March 22, 2010

New stadium at the center of New York soccer resurgence

As you may or may not be aware, the Major League Soccer season is upon us.  After resolving a labor dispute this past weekend, the league will kick off (sorry) this Thursday when the Seattle Sounders host the  league's newest expansion team, the Philadelphia Union.

Just one year ago, the Seattle Sounders were the latest MLS expansion club, but important as it is for soccer to grab a foothold in new markets (Vancouver and Portland, OR, are due to open clubs in 2011), MLS needs its clubs in big markets to flourish.  And, for the most part, they have: DC United is a four-time MLS Cup winner, the Chicago Fire boast some of the rowdiest fans in MLS, and the two teams in Los Angeles - the Galaxy and Chivas - have established the league's most contentious rivalry.

The "Section 8" Fan Group in Chicago's Toyota Park.

Assisting most of the clubs in MLS today are "soccer-specific" stadiums, built solely for the purpose of hosting soccer games.  Generally, these stadiums are designed to create intimacy by seating just 18-25k fans and are long and wide enough to meet FIFA standards.

Could you spot half the cities on that list?  The MLS faces the 
prospect of building facilities on the outskirts of major metro areas.

Currently, the league has seven of these stadiums and several more in development.  This past weekend, the MLS' New York Red Bulls christened the league's eighth soccer-specific venue, dubbed Red Bull Arena.  Built at roughly twice the average price than the stadiums pictured above, the Red Bulls - formerly the MetroStars almost the formerly MetroFlash, if Nike had gotten their way - are hoping that the new stadium in Harrison, New Jersey, just outside Newark (the new sports destination in Jersey), will not only help the league's most futile franchise but revitalize the entire Harrison area.

The stadium design plans were overhauled when Red Bull took over the team in 2006.
As a result, they actually decreased the amount of skyboxes planned for the stadium.

Plagued by years of bad management, bad coaching, bad players, and pretty much bad everything, the Red Bull venture in Harrison has reached out to a potentially robust fan base and rejuvenated current players by opening the league's most refined stadium to date.  It debuted this past weekend when the Red Bulls hosted FC Santos, from Brazil, in a friendly match with more than a little fanfare.  In proper style, the Red Bulls won 3-1.

Some highlights below include appearances at the game by Lindsay Vonn and Reggie Bush.  Because when you think American soccer ambassadors, you naturally think Lindsay Vonn and Reggie Bush.

The question that lingers over these soccer-specific stadiums - especially as they are placed on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas (Philadelphia's new stadium will be at the center of a redevelopment project in Chester, PA, about 15 miles from Philadelphia) - is whether they can build a fan base that is willing to deal with less-than-ideal transportation situations.  Beyond that, I dare say that MLS will soon have the youngest and maybe the most attractive fleet of stadiums of any US-based league.  Can that finally push soccer into the major sports category in America?  Maybe not.  But selling out a handful of 18-25k seat facilities, it seems, would be just fine.

No comments:

Post a Comment