This ain’t Stephanie Tucker’s first arena sports team.
Tucker is bringing professional soccer to the Kay Yeager Coliseum in April. Actually, the Amarillo-area sports entrepreneur is co-founding a soccer league set to have four Texas teams.
By all accounts, that's an ambitious undertaking even with her husband Toby and their friend, Dr. James Parker of Amarillo, in the mix as partners.
But she and her husband have owned and operated the Amarillo Venom, an indoor football team, for eight years.
A small-town farm girl growing up, she percolates with irrepressible energy. But the 39-year-old didn’t cite that as a must-have to make it in arena sports – a tough business that just saw the implosion of hockey team Wichita Falls Force.
“You have to have passion. You have to have some knowledge, and you have to have some money to make sure it’s run as a business,” Tucker said in an interview Wednesday morning at the Multi-Purpose Events Center.
In the arena below her, workers were fitting special flooring over the ice to prepare to put down turf for a launch party 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday for the new team. Food and drinks on the turf will be on offer from FC Wichita Falls and MPEC management company Spectra.
Sitting in a red stadium seat, Tucker said she has been preparing for months to pave the way for the success of the four teams in the new U.S. Arena Professional Soccer League.
“By the time that the first kick happens, we’ll have almost an entire year invested in Wichita Falls and the other markets,” she said.
FC West Texas will play in Odessa. FC Lubbock will be a traveling team, and FC Amarillo rounds out the pro league.
“We’re starting them all pretty much simultaneously,” Tucker said.
The FC stands for “Futball Club,” a kind of generic moniker for soccer teams, but she will soon announce a contest to give FC Wichita Falls a permanent name, Tucker said.
Other teams expressed interest in entering the league this year, but organizers are waiting to bring in outsiders, she said.
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that the newly arrived Force was having problems. Spectra locked them out of MPEC for nonpayment. Soon the team folded with those involved pointing to owner Bill Davidson as the reason the team sank.
Tucker is well aware of the situation.
“I’m not going to say that it doesn’t scare us as a business coming in here, but again, I think we’ve done our market research,” she said. “We know there is going to be support for us if we do our job right.”
Tucker has been living in Wichita Falls three days a week and is working with officials from the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, the city and Spectra, a third-party contractor.
“I don’t see my kids. I’ve told them that I’ll see them in August,” Tucker said, laughing.
She keeps in touch with Kaitlyn, a high school freshman, Caden, a seventh-grader, and Colton, a fourth-grader, through Skype and Facetime.
Her husband is athletic director for Canyon Independent School District, serving the Canyon and Amarillo area.
Tucker grew up on Ollinger Farms, an agriculture and ranching concern that her family members still work. It became clear early on that such a life wasn’t in the cards for her.
“At the age of 16, I was working with my dad on the family farm -- plowed up a mile of fence. Dad said, ‘This isn’t for you. Go home,’ So I did,” Tucker said.
She was still a teenager when she began working for the Armadillo Dillas, a professional baseball team, taking tickets and helping create a kids club and put on concerts, including some featuring country singer Garth Brooks.
For two summers while attending Texas Tech, she worked with professional softball players at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, North Carolina, helping get them ready for the Olympics.
She was also a Red Raider Recruiter at Texas Tech in college. Tucker had a yearlong stint as executive vice president and general manager of the Amarillo Thunderheads beginning in October 2014. The minor league baseball team was apparently aptly named.
Tucker said it rained 40 inches in Amarillo that summer.
She owned Fun Family Fitness ventures in Childress and Dumas, now sold to shift resources to the new soccer league. Tucker grew up in Groom near Amarillo.
“I guess sports has always kind of been a part of what I do,” Tucker said. “Growing up, especially in a small town, you play sports.”
She got bit by a new enthusiasm quite by accident.
“When we had a free moment about eight years ago, we decided to take the kids to an Amarillo Venom game,” Tucker said.
Her kids complained they were bored.
“I looked at my husband, and I said, ‘I could do so much better than this,’ ” Tucker said.
She looks upon athletic games as a putting on a show.
“That’s what a lot of people think sets us apart because we don’t just consider it a sports team,” Tucker said. “It has to be entertainment.”
Tickets will be affordable, and something will constantly be happening from free T-shirts being thrown, coupons tossed or shopping carts on the field during FC Wichita Falls games, she said.
Promotions will be available such as $1 beer, unlimited popcorn or small-town Saturdays during which folks from, for instance, Burkburnett can show their identification to get in free, she said.
Tucker plans to start a youth league for boys and girls and have other events such as concerts and dodge-ball tournaments.
She noted that Venom has won championships and is still viable after several years.
Is the team making a profit?
“It doesn’t lose money,” she said. “We’re not going to be Jerry Jones, and that’s not what we do it for.”
She and her husband got into it to give back to the community, Tucker said. The couple decided earlier this year to go into pro soccer with Parker.
“He really, to be honest with you, has a passion for not only the communities, but he has a passion for soccer,” Tucker said. “He plays, himself.”
They tested the waters with two exhibition games between teams in Lubbock and Amarillo.
“The success and support of the entire community was overwhelming,” Tucker said.
The partners knew Wichita Falls was within driving distance and already had a great facility, she said. The city and Spectra welcomed them with open arms.
And Tucker has her game face on.
“It really just has to be run as a business,” she said. “We’re not going to just come in here, and it’s a one and done.”
They’ve been posing the question locally – what do we need to do to make the team successful? – and then soaking up the answers.
While Tucker and her partners are the owners, FC Wichita Falls is actually the community’s team, she said.
“The community’s got to be out there and supporting it not just this first inaugural season but in years to come,” Tucker said.