NEWARK, NJ - Throwing a 24-hour soccer game in Military Park isn’t just a way for one online sports review startup to publicize its website.
It will also change perceptions about Newark after dark, the website’s founder says.
"My pitch to the city was what sends a better message that Newark is safe - your downtown Newark is safe - than having people running around playing soccer at 2 a.m. in the middle of Downtown?" said Andrew Bondarowicz, the founder of Fanteractive.
The idea is coming to fruition on June 19 for Bondarowicz, who launched Fanteractive about a year ago in a shared workspace across the street from Military Park. The site goes a step further than Bleacher Report, since it gives sports fans tools to write about, review and analyze teams, players and stadiums.
Bondarowicz, of Scotch Plains, is an attorney who teaches sports law at Rutgers Law School. He also used to work as football agent.
When the sports-obsessed attorney approached management at Military Park about having a 24-hour soccer marathon there, they were actually receptive.
“He approached us a few months ago and it just sounded like a really exciting idea,” said Jessica Sechrist, the park manager. “He came to us to make sure that it was something that was possible in the park.”
Sechrist said she could definitely see enough people coming out to enjoy soccer - even past midnight - because of all the new residential developments cropping up. While there are some people who camp out in the park at night, she couldn’t recall any violent incidents.
“It’s not that Newark doesn’t have a safety problem or a crime problem, it has a perception problem,” Sechrist said. “You can actually be in Newark downtown after dark. It is safe.”
This year, city officials say crime rates in Newark dipped to a 50-year low.
This isn’t the first time a 24-hour event has been held in Newark’s downtown either. In 2015 and 2016, Mayor Ras Baraka held his 24 Hours of Peace event. The entertainment-filled night was supposed to ward off violence throughout the city, but people were killed in other neighborhoods.
This also isn’t the first 24-hour soccer marathon for Bondarowicz. He organized one as a fundraiser in his hometown about two years ago when he was the president of the Scotch Plains/Fanwood Soccer Association. It went over without a hitch, he said.
The soccer marathon in Newark is expected to be bigger though. Bondarowicz is working with the Red Bulls to get an LED screen to stream the USA Women's National Team play against Sweden on June 20.
There will also be other giveaways and special events throughout the 24-hour festival.
Anyone can register to play in the soccer match. Each soccer game will consist of teams with six players and run for about an hour. Full teams or individuals may register, and each will be asked to pick a desired time to play.
There are a total of 480 player slots. A hundred have committed so far, Bondarowicz said.
“One of the hard things that you have with Downtown areas is that after 5 o’clock, they completely shut down,” added Bondarowicz. “In order to have a healthy downtown environment, you need to have a 24/7 environment. This is a way of testing a theory and seeing how this will work.”
The soccer marathon kicks off at 2 p.m. on June 19 and will end on June 20. Tickets may be bought online.