is constantly pushing us as a team and coming up with new ideas. He really wanted a soccer team. We agreed the timing wasn’t the best. But we decided if we could find a way for the team to be affiliated with an MLS (Major League Soccer) franchise, we would go for it. We knew we would be one of very few franchises from the PDL to have that affiliation with MLS and that was important to us.
Things just fell into place with the Dynamo. They saw it as a great opportunity. So many people in this market haven’t been exposed to MLS. So, it became a great opportunity for the Dynamo to market to this community.
MW: What does the affiliation mean for you and the local team? It makes perfect sense for the Dynamo. But what is the tradeoff for the Cavalry?
CC: Having a brand like the Dynamo behind our local team does a lot of things for our community. We will have a higher caliber of player. All of the players for the Cavalry will be a part of the Dynamo soccer academy. Also, in a market this size, we don’t qualify to be affiliated with other professional sports like baseball. So, when you are looking at the opportunity to bring a true minor league franchise to Bryan/College Station, soccer is the best option.
We think it is a great chance to see the stars of the future. Historically people have gone to minor league baseball games for that same reason. The guys playing for the Round Rock Express are the guys that will be playing for the Rangers. The same will be true for the Cavalry. You will get a chance to see the next generation of players that will work their way onto the Dynamo roster.
MW: What is your role with the Bombers and Cavalry?
CC: With the Bombers, I am the Managing Partner. Uri is the majority owner but brought me on as a partner. With these new franchises, the Twins and Cavalry, I am Co-Founder. With all of the franchises, I am very active in the day to day. One of our biggest hurdles has been figuring out how we continue to push the envelope with the Bombers while launching two new teams. I have been putting a lot of time and effort into scaling our team. We have almost tripled our staff in the last 365 days. We have a great intern program. More than 100 of our former interns are now working in professional sports.
MW: There is a big renovation project underway on the home of the Bombers, Nutrabolt Stadium. Was that a result of you launching the Cavalry?
CC: Actually, back last summer we approached the City of Bryan with a list of core amenities we felt like the facility needed. Over the last several years there have been close to 10 organizations that have used the field on and off for home games and events. There are over 300 events that take place on that field each year. From practices to games, it gets a lot of use. The facility was built in 1947. So, we are talking about a 70 year old facility. The grandstand infrastructure is in good shape. But we wanted to upgrade to aluminum, the fences need work, the field needs a lot of work. We have scraped the playing surface and replaced it multiple times over the years. But it needed to be completely redone.
The initial scope of the project was around $500,000. We agreed to put in around 20%. The original project included a completely new grass playing surface, new outfield fence, new irrigation and drainage, new scoreboard, we were also going to retrofit the lights to be LED, and upgrading the grandstands from wood to aluminum. The Council unanimously approved the project, which was exciting for us.
When the opportunity came around for soccer we started looking at the schedule and what it would take to maintain a grass field and concluded that is just couldn’t work. In June alone there will be at least 26 events at Nutrabolt Stadium. The grass field just wouldn’t hold up to that. So we went back to City Council and began a conversation on what it would look like to put in artificial turf. So, we got several bids and AstroTurf won the bid. We are looking forward to partnering with them on this project.
MW: What does the revised project look like once you decided to go to a turf field?
CC: $1.8 million. The scope of the project increased a little with the addition of soccer. They need their own scoreboard. The field will now be able to accommodate three sports, soccer, baseball and lacrosse. The field alone will be $1.1 million. That was the primary increase in the budget.
MW: People have grown accustomed to the entertainment value the Bomber offer. Can you give us a sneak peek for this upcoming season? Can fans expect more of the same from the Cavalry?
CC: We are bringing in several exciting entertainment acts this summer. Cannonball Dave is one of those. He travels all over the place. It is truly a spectacle. So, that will be great. Our entertainment budget will triple this year. We will have more firework shows this summer. That is always a fan favorite. You can still expect the Bombers to be nine innings of fun that happens to have baseball in between.
For soccer, obviously, there are no innings. So, you are limited in when you can do things. It is a completely different type of atmosphere. But I can tell you this, if you thought the Bombers games were a show, this will be a whole different level. And it will be very affordable. Tickets for the Cavalry will start at $5.
MW: How important is the success of the team to the success of the franchise?
CC: We have asked ourselves that question a lot. We have had some great coaches that understood the importance of coaching the team up so they were better people when they left. We won some games, lost some games. We always wanted to make sure fans had a good experience whether we won or not. But I can tell you, in this town, everybody likes to win. So for us, winning wasn’t the end all be all, but it definitely helps.
For the last five years, we have had Curt Dixon as our head coach. He was an up and comer and took our team to the next level. It was a little nerve racking because we had over 100 people apply for the job in 30 days and this was my first head coach hire of my life. He was referred to as my guy, and I was nervous because that meant I would be judged on his performance on the field. Turns out, best decision I ever made inside the white lines. His first year we made it to the playoffs and got knocked out in the first round. Since then, we have won four straight TCL Championships. We want to continue that tradition. This year we actually have a new coaching staff. Dixon took a job at a D1 school which requires more time from a recruiting standpoint. So he was unable to coach the bombers this summer. We are excited to bring in one of our former players, Trey Porras as the new head coach. He is currently an Assistant Coach at Texas A&M Corpus Christi and coached the Hoptown Hoppers in the Ohio Valley League to a regular season championship last summer.