Higher stadium fees drive recreational soccer leagues from S.F. to the suburbs

For decades, dozens of teams with the Golden Gate Women's Soccer League and the men's San Francisco Soccer Football League played their home games at San Francisco's Boxer Stadium. Then, about nine months ago, Jill Lounsbury, general manager for the Nighthawks of the women's league, received a surprise notice from the Recreation and Parks Department: The bill for the season then in progress would be tallied up at a rate of $1,400 per weekend game day, up from $900 the previous year.

Lounsbury says the fee hikes amounted to a breach of trust: "We were eight weeks into a ten-week season when they pulled that on us. We'd had an unwritten agreement for $900 per weekend."

So she and the Nighthawks fled for the suburbs — and they weren't the only ones. The abruptly increased stadium use rates have spurred a mass exodus of local talent. In total, eight San Francisco women's teams have begun playing their games at Daly City's Pollicita Middle School for $800 per four-game day.

The men's league has also been hit by jacked-up rates. Reiner Thoms, veteran manager of the team Concordia, took his players to Daly City this spring after he received notice that stadium fees were blasting through the roof. He says the rate jumped from $1,000 to $3,000 per day at Boxer — where Concordia had played since 1972 — prompting him and his players to pack their bags. Concordia and seven other men's teams are now playing on the football field of Daly City's Jefferson High School for about $100 per hour.

Rec and Parks began keeping computerized records only this spring, and according to officials there seems to be no paper trail to confirm numbers, but one thing is certain: Daly City's public schools are pleased as they rake in about $100,000 this season of what should be city money.

Lisa Seitz Gruwell, spokeswoman for Recreation and Parks, says that the stadium rate increase was designed to curtail overuse of the best turf in town — and it seems to have worked too well: Boxer Stadium now lies fallow most weekends.

Thoms visited the venue at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 19. He found the gates locked, but managed a peek at the field. "There weren't even lines on the grass," he says. "It was not even ready for a game." SF Weekly visited Boxer on a Saturday morning earlier this month and saw much the same.

Rec and Parks' booking office told SF Weekly the stadium was available for rent most weekends at $200 per hour. Uh, sure: We'll think about that.

 
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