An aerial view of Garfield Park
Garfield Park. Photo by Kerim Harmanci May 9. 2020 early afternoon. Photo by Kerim Harmanci.

Read in spanish / leer en español

In a move that privatizes San Francisco’s public reservation system for soccer fields, the Recreation and Parks Department has begun selling reservations to an app that turns a profit by booking fields and charging people to join pickup games.

The Recreation and Parks Department told Mission Local that the app, Just Play, has been obtaining permits since October to book fields at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields in Golden Gate Park, as well as Garfield Square in the Mission District. It also books privately owned fields, such as those at SFF Soccer in Mission Bay.

Previously, at Garfield Square, Gabe Zitrin and some 30 soccer players would reserve the soccer field on Monday evenings. But, since November, it has been consistently booked. It was reserved, presumably, by the Just Play app, which shows that it has reservations at the park for the next two Monday and Wednesday evenings.

The app, which charges a $13.99 fee in San Francisco for each hour of reserved time, is both more expensive and less accessible than the public reservation system. By comparison, if two San Francisco residents have their residency discount approved and then book both halves of a field with lights, it would cost $98 an hour, or $7 per person if there are 14 players.

“We were perfectly happy renting the field from the city ourselves, and now the city is asking us to go through a private, for-profit company and pay them $14 an hour?” Zitrin said. “Who thought this was a good idea?” 

The situation somewhat resembles the city’s 2014 saga with Sweetch and Monkey Parking, apps that would allow motorists to auction off public parking spaces to nearby drivers. With both apps, and with Just Play, public space is booked and then re-sold for a profit.

Rather than allow the two parking apps to continue operating, City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a cease-and-desist letter to Monkey Parking in 2014, and stated he would do the same to Sweetch, calling the practice illegal and citing a police code that prohibits companies from buying public on-street parking.

The current City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the legality of Just Play.

Already, the Recreation and Parks Department rents out fields to both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, such as KICKIT365. For example, soccer leagues, such as those of KICKIT365, generally reserve fields during prime-time soccer hours, said Luis Saucedo, Just Play’s business development manager.

Just Play is generally able to make reservations without limit, Saucedo said. The exception is at Garfield Square, where the app has a trial, and reservations are limited to Mondays and Wednesdays, he said. But, according to Saucedo, if there are no complaints from the public, and the public enjoys the initiative, Just Play might be permitted to book other days.

The Recreation and Parks Department told Mission Local that “there aren’t any current plans to expand Just Play, and any expansion would be limited to areas with excess capacity.”

Saucedo said that the goal in San Francisco is to have pickup games available to all residents in all areas. Meanwhile, the app’s target audience is working adults who “don’t necessarily have the group of friends they used to from high school who used to get together, and want to play after work in those comfortable hours that are easy to access, after work, at 7 p.m,” he said.

According to Saucedo, there are some 2,000 people who use the app in the Bay Area. San Francisco has the largest network of users in the Bay Area, followed by San Jose and Oakland.

Saucedo said he calls the Recreation and Parks Department to book the fields around one to three months in advance, paying its for-profit field rate of $92, plus around $14 to $28 for lighting. Just Play promotes the games in a WhatsApp group and online through sites such as Meetup, encouraging people to download the app and join.

Then, people can choose a game by paying the $13.99 per hour through the app. That’s less than the app typically charges in cities such as Chicago and Detroit, Saucedo said.

“This company does nothing, they provide no service, they just take something public and resell it to us at an insane markup,” Zitrin said. “This is no different than taking your child to a public playground and having to pay a private company to use it, because the city has decided to let them operate that playground as a for-profit enterprise.”

Moreover, in order to use the app, the person must be able to read English, and possess a credit or debit card — a potential barrier for many Latinxs and other immigrants who play soccer in the city. Saucedo said that once the app becomes more established, it will be translated to other languages. But for now, while hosts may post in Spanish, the app itself is limited to English. 

In contrast, the city’s own reservation website uses Google Translate, which offers translations in many languages.

The app’s users may apply to become hosts, who are unpaid and instead compensated with free playing time at the games that they organize. Hosts meet the pickup game players at the field, maintain the reservation list, ensure fair teams, and bring the ball and colored scrimmage vests. They’re also responsible for facilitating a friendly game and stopping any aggression and violence among players, according to the host application.

Saucedo estimates that there are some 30 hosts in San Francisco and 50 in the Bay Area.

The startup is two years old and rapidly expanding, Saucedo said. Some listed cities appear in previews without games, but it does offer games in Asia, Europe and North America. There are also categories for basketball, volleyball, badminton and yoga. However, in the Bay Area, soccer is the only sport with locations listed aside from yoga which, at press time, only has one person, the host, signed up at each yoga studio.

Saucedo said that the app’s intention is to promote the positive aspects of sports, healthy living in particular. When he moved to Chicago after college in 2021, he used the app to continue playing soccer and subsequently make friends and the connections to join a soccer league.

Asked about the reduction of access to public spaces, Saucedo said, “I understand the perspective that they have, that they think we are minimizing public spaces, but we are actually just organizing for the public.”

Follow Us

David Mamaril Horowitz

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

Join the Conversation

23 Comments

Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. It’s even worse than my last comment. The company, specifically Luis Saucedo, is a part of multiple Facebook groups all over the greater Bay Area and greater Sacramento. He reserves fields when he finds out groups play, then charges them if they want to play. He does this with at least 2 Facebook accounts.

  2. It’s even worse than the article. The so-called “business development manager” from the article , Luis Saucedo, went to Berkeley and joined a pickup-soccer group that has played for years (for free). He joined their Facebook group to find out fields and times, then booked them all himself, for Just Pay- I mean JustPlay. Then he tried (and is trying) to get members of the free pickup game to pay $14 each whenever they play. It’s immoral, should be illegal.

  3. As a San Francisco native I have seen every attempt at trying to privatize our city. I am sick of app based companies trying to rent out our parking spaces or basketball courts. I agree with all the readers that are asking you to “Follow The Money!” Someone is getting a kickback for saying yes to this racket. Do the research to figure out where the final yes came from.

  4. Please investigate Parks and Recs management. Sounds like more of the same cronyism and lack of supervision of public programs.

  5. “. . .actually just organizing for the public.” 😆

    Still minimizing public space. Yep, follow the money.

    1. I would pay any app $14 to give me the service of renting the field, bringing all equipment and full teams for a quality game. I don’t have time to do all that and apparently other millions of people around the world either… have you seen how many games they have in NYC and Detroit? It obviously works. The article says it itself, they gather the people and organize the game… and then it says they don’t provide any service? Doesn’t make any sense.

      1. I’ve been playing pickup in SF for years and the idea of having to go through an app just to do what I’ve already been doing is ridiculous. If their mission statement is anything other than “trying to make money” I wouldn’t believe it for a second. I understand wanting to organize but that can be done and is done already without charging people fees and being exclusive. I’m looking to take further steps to oppose this app from encroaching on our fields in the Bay Area. If anybody wants to talk or workshop solutions feel free to email me at castelloncarlos1@gmail.com

  6. Helping people without a local high school crew find pickup games is EXACTLY the kind of thing Meetup was made for.

    1. I see your point but meetup also charges you a monthly fee for organizing a group and meetup with all of its defunct groups objectively sucks

  7. Phil Ginsburg was appointed with the then semi-secret mission of privatizing the parks. And despite some defeats, such as his failure to ruin McLaren Park with an unnecessary disc golf course, he’s making inroads — or perhaps toll roads would be more apt. Grotesque commercial crap infesting JFK for that “viewing party.” And don’t forget he’s the one who submitted the specs for the million dollar loo in Noe Valley!

  8. The City Attorney’s Office continues to be useless. How hard is it to comment on the legality of a business ripping people off? Please stop privatizing our public resources!

  9. Given San Francisco’s recent corruption revelations, somebody should follow the money on this, especially focusing upon the decision makers at Parks and Rec.

  10. It would be refreshing if one of these “founders” just said, “yeah, we found a way to inject ourselves into an existing system to extract money out if it” instead of couching it in terms of a selfless service they’re providing for the goodness of mankind.

    1. Thank you for posting the aforementioned link.

      As a long time, avid user of SF athletic fields with a lot of permit experience – I came to know, on more of a personal level, the Rec and Park folks involved in maintenance and the bureaucracy. Many were competent and hardworking and some were nincompoops who had no business taking care of an athletic field.

      My one overriding question to the gardeners I got to know:
      Why are the fields in such deplorable, cow pasture like condition when this could easily be remedied by rolling them flat?

      The answer was most disconcerting, which was something like:
      “Yeah – we have the equipment (it’s just a large drum you fill with water then drag behind the little service vehicles they use) but management won’t let us do it.”

      So – it don’t take a genius to figure if we keep the fields in terrible condition – converting them to turf will be acceptable and even advocated for amongst users.

      There’s something Nuru style been going on for a long time with this whole push to expand turf.
      I suppose it’s follow the money to who makes the profit from turf and who gets paid to facilitate its implementation.

      This quote from the link shows how some of the scheming may work – for SF – just add on deliberate non-maintenance of the fields.

      “New York Parks and Rec hid its maintenance numbers because it inflated the cost to maintain natural turf and lied about the cost to maintain artificial turf”

      As far as Saucedo goes – FU.

  11. I am an avid soccer player and play (free!) pickup soccer several times a week.

    Saucedo has been going around trying to find the public fields we frequent and rent them out from under us so that he can charge people $14 to use them. This essentially means he kicks off the people that currently use these public fields unless they pony over $14 bucks to his god-forsaken app.

    He joined our Whatsapp pickup soccer group (which has hundreds of members) and tried to get information on what fields we use; of course, this is quite scummy and we quickly kicked him out after we learned what he was doing.

    Another underhanded tactic he employs is advertising pickup games (via Whatsapp, Facebook, etc) without disclosing upfront that you need to download his app and pay money. After you message him, that’s when he hits you with the download my app and pay me 14 bucks. Not illegal of course, but definitely not upfront and forthcoming.

    Saucedo and his JustPlay app add nothing of value to adult soccer players and seems he only cares about making money.

    Why not create an app that actually benefits people? The app takes public spaces that are free for everyone to use and privatizes them so that no one can use them without forking money over to his company.

    1. e scooters clogging bike lanes, e-bikes taking up street parking, huge expensive ridiculous ferris wheels in GG Park, food trucks in the Presdido, Beach Chalet, pay to play on the local athletic field, the rec and park department monetizes public spaces paid for by taxpayers. the money doesn’t go into the rec and park budge. these operators are not skimming a little profit, they’re robbing the whole cradle

  12. That’s how we roll in San Francisco. Why would our huge city bureaucracy actually do anything when they can farm it out to a private company? This is how we spend $1.1 billion a year on 8000 homeless people and have them still be homeless.

    1. Bingo Terrence! They just need another 1.4 billion. Right…

      Excellent reporting. No surprises from any long term residents. Profound incompetence at every level of SF governance. Most of their actions read more like an onion article. Can’t wait for BOS to hold session on this and propose long winded impact study of the issue for a cool sup of 500K to one of their consultant cronies.

  13. Wow,

    Won’t the Fisher boys complain?

    Last I heard the major fields had been handed to the Gap heirs to pave and fence in and top with carcenogenic rubber tire grass then charge enuff to keep the poor out in their own hood ?

    Where are the Fishers left with this new move ?

    They put alota money into those ‘public’ fields.

    Doesn’t this have to go thru the BOS ?

    How much to walk in the Marina now ?

    Go Niners !

    (whom I listen to on radio cause no more free TV)

    Happy New Year crew !

    h.