Far from being just a stadium, in today’s era of 24/7 entertainment, it’s no longer enough for sports arenas to simply rely on game-day revenue and lie dormant in the off-season. There is a global trend that a modern sports arena should be a lively retail and hospitality destination for fans, and a major selling point for players. Present thinking is that a stadium, standing by itself, is not a significant economic driver for its community. This is why almost all new stadium projects involve some larger purpose, be it the revitalisation of the surrounding neighbourhood, increased green space and public spaces, retail and entertainment components, and more.
The Columbus Crew was the first team to open a soccer-specific stadium in the United States, on May 15, 1999. While Mapfre Stadium is now obsolete and is set to be replaced (more on this below), it began a trend of MLS clubs having their own stadiums. There are at present 18 soccer-specific stadiums in MLS. With new stadiums planned in Cincinnati, Nashville, Miami, Austin, and a replacement stadium in Columbus, that number will grow to 22. It’s also symbolic of a league that is growing more relevant by the season. No longer is MLS a place solely for aging European stars looking for a soft landing and large paycheck at the end of their careers. Long gone also are the early years when MLS teams were considered counter-season tenants for NFL stadiums, although Seattle and Atlanta draw well in such stadiums.
A major motivator for MLS teams to build new is to control their own venue, and control the corresponding revenue generated within.
Stadium projects are complicated undertakings, and can involve many different issues: land acquisition, planning, zoning, municipal laws and government, politics, contract and real estate law, financing, environmental concerns and public/private partnerships are just some examples. Another reality is that MLS investors/operators need to take rising construction costs and expensive land acquisition into account when planning to invest in a new soccer-specific stadium.
For starters, here is a list of the current soccer-specific stadiums in MLS:
With this as a backdrop, I take a closer look at selected stadium projects around Major League Soccer. Some have been recently completed while others are planned, still incomplete or even still a dream.
This series will be published in several parts over the coming months as time permits. While there is no particular order or ranking, the series begins by looking at Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Boston.