What LAFC’s stadium means for MLS; By Steve Davis

lafc-stadium

MLS supporters drool over big names who might one day grace the league. We bicker over managers and, increasingly, about the front office deciders who make the juicy personnel calls. We love to go a few rounds over broadcast talent.

These are usually the domestic issues that keep the blogs and their comments sections busy, the top targets for debate among supporters and the chattering class.

But the wisest among us understand something that has been true since day one in Major League Soccer: Nothing is more important in the big picture than stadium development. Nothing.

Stadiums are the lifeblood of long term fiscal health. They convey a permanence of the brand, which is critical. And perhaps most importantly, although the value of this part is difficult to measure, clubs just are not taken as seriously when they exist as renters (rather than owners) in their respective markets.

There will come a time when the balance shifts, when national TV contracts become more important than facility development in driving Major League Soccer’ forward movement. But we aren’t there yet. Which is why Monday’s big announcement out of Los Angeles is so important.

The expansion Los Angeles Football Club have confirmed media reports on a planned, privately funded 22,000-seat stadium, providing the brick-and-mortar home – and a fancy one, at that – for the new club that is scheduled to begin in 2018.

A few thoughts on what this means for Major League Soccer:

– The early renderings, revealed Sunday night by the club via social media channels, look amazing. That translucent roof, the club name emblazoned regally atop, with the glittering lights of downtown L.A. in the background? Yeah, we’ll take some of that. It looks amazing.

That said, renderings have a way of evolving. Or devolving, as it were. The known unknowns and unknown unknowns of construction costs begin nipping at the budget and before you can say “LA rivalry,” the final product can look more “regular” sized than “super-sized.” We’ll see.

The Los Angeles Times reports the cost of the facility, near the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, to be $250 million. By contrast, the San Jose Earthquake’s just-opened Avaya Stadium, slightly smaller in scale and on less expensive real estate, cost $100 million. The price tag or Sporting Kansas City’s high-tech park has been reported at $200 million.

– It remains unclear whether Minnesota or L.A. will enter first: MLS commissioner Don Garber had said previously that one would debut in 2017 and the other in 2018. Atlanta is also scheduled to enter league play in 2017.

Either way, once all three clubs are on the field, the league will be up to 23 teams. Miami is set to come aboard as No. 24, assuming it ever happens. Which brings us too …

– The positive, forward movement in Los Angeles only adds pressure to David Beckham’s efforts to kick start the Miami franchise. His group continues to scan for appropriate stadium sites, a difficult process of stops and starts that has been going on for more than 18 months. Garber has stated that the facility needs to be downtown, a la LAFC; it is obviously a high hurdle to clear for Miami, and the club cannot possibly meet its original target date of 2017.

– It is clear that old marketing models of selling soccer are as dead as the 35-yard tiebreaker shootout. It’s not about families – although mom, dad and the kid are certainly welcome. The ideal marketing model is built around the urban core, around 20- and 30-somethings who become real supporters, who aren’t just looking to kill a few hours on a Saturday night.

Now, whether that’s true in Los Angeles, a place that was once brilliantly described as a land just off the coast of planet Earth, we’ll see.

LAFC’s facility isn’t strictly downtown; it’s not Seattle’s CenturyLink or Portland’s Providence Park or Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium that way. It’s more like Toronto’s BMO Field, just a short hop outside downtown but still solidly within the urban core.

– Soccer becomes an even larger player in the regional sports market. Why? Besides the obvious, doubling Major League Soccer’s presence in the country’s second largest media market, as the L.A. Times reports the facility becomes the first open-air professional sports venue to be built within the Los Angeles city limits since Dodger Stadium opened its doors in 1962. The StubHub Center, the L.A. Galaxy’s home since its 2003 opening, is in Carson, just south of Los Angeles.

– I’ve written before about how teams that enter the MLS of today rather than your father’s MLS have one distinct advantage: they aren’t dragging around the burdensome baggage of another day. It’s a little different in the L.A. Galaxy’s case, because Major League Soccer’s original SoCal team has historically been successful on the field and at the gate. Still, the opportunity to enter MLS 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever we are calling it today should give LAFC a decent chance to catch up with the Galaxy in what will become another inter-city rivalry, like the budding, two-team set-to in New York.

– Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract at Real Madrid expires in 2018. The new L.A. club is set to begin in 2018. As SI.com’s Grant Wahl has reported, Ronaldo’s preference may be Los Angeles. Just something to think about.

Editor’s note: Steve Davis writes a weekly column for World Soccer Talk. He shares his thoughts and opinions on US and MLS soccer topics every Wednesday, as well as news reports throughout the week. You can follow Steve on Twitter at @stevedavis90. Plus, read Steve’s other columns on World Soccer Talk 

 

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