MLS’ complicated stadium scenarios might have become more complex on Thursday. With a shortfall in funding potentially a real issue for Orlando City SC, the Florida Legislature concludes its annual session in the next eight days. Approximately $30 million is needed from the state to complete funding for a stadium that is slated to open next season.
Orlando City have sold out all three home games at the Florida Citrus Bowl and have sold out season tickets as well. However, the Citrus Bowl remains a questionable soccer venue with artificial turf, which is particularly difficult to play on in Florida’s humid summers. The sheer size of the venue also does not fit in with the model of MLS right-sizing facilities and creating a ticket premium for its teams.
But it could be strongly argued that with strong attendance this year and good sight lines, the recently renovated Citrus Bowl is an acceptable venue in a climate where taxpayer funded sports facilities are becoming less attractive to the general public and the politicians who elect them.
Orlando’s plight is simply the latest in a complicated political world MLS is facing over stadium funding. Minnesota United of NASL was awarded an MLS expansion franchise for 2018 last month, but faces major political hurdles to secure funding for an outdoor stadium. The club has now announced it will attempt to finance its stadium privately but still needs government assistance in the form of tax breaks.
New York City FC has made little progress on a new stadium in the political minefield of New York borough, city and state politics. With every passing home game at Yankee Stadium, more complaints from fans and media about the Manchester City and New York Yankees-owned franchise’s inability to secure a permanent soccer-specific venue grow louder.
One expansion team that does have a venue is the new Arthur Blank-owned Atlanta entry slated to begin play in 2017. However for purists, the retractable seat, indoor stadium in the Georgia capital city seems more a giveaway to an NFL owner than a proper soccer venue. Atlanta has two proper soccer venues – Silverbacks Park, home of an NASL club, and Fifth Third Bank Stadium, former home of the WPS Atlanta Beat. But both stadiums are far from downtown and don’t fit the ideal MLS model even if expanded.
David Beckham’s Miami dreams have turned sour as the English legend has been unable to turn his celebrity status into political capital in his attempts to secure a stadium site. The possibilities for Beckham to get public financing are non-existent and even securing land in or near downtown Miami has proven close to impossible.
As MLS continues to grow in scope and popularity, it faces political challenges. The era of taxpayers funding large sports stadium projects appears to be waning and the North American major league in soccer may have to simply adjust to this new reality.
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