In a move to expand their footprint and welcome supporters from the central Pennsylvania region, the Harrisburg City Islanders have become City Islanders Football Club.
The change came as the City Islanders moved from home of twelve years for the 2016 USL season. The club announced in February of 2016 that they would be leaving Skyline Sports Complex, dividing their home matches between FNB Field on City Island and Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster. The front office knew that a different venue necessitated other changes.
“Immediately after that announcement our initial plan was to drop Harrisburg from our name,” said Molly Gilroy, Director of Marketing and Communications with City Islanders FC. “The reason being that we wanted to expand our footprint beyond just Harrisburg. We wanted to be central Pennsylvania’s team.”
Harrisburg supporters were left to speculate when the club's website and 2016 jerseys featured a new logo that omitted “Harrisburg.” The new logo's slow roll out was a deliberate effort from the CIFC front office. “It was one of those logos that in the past we tested on merchandise and it always did extremely well,” said Gilroy. “We just never really took advantage of it. The fans were really receptive to it, and it’s already done extremely well.”
Broadening the focus beyond Harrisburg opens a door of opportunities for CIFC. The greater Harrisburg-York-Lebanon area has a population of over 1,200,000, compared to just under 50,000 in the city of Harrisburg. The City Islanders’ match in Lancaster last season drew a crowd of 4,741 and set a record for the organization. While CIFC may have suffered with low attendance at Skyline Sports Complex, there may be a larger appetite off of City Island.
The front office sees the name change as a way to embrace that larger community. “It’s opening ourselves up to a different fan base and being accessible to all those other markets in central Pennsylvania,” said Gilroy. “That was really important to our ownership and staff here. Obviously we love Harrisburg and we’re still associated with Harrisburg. We support them in every way. It’s also showing support to Lancaster, who’s opened up every door to us possible.”
Even as the club looks to include the greater area, the goal is for the club to remain on City Island in Harrisburg. USL will require every club to be the owner or primary tenant of a 5,000 seat soccer-specific stadium by 2020. CIFC own Skyline Sports Complex, but the facilities require major renovations to meet the league’s requirements.
The club’s parent organization, Harrisburg Capital Soccer, Inc. applied for a $5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant from the state of Pennsylvania last year. The program provides funds for development projects in the Commonwealth for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational, and historical improvement projects.
City Islanders Football Club’s future in Harrisburg is tied to the funding from the RACP grant. If the money comes through, CIFC will be able to renovate Skyline Sports Complex to meet USL league requirements. “Our goal has always been and will always be to have our own soccer-specific stadium in Harrisburg and we’re doing everything possible to make that happen,” said Gilroy. “It’s all dependent on the budget, so we’re just waiting patiently for that.”
Without question, the City Islanders want to stay in Harrisburg. “Like Eric [Pettis], our CEO, has said in the past, Harrisburg is where we want to be,” said Gilroy. “But if we need to go somewhere else, that’s what we’re going to make happen to make our club as successful as we can.”
For City Islanders FC, “somewhere else” is in central Pennsylvania. Lancaster has been accommodating to the club in the past and the current stadium arrangement could provide the groundwork for a minor relocation. Pettis mentioned York as an important location in their market in a previous interview this season. The club has no interest in moving the club outside of the central Pennsylvania region. “Our priority is central Pennsylvania,” Gilroy said.
By changing their name, City Islanders FC hope to communicate that priority to the soccer fans in the region. The new home stadia arrangement gives CIFC the opportunity to assume the role of “central Pennsylvania’s team” and display their value in the community. “People are starting to realize that they don’t have to travel to Philadelphia, Baltimore, or D.C. to see great professional soccer,” Gilroy said. “They have it in their backyard.”