Just another Pie-in-the-Sky MLS Stadium Proposal?

Proposed 15,000 seat San Jose Earthquakes Stadium

Proposed 15,000 seat San Jose Earthquakes Stadium

Saturday night at the annual Soccer Silicon Valley Community Foundation dinner in front of over 400 business leaders, government officials, and soccer supporters, the San Jose Earthquakes unveiled for the first time architectural illustrations of their long awaited new stadium. With the announcement, San Jose joins the Kansas City Wizards and the Houston Dynamo in publicly stating their intention to build the next MLS soccer-specific stadium.

With a seating capacity of 15,000 and additional standing and picnic areas that could boost that to nearly 20,000, the new facility would be the centerpiece of an 80 acre development near the San Jose International Airport, and a stones throw away from their current digs on the campus of Santa Clara University.

Moving away from a recent MLS trend toward stadiums designed with funky shaped but architecturally interesting overhangs, the new Earthquakes stadium would feature a uniformly covered horseshoe shaped tier of seating. “I think the roof structure will create intimacy and also noise,” stated Earthquakes owner Lew Wolff at the unveiling. “We’d like a lot of noise and excitement. And the fans will be closer to the pitch than any place else in the country, and the quality of the field will be outstanding.”

However, don’t hold your breath for the ground-breaking ceremony. Wolff has made it clear that he won’t start any construction until he has commercial sponsors that will pay for stadium naming rights and other advertising signage in and around the stadium. He also wants assurances that the financing he needs is fully in place. Of course, the final hurdle is the politics of building a stadium in the Bay Area, a region notorious for its stingy public financial outlays to sports organizations. As Wolff said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “It is not easy getting projects done in California. In fact, I think if you came up with a cure for cancer in this state, someone would be there to oppose it.”

Perhaps sensing that the crowd of supporters invited to the stadium plan unveiling was growing ever frustrated at the lack of progress on the development, Wolff also announced that tickets prices for the next couple seasons would be reduced by as much as 40% from current levels. The front office knows that the team has suffered on the field since returning to MLS, and hopes this announcement will encourage the fan base to keep the faith.

But how long will supporters remain placated by pretty pictures and virtual stadium fly-over videos? Will lower ticket prices be enough to get fans to come out to a sub-par Buck Shaw Stadium? Fans will certainly lose interest in the organization if they don’t see ground being broken at the proposed stadium site very soon. And they certainly are not going to continue to purchase season tickets to a makeshift facility indefinitely.

All the momentum generated by the new stadium announcement will be lost in the community if Wolff and his associates spend an excess amount of time trying to line up all the commercial sponsors they have targeted. And an increasingly disenfranchised fan base will erode at the perceived apathy of the stadium development. What financial value there is in the franchise will fall precipitously.

Perhaps the best move for Wolff and the San Jose Earthquakes is to take the first step and begin development of the stadium site now. This would show fans that the team is committed to the project, giving them reason to attend games in the mean time. A full temporary facility and excess ticket demand would create a buzz in the community, which in turn would entice sponsorship by businesses looking to associate themselves with a growing professional sports organization. It might take a substantial initial investment by the Earthquakes for this to happen, but the risks of doing nothing certainly outweigh the rewards of acting now.

Carpe diem Lew Wolff, don’t leave the San Jose soccer community waiting any longer.

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13 Responses to Just another Pie-in-the-Sky MLS Stadium Proposal?

  1. Joe in Indianapolis says:

    I am imagining MLS with 20 teams, 20 soccer specific stadiums, a 38 game schedule, and a single table…

  2. John B says:

    It’s good to see actual drawings…

    While I know Wolff wanted the 20k palace, I think he’s made the right call by moving away from the luxury box “Cater to the richest” model that most other sports franchises have based their business on the past decade or two.

    Time will tell, but I believe that business model to no longer be sustainable – there simply aren’t enough rich people (or fans who think they are) to justify targetting a new facility more or less exclusively to those clients. By catering to the average fan, it’s my hope that Wolff will succeed in the long run with a smaller and more intimate facility. I do agree that something needs to be started now. Fan interest will wane if Buck Shaw remains a temporary facility and isn’t upgraded. I guess that would be the other option, wouldn’t it? Demolish a portion of Buck Shaw and rebuild stand by stand, just like they do in European leagues. Still, there are ‘other considerations’ there as well.

    Good luck, Mr. Wolff. I hope to be seeing the quakes in new digs come 2012.

  3. Charles says:

    By far the most successful financial organization, I actually don’t have any numbers to back that up but I doubt it will be disputed, is not soccer specific stadium, and is in fact related to the NFL Seahawks.
    I really don’t get the idea of building a 15-20k stadium. IF the idea is to create artificial demand by selling out, that is great, but this league will NOT survive that way. My team is in last place, now we hope to draw over 10k is the next step. Unfortunately that is the first step to we can’t make it, much less pay anyone worth watching.
    Single Table ? Why ? So you can have the EPL ? Worst league in the history of sports and would NOT be supported in the US.

  4. Lee14 says:

    I hope Mr. Wolff and Quakes can get it done!

  5. Charles says:

    The best league in all of sport has the same team winning every year ?
    The best league has the 6th best team with close to a 1000-1 odds to win it all ?
    Literally every team in the NFL has a better chance of winning the championship than 15 out of 20 of the EPL teams. It is a joke of a league.
    The best league is so boring that the winning team doesn’t take a shot on goal in the clinching game ?
    The big excitement of the weekend was the the team that wins every year didn’t crush their opponent they won in a close game. Very exciting.
    Who is going to finish in last seems to be the biggest topic to talk about.

    I would love to hear your arguements saying the EPL is a great league.

    • Cavan says:

      Charles, your points are right on the money about the EPL. However, the blog post was about concepts for the San Jose Earthquakes new stadium.

      The Quakes are in a very different place than Seattle. Remember that San Jose was one of the founding members of the league. They drew slightly below average and then had their fanbase eroded by a few losing seasons. Even when they were a winning team between 2001-2005, their attendance only increased incrementally. Then they were suspended for two seasons. They came back as an expansion team that plays at a different facility that is too small.

      The Quakes are rebuilding and proving themselves to a slightly smaller than average fanbase that has already been burned. It is an old fanbase and will therefore grow slower. Seattle, while impressive, is partially reaping the rewards that the older clubs worked for. Seattle wouldn’t be anywhere nearly as successful if the league hadn’t already been in existence for years.

      There’s a bit of apples to oranges to compare there.

  6. nick says:

    If you read the Mercury news article, there is a good chance that Lew builds a stadium in downtown San Jose that can serve as the home for both the A’s and the Quakes.

  7. Charles says:

    Many are very opposed to the idea of a joint stadium, but I see it as a way to build a real stadium, one that can support essential future growth if they are successful and one that can be advantagous financially. If they are not going to draw 30k eventually, well you are a San Jose fan, tell me what happened to the Earthquake and Sounders….
    They have a few losing seasons, the fan base goes away and then the league goes away. Sounders were drawing 25k+ in the late 70s and early 80s too. 50k plus for playoffs. By 1983 I was alone with 6,000 of my best friends.
    All I am saying is that a stadium that tops out at 15k is just waiting for the team to fold. It is not big enough for where they need to get to…getting the best players, or at least keeping the best American players.
    Americans will only put up with a feeder league to Europe for so many years.
    ps. I love the old NASL teams and obviously feel for anyone losing their team ( Sonics )…go Earthquake.

  8. Rock says:

    Nick, what part of the Mercury News article made you think there is a “good chance” of a shared Quakes/A’s stadium? If anything it is a last resort.

  9. bigdumbgod says:

    The Quakes are getting a Soccer Specific Stadium, as per MLS standards for expansion franchises. The A’s are likely going to get a stadium next to the Shark Tank. Both will be on the smaller-capacity side of venues in their respective leagues, as Lew Wolff prefers filled stadiums over half-empty cavernous ones. The two new facilities certainly will not be one and the same, any more than baseball and soccer are in any way similar.

    For issues regarding a potential shared-facility situation, please visit the stadium proposal the Niners have put forth to be built next to Great America. The NFL appears to be leaning on the two Bay Area pointyball teams to work out a sharing arrangement.

  10. sj_oldtimer says:

    The notion of a shared stadium should be a non-starter and apparently is, except for people who really don’t know much about MLS. I think those are the same people who like to make comparisons between MLS and the old NASL. MLS is in it’s 14th season. By this time in it’s history, the NASL was clearly in free fall, on it’s way to oblivion. The same does not appear to be true for MLS.

    Also, there is not going to be any expansion or rebuilding of Buck Shaw Stadium. Lew Wolff, The Earthquakes and MLS do not have much control of that facility. It is owned by Santa Clara University and there is virtually no chance that the school is going to be interested in such improvements or expansion….not to mention the neighbors who live in the area.

    San Jose fans have been burned by past ownership issues and neglect. I think the league made the assumption that San Jose would support pro soccer regardless of how poorly the league treated the franchise. It did not work that way and people lost interest, with the last straw coming with AEG/MLS showing their collective middle finger to San Jose after 2005. It’s not yet clear that Lew Wolff will overcome that bit of disrespect.

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