For San Diego Sockers General Manager Sean Bowers, who lives in Murrieta, the Sockers' new arena in Oceanside which is expected to open in 2023 will be a closer trip than the team's current Pechanga Arena venue in San Diego. For Sockers Chief Marketing Officer Craig Elsten, who lives in La Mesa, Oceanside will be a longer trip than San Diego's Point Loma area. Elsten as well as Bowers spoke only positively about the new venue which will be called CaliFino Arena in the absence of a more lucrative naming rights arrangement.
Groundbreaking for the new arena took place May 20. "This is a day to be proud of if you're a San Diego County resident," Elsten said.
"I think it's just exciting that it's finally here and coming to fruition," Bowers said. "This is just the next step in the process of what we've been doing."
The San Diego Sockers began in the outdoor North American Soccer League in 1978 and first played indoors in 1980. During their initial indoor years they shared what was then called the San Diego Sports Arena with the San Diego Clippers of the National Basketball Association and with San Diego State University's basketball team.
The Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and San Diego State now has an on-campus arena, but minor league hockey returned to San Diego in 1990 and the Sockers and Gulls shared the arena from 1990 to 1996 and Roller Hockey International's San Diego Barracudas were also an arena tenant during some of those years.
The Sockers ceased operations in 1996, but a new San Diego Sockers franchise began play in 2001. That team was terminated in 2004 and the current Sockers franchise began in 2009. The most recent Sockers played at the Del Mar Arena for three years before returning to the Sports Arena in 2012. The most recent Gulls hockey team began play in 2015, and the Gulls have the first choice of Pechanga Arena dates. The National Lacrosse League's San Diego Seals and the Indoor Football League's San Diego Strike Force also use Pechanga Arena.
The quest for more favorable arena dates and other lease advantages led the Sockers to team with CaliFino Tequila, Sudberry Properties, Watkins Landmark Builders, and Icon Architectural Group to build a new arena without any public funding.
Other sports teams will be allowed to sign leases although the Sockers will have the first choice of dates. CaliFino Arena will also be working with the California Interscholastic Federation's San Diego Section on potentially holding CIF championship games at the arena.
The arena is designed to seat 5,367 for indoor soccer or other sporting events. If a concert is held, the floor seating can increase the capacity to approximately 8,000. "We truly believe this will become a place where North County will gather," Elsten said.
A Marriott is currently nearby and a second hotel is planned, so visiting teams will be able to stay overnight nearby and concert spectators can walk to and from a hotel rather than drive home after consuming alcohol.
"I think it's an outstanding project not just for North County but for San Diego," said Watkins Landmark Construction chief executive officer Jody Watkins. "This is a good opportunity to open North County and pull from Orange County to see events here."
The Sockers will play their 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons in Pechanga Arena and in the absence of delays move to CaliFino Arena for 2023-24.
"Just happy to be a part of this project," Watkins said.