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.