MLS ’11 Preview – Stadiums Helping League Finances Stay Healthy

Proposed 15,000 seat San Jose Earthquakes Stadium

Fifteen years ago, MLS launched with teams in downright psychedelic uniforms playing on football fields; some of MLS’s earliest highlights look like the two teams are playing on a lacrosse field.  In 2011, the situation has vastly changed, as most MLS franchises have their own soccer specific fields or compounds with only a few still sharing their stadiums with an NFL team.  The multitude of stadiums has also allowed MLS franchises to own another revenue flow which has led to marked improvements of the product on the pitch.  As part of the MLS Talk 2011 preview, we will take a look at the stadium situation for MLS franchises and how it has helped their fortunes, as well as those that are still waiting to build their first home.

The announcement of the Houston Dynamo new soccer-specific stadium this offseason added this franchise to the list of clubs with their own grounds.  In the past year, the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City debuted new soccer complexes (with KC’s unveiling coming in a few months) while new MLS franchises like Philadelphia and Portland join the league with new stadiums already in place.  And this may be the biggest indicator of the success of the league – instead of hunkering down in a football stadium for a few years, hoping to gather enough revenue and support to build your own place, these teams plan on having their own stadium from the beginning.  Montreal will join MLS in 2012 with Saputo Stadium, their soccer-specific grounds built in 2008.

The state of stadiums in MLS can be divided into a few categories, and there are some similarities among these clubs based on where they play:

Teams playing in a multi-use facility and looking to get out: Sadly, some of MLS’s most storied franchises are in this category.  DC United and the New England Revolution’s plights are well documented, but these clubs suffer from a financial drain of resources from lack of control over where they play.  While both have been competitive in the past and still get good talent, they will begin to fall behind their brethren in finances and be unable to get the higher-priced talent they need.  While it sounds like United’s search for a stadium site is beginning to make progress, the Revolution are still looking at yard markers and Patriots logos for the foreseeable future.

Teams playing in a multi-use facility and happy to stay: There is a marked difference between the two aforementioned clubs and Seattle’s situation.  Qwest Field, while known as the home of the Seattle Seahawks, has the type of design that makes it a good venue for soccer as well.  Sounders fans have adopted the stadium as their own and have made it the only NFL-MLS partnership that seems to work without problem.

Teams moving to their own stadium in the next four years: These are the teams that will show how big of an advantage having your own stadium and the revenue it brings in is for a professional team.  Most of these clubs were in the DCU/New England situation, but are hoping shiny new places attract casual fans and their dollars.  This is a model that all professional sports follow – build the new stadium/arena that is a nirvana for the hardcore fans but has enough aesthetic qualities to attract the casual fans and their families.  Fans are eagerly anticipating the Houston/San Jose/Sporting KC new fields and the benefits the clubs will accrue from them.

Teams playing in soccer-specific stadiums:  This number is growing and that is only a good thing for MLS as well as these individual teams.  It used to be that the Galaxy were the class of the league with the Home Depot Center; now arenas like Rio Tinto and Red Bull Arena give their teams a real home field advantage.  The problem with many of these new stadiums are their locations – Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is in Commerce City, not Denver.  Pizza Hut Park is in Frisco, not Dallas.  And while being located outside of a major city is not a death warrant for a franchise (the New York Giants and Jets play in the Meadowlands after all) but it would be better to have these stadiums closer to the fans.

What do all these new soccer stadiums mean for MLS this year?  Fans can expect to see the beautiful game played in nicer stadiums, and this does make a difference for the product on the field.  Watching a playoff match or a rivalry on TV in a soccer specific stadium looks nicer if nothing else.  The money that comes from these stadiums will also make the teams more financially secure, helping the league become more financially secure.  These new stadiums are both a sign of MLS progress and the sign of a brighter future for American soccer.

58 Responses to MLS ’11 Preview – Stadiums Helping League Finances Stay Healthy

  1. david1978pdx says:

    Worth noting about Montreal… Stade Saputo currently holds 13K and will be expanded to hold 20K for MLS.

    The Vancouver situation will be one to watch as well… Playing in a temporary stadium the majority of 2011, it will be interesting to see how they transition to BC Place, which is a much larger, multi-use (MLS & CFL) venue. How long will they cap capacity at 22K?

    • Charles says:

      Everyone talks about Portland between the two.
      Vancouver will be the second highest draw in the league IMO.

      IF they have success, they will have to expand that stadium to hold the demand.

      • Lysander says:

        I think you are right. Both portland and Vancouver have no major sports competing during the majority of MLS season. But Vancouver is way bigger than Portland (and Seattle for that matter). Their stadium will hold quite a bit more that PGE (or whatever it ends up being renamed) and will have room to expand like Seattle.

        People just talk about portland more because they have supported the USL better but that does not always translate and they just do not have the room for expansion at least in terms of seats. They may outsell everyone in jerseys some day though… who knows.

  2. Daniel Feuerstein says:

    Kraft owns both the Revs & Pats, so in all honesty Robert Kraft is not losing that much money. It’s his stadium, his teams. But I think he finally realizes that he needs to build a soccer only stadium.

  3. And i Say.... says:

    ^^ i agree. Kraft and Kraft Soccer took 16 years to realize that. a stadium for soccer really does go along way as to not only ensure stability of the club for future years but also generate a whole lot more revenue (god willing without a stage) and create a better fan experience. but i agree that location is key to the success of a soccer club here. i mean mls can advertise all they want about how harrison NJ is only like 13-15 miles away from NYC but if you take into account traffic (even the PATH system) it would take at least 40 mins to get to the stadium, which is not a problem for soccer fanatics but for the fan base that mls’s agenda so clearly says they want to cater to (the casual fans) that can really turn them off to the league not to mention its “so-so” quality reputation isnt worth the trip to some. also ive heard from fans from Dallas say it takes them at least an hour to get to frisco, people from chester though ive heard say it only takes about 20-30 mins. for LAG fans im afraid to even estimate, i remember reading an article where beckham says on a good day it takes him 45 mins to get from LA to carson, ON A GOOD DAY! (and that guy im sure rolls with a convoy and gets a police escort…….ok maybe not but still). plus a stadium within the city they claim to represents has a psychological appeal to fans, having your team play in the city where you work/play/live is a sense of pride to the people and the city instead of a club that plays in the slums 30 miles out not to mention the free advertisemnt garnered by people just looking at the stadium on their way to work or something (for example to get to school i always pass by the Florida Gators Stadium at UF). the only good thing i guess that comes from playing in the suburbs is economic stimulation and increasing land value around the stadium, i.e. Frisco and the area around houston downtown. it would be interesting to see NY cosmos get a stadium in my home borough of Queens or maybe even play at a renovated Downing Stadium (already a MLS ready capacity of 22k) in east Manhattan or maybe (a long shot) the would be stadium location for the New york Jets/New York 2012 Olympics in West Manhattan. also to my surprise i heard Columbus Crew planning to build a stadium in downtown Columbus, and just me thinking but AEG plans to build a state of the art NFL stadium in downtown LA, do you think AEG will move LAG to that stadium and leave Chivas USA as the main operator? btw lets pray DCU manages to get a stadium in the district, i would hate to see a storied club like DCU turn into Baltimore United.

    i know i said much already but i also want to add that stadiums should also be able to expand when demands soar. i like what TFC is doing to BMO field, their stadium is able to expand and someone made mock up designs for a 30k BMO field which is possible.

    lastly i’d say the last once all clubs have a stadium id say MLS should do away with single entity. i can go all day how removing single entity can better soccer but if a league still needs training wheels by the time its 20 years old something says that garber and his cartel just doesnt want to compete internationally.

    • CTBlues says:

      I find it funny that the Cosmos just released a new Jersey by Umbro and will have to change to the god awful Adidas ones if they get into MLS.

      It is also sad that Portland will not be able to use local Nike as a sponsor and/or kit maker.

      • And i say.... says:

        Me too it would be really nice for cosmos to stick with umbro instead of the dreadful Adidas kits. I can’t stand another 7 years of Adidas I wish clubs can just pick their kit sponsor we should really copy the j league.

        But money talks you know the money did help with salaries and other projects I think the deal is worth $80 million. But eh its not the end of the world and we can sure use the money maybe clubs will finally be autonomous by the Adidas expiration date of 2018 so clubs can get their own sponsors. I would have really liked to see Nike with timbers and whitecaps both clubs have history with Nike.

      • david1978pdx says:

        Worth noting – Adidas North American HQ is in Portland.

    • Daniel Feuerstein says:

      @And I say: I find it quite funny about how you’re saying there needs to be a stadium in NYC when so many years ago that was never going to happen. Once again you keep forgetting their was a New York City NFL team playing in Queens, but decided to move from former Shea Stadium to Giants Stadium and share it with that other New York City team the use to play at old & original former Yankee Stadium. Where are those teams playing now? Oh yes in NJ still with the NY moniker.

      Listen, I know how badly you wanted the Wilpon family to build that stadium in their parking lot, but you have to come to reality that they have bigger problems of their own. They owe money, the Madoff Ponzi Scheme was their second Poni Scheme they fell for and are begging for a 25% minority ownership of their baseball club, to save their financial rear ends.

      You can scream all you want about how there needs to be a stadium in NYC’s 5 boroughs, but back then all we begged for was a stadium anywhere near or in the city, that included Northern NJ or Southern CT as well. Because of the name change you feel that this stadium in Harrison means nothing because they are in NJ. The stupidity never ends. But that’s fine. Wait for it when it gets built at Flushing Meadows Park or if it ever gets built.

      • CTBlues says:

        It would be pretty f*cking awesome if they built the Cosmos stadium in Stamford.

      • And i say.... says:

        Listen Daniel your missing my point. I never was advocating that there needs to be a stadium in NYC or Manhattan for that matter I was just lusting some possible interesting sites for cosmos. And btw that wasnt. Mt whole arguement anyways. We all know that if cosmos is awarded the club expansion slot the most obvious and reasonable site is queens (my home borough btw). And with MLS strongly stipulating that expansions sides have a solid stadium plan before. They can enter the league its quite possible if not certain cosmos will have a solid NYC stadium plan at hand by the time they are ready to join. And the whole reason. MLS is so interested in NYC besides the cash the cosmos name will bring to garbers cartel is to have a club in NYC proper to rival the energy drinks. Having a second club Co share a stadium already branded red bull let alone build another stadium in NJ is pointless (the people who argue new yorkers will have to support red bulls before they can get a second club will have some validity to the argument in this case). And plus its not only the wilpons bidding for a expansion club according to garber there are a number of ownership groups in talks for a NYC club. Not to mention the guaranteed revenue the cosmos club name will generate and the fact Bloomberg is behind this so he can fast track all this possibly, I’m pretty sure there will be a ownership group willing to invest in a NYC stadium. And I never said there needs to be a stadium in all five boroughs and my argument isn’t just about cosmos or nyrb or their name there are numerous of other clubs with stadiums located. In far inconvenient and undesirable locations. Please think before you immediately assume something.

      • Baggies says:

        Daniel, your comparing apples to oranges. …. Oh, that’s right. The stupidity never ends.

        • Daniel Feuerstein says:

          At Baggies The only stupidity being talked about here is you. You have no idea how much land is precious in the NYC-Tri State area to get something built. At the same time to build a new Stadium/Arena for a professional sports team, let alone for Soccer.

          If you think just a snap of the fingers will get it done, you are sadly mistaken. I am not comparing Apples to Oranges. It took this club so long to finally having that stadium built and playing last season, after all the governmental red tape that was blocking the project.

          Having your own Soccer Stadium is just as precious as your family heirloom you’ve held on to for so long. If there was a place in Manhattan to build a 20,000 seat stadium for Soccer, I would’ve been happy with that. Oh wait, there is no where in Manhattan to build a Soccer Stadium. The Wilpon family is a mess right now and they won’t be able to give land for a stadium to be built next to Citi Field. They need every inch of parking to help out their financial problems with the Madoff Ponzi Scheme. Just to let you know this is the second Ponzi Scheme that the Wilpon family got involved with.

          If your not familiar with this situation, just stay quiet and go away.

          • Clampdown says:


            I would agree with you that the chances of a new stadium being built in Manhattan are slim to none. However, I do wonder if the money that is likely going to be backing the Cosmos will play a role in getting a stadium deal done somewhere in Queens, Brooklyn, or the Bronx. I live pretty close to where the new Nets arena is being built. I never thought that project would go through, yet we all know Bloomberg has never met a developer or construction project tied to office space and (luxury) housing he didn’t love.

            So, I don’t think the only options are Manhattan or Willett’s Point, and I don’t think any of this is predicated on participation by the Wilpons. Where would such a new stadium be? Who knows? But I wouldn’t be surprised if an alternative plan comes forward.

    • Andy says:

      well MLS has a commissioner that doesn’t understand the sport of soccer, he’s an NFL guy. So i doubt we’re going to get rid of single entity, get rid of the playoffs, have a single table, pro/rel etc – all the things our domestic league needs to be a real soccer league.

      • And i say.... says:

        Sadly I agree with garbage garber running the league I don’t think MLS will grow beyond its self imposed growth cap. Plus the fact that gulati helped create the single entity model, garber defending it to the death, and ussf and MLS.constantly giving fifa and fifpro the middle finger that makes it even harder for the model to go. Still the way I see it I think garber won’t be so important after his 2014 expiration date and hopefully by then the BoG will hire a person with more soccer management experience. But then again I believe that garber, the MLS owners, and gulati are all in cahoots to further insulate the league from other domestic and international leagues from both financial risk and competition I’m pretty sure they’ll find another sucker to hold up the single entity banner. Or maybe by next cba negotiations the players can finally win their rights and get free agency which will ultimately mean the death of single entity

      • Daniel Feuerstein says:

        Pro/Rel now will destroy the lower leagues. Once again paying rent and not earning a dime from Food, Drinks & Consessions won’t save these clubs from survival once they get relegated again.

        Saying it doesn’t mean doing it is going to fix it. More problems will kill off the lower sides & the only thing going on below MLS is PDL. Right now the health of the clubs and the lower leagues must be concentrated before Pro/Rel can ever be brought in.

        • Alan says:

          But…. but…. without pro/rel like in Europe it isn’t real soccer. It’s fake soccer lol. We need pro/rel NOW or we will implode and all die.

          Totally joking of course.

        • Andy says:

          I wouldn’t go pro/rel now. I would announce pro/rel was coming in 6- 10 years and I would start building up D2.

          I’d call D1 – MLS Premier and D2 – MLS . Having the top two leagues under the same brand (MLS) is important because even relegated clubs would still be able to market themselves as MLS to the casual spectator.

          It’s my opinion D2 would fill up with qualified clubs in less than 4 years.

    • rbny4me says:

      i would be shocked if there weren’t more fans from the new jersey side of the new york metro area than from new york city itself at every red bulls game. i think when they were looking at sites, they realized that the combined fact of cheaper land and a large percentage of current season ticket holders and fans living in new jersey, made Harrison make sense.

  4. And i Say.... says:

    “leave Chivas USA as the main operator”

    sorry i got lazy i meant to say leave Chivas USA as the main operator of HDC. btw if you look at the AEG’s Farmers Field stadium designs it looks real nice its right by staples center and im sure AEG can have the stadium designed to be dual purpose Soccer/american football like Qwest Field. that way AEG can move LAG to downtown LAG and have the club more exposed to the people and celebs, not to mention attract more players wanting to “come” to MLS specifically LAG (*cough* Messi when he’s 36 *cough*)

    • Bolacuadrada says:

      Messi may not longer be playing at 30. The drugs used by Barcelona to make him grow will probably cut his career short. Ronaldo was the latest example of the damage that kind of staff makes to a player’s body. Anyways, I am happy most of the MLS teams now have their own stadiums.

      • Andy says:

        why do you say Messi’s growth hormone deficiency, for which he has received treatment for,will cut his career short?

  5. Clampdown says:

    Is San Jose definitely getting a stadium? I hope so, but I haven’t heard that’s a done deal.

  6. Alistair says:

    It’s a done deal, they are already starting on their new stadium.

  7. Alistair says:

    It looks like D.C. United will get their stadium build. They should follow San Jose route.

  8. Chris says:

    Actually it takes about 20 min to get from downtown to The Home Depot Center…Beckham said that because he lives all the way in Beverly ya from there its like 40 mins….but in those 40 mins its nice to check out LA..And LA Galaxy gets a good average attendence..above the 21k mark so not bad..

    • Andy says:

      it’s much better for a team to play in the heart of the city. In LA, that’s downtown. I live and work in downtown and I can tell you that the LA Galaxy have no presence there;it’s as if they don’t exist.

      You see a lot of LA Galaxy fans when you go south. The south bay , which is near HDC has a lot of Galaxy fans.

  9. Alan Higgins says:

    I really hope that San Jose’s stadium is done by next year. I am moving to the area next year and it will be the perfect way to top off my move. A new soccer-specific stadium!

    • Alistair says:

      It may not be done until the middle part of the 2012 season. I also think that San Jose has the right idea by building it at 15,000 instead of a 20,000 seat soccer stadium that almost empty like FC Dallas Pizza Hut Field. Team that build soccer stadiums at the sub-burbs should be between 15,000-17,000. While a 20,000 seat stadium in a major downtown city like New York City or Boston.

  10. Charles says:

    Nice article again Robert Hay.

    One mistake, you said QWest “has the type of design that makes it a good venue for soccer as well” That is very misleading at best.

    QWest WAS BUILT FOR SOCCER ! Period.
    It was voted on as a Soccer Stadium ( and Seahawks stadium ). Period.
    The first games played there were soccer games and the most games played there have been Sounder’s games. Period.

    It wasn’t supposed to have turf, I and everyone else didn’t vote on it that way. Turf makes the most sense, and it is there deal with it.

    But the people that try to state/insinuate that the Sounders are playing in the Seahawk’s “home”…one, just diminish the Sounders and two, they don’t know what they are talking about ( or are trying to diliberately mislead you ).

    QWest is the best place to watch soccer in the world, because of the fans AND the facility.

    • Alistair says:

      I’m glad that you point that out because originally it was going to host the 2022 World Cup final.

    • rich says:

      Typical biased sounder fan full of himself and his “no equal” bs. In the real world, if you ask any average soccer fan around the world they will tell you the plastic pitch you play on is not real soccer.

      • Lysander says:

        He might be over the top but his point is still valid. It is a soccer stadium that also has football games there too.

    • Andy says:

      “QWest is the best place to watch soccer in the world, because of the fans AND the facility.”

      hold on , while I put on my LOL-er-skates.

    • Sancho says:

      Charles’ comment lights two important points:

      a) the best place to watch soccer is where our beloved team plays no matter what, so, if he is a Sounder fan, it’s the Qwest (for me, as a Grêmio fan, it’s the Olímpico Monumental in Porto Alegre);

      b) the Qwest actually does not look like a regular (american) football stadium.

      To me, the american-football-model stadium is the Rose Bowl. The stands are “open” against the field of play. In the Rose Bowl, this is exaggerated, but it’s possible to recognize this in every college and professional football stadia. This put the fan away from the field of play.

      The Qwest Field, on the other hand, seems to have its stands “closing” toward the field of play. The result is that “box” atmosphere of a soccer stadium, where the fan looks like being a part of the game.


  11. john says:

    “Qwest is the best place to watch soccer in the world” ??

    Ya ok. (Rolls eyes)

  12. Ian says:

    Qwest seems like a nice venue, but, remember, every time a football game is played at an artificial turf, a little kitten dies! In all seriousness, artifical tirf has no place in football, no matter how good the “latest astro turf techonology” is; football is meant to be played on real grass, plain and simple. And don’t give me the excuse” but it rains too often in the Northwest”.

  13. Mike says:

    Your comments on N.E. Revs are ridiculous considering their ownership.

    If they were owned by a 3rd party and had to pay rent to Kraft, then your comments would be astute.

    But since Kraft is the owner, the team is ‘hostage’ in a sense. Why on earth is Kraft going to spend a pile of money on a SSS, when:
    1. the Revs fill another ~ 20 or so dates in his megamillion $ stadium
    2. he has sunk big money into developing the property around the stardium for malls/restos etc.

    To me it seems that sadly NE Revs are basically just run by Kraft as filler product for his other ventures.

    And their financial situation isn’t precarious if their owner would spend based on the ancillary benefits he’s getting out of using his own stadium …. but clearly he’s not running the team to spend money. This is a bare bones operation.

  14. I think the push for soccer-specific stadiums has been the main success of Don Garber’s role. It has really helped Major League Soccer and its teams to establish their own identity and bring in increased revenue.

    When I began watching MLS, most games were looked horrible because of the NFL lines all over the pitch. Five years later, most teams have a soccer-specific stadium and MLS is in a better state than ever. While as a Red Bulls fan I’m delighted DC United and New England Revs are struggling, as an MLS fan I hope they too have their own stadiums one day very soon.

    • Daniel Feuerstein says:

      Well said Glenn.

    • Charles says:

      NE and DC were great for MLS 1.0, but I don’t see a team coming into the league without a very solid plan for a stadium ever again.
      That goes for pro/rel type dreams too, effectively killing them, at least for now.

      I am not saying DC and NE are done…just that they are not helping the league or themselves financially much right now and it isn’t good enough for today’s expansions.

  15. Tim says:

    My grandfather always said the best investment you can make is land, bricks, and mortar. Stadiums represent permanence. People often compare MLS to AFL, WNBA, and several other leagues that aren’t among the Big 4, but if those league were to disappear tomorrow, there would be no physical evidence they were there. The stadiums also represent that the team is unlikely to pick up camp and move, creating a stronger loyalty within a fanbase.

    The fact that there was only one Pro/Rel, Soccer Reform tangent is impressive considering the number of comments in this topic.

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