MLS commissioner doesn’t rule out non-soccer-specific stadiums while watching soccer in one

Don Garber went to an MLS match on Saturday, which makes sense since he’s the commissioner of MLS, at as the match was at Atlanta United‘s new stadium which is also the Falcons‘ new football stadium, he was asked whether he thought maybe demanding soccer-only stadiums as a condition for expansion teams wasn’t entirely necessary. His reply:

“It’s interesting; it’s a great question. The good thing about being new and trying to figure it out as you go along is you have a specific plan and then there are times when you have to modify that plan,” Garber said. “I think good business leaders and good businesses, ya know, don’t just get stuck in their previous strategies but try to evolve and see how things develop…

“We really wanted a soccer stadium here and Arthur said, ‘Hey, this stadium I’m going to build is going to be the best in the world, it’s going to be world class, we’re going to fill it up.’ And he did,” Garber said. “So, I don’t know that that changes our point of view in any other market, but certainly when I see what’s happening here and in Seattle I’m happy that we have stadiums that can have 70,000 people in ’em.”

So here’s the thing: Garber’s “soccer-specific stadiums only” demand has never actually been a strict rule, as witness not just Atlanta, but also NYC F.C. playing at the new Yankee Stadium. (Is it still new now that it’s eight years old? It’s certainly not the old Yankee Stadium.) MLS is always willing to make exceptions when it’s willing to make exceptions.

The problem is that then you have cities thinking, Hey, they’re willing to make exceptions. Like Cincinnati, where WCPO spun out a whole article last night on how Garber’s statements mean maybe there’s a chance for F.C. Cincinnati to get an MLS franchise while still playing at Nippert Stadium, where they keep breaking attendance records.

There’s a tendency to take sports league operators’ statements as policy dictates, when really they’re leverage gambits: Garber isn’t saying he wants new soccer-specific stadiums because his stomach roils at the notion of watching soccer anywhere else, he’s saying it because it’s the best way to get new soccer-specific stadiums. Which is fine, that’s his job — but trying to parse his every statement as if reading missives from the Politburo and not just listening to a guy trying not to paint himself into a corner is probably a bad idea.

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45 comments on “MLS commissioner doesn’t rule out non-soccer-specific stadiums while watching soccer in one

  1. Maybe we should refer to the current NY field as Yankee Stadium II. The original can be Yankee Stadium I-a (up to rebuild) and I-b (1976 – demolition)

    1. Yankee Stadium I was the stadium that existed from 1923 to 1973. Yankee Stadium II was the post-renovation stadium that (as I understand it) was substantially different. Current venue is Yankee Stadium III.

      1. Post-1976 stadium was substantially altered, but it was the same basic steel skeleton and shape. This latest “Yankee Stadium” isn’t even in the same place.

  2. This process seemed like a clear attempt to find two cities who were willing to build a soccer stadium, and they thought out of twelve candidates they could get two. They wanted to settle this in “the third quarter” of 2017. Well, it is late September. With those quotes, it seems as though the current owners still want their cut of the expansion fees on time even if the stadiums aren’t there.

  3. I believe the current MLS “rules”, which in this case are centered on expansion teams, stipulate the requirement for an approved soccer specific stadium plan to be in place before a team starts playing. This was the result of a few things, but most notably the experience of NYCFC.

    However, the soccer-specific stadium requirement is waived if an NFL ownership group gets an MLS expansion team in the same market as their NFL team. This is what happened with Atlanta.

    That’s my understanding of the current system.

    1. The rule pre-dates NYCFC and Atlanta and as written excludes shared NFL/MLS stadium even with the same owner ship group. Both NYCFC and Atlanta were “waived” to get the teams in the league since the league wanted the large entry fees for both of them.

      The real rule is the MLS will agree to anything that will give them more money. Every other condition is negotiable.

  4. It’s not as simple as a “waiver” under certain circumstances (Man City/Yankees; NFL owners; etc) though.

    Even in cases where the league has successfully imposed the condition of a SSS, we often find that either as part of the original agreement (Houston, Frisco) or after the fact (the former HDC in Carson) the soccer specific stadium is made available for high school or collegiate football (the 4 down kind).

    While the Chargers in Carson is a temporary situation, the fact is that the stadium has always hosted high school or collegiate football as well. It’s had the imprint of football lines on it at certain times of the year for as long as I can remember.

    That’s the great thing about a principle, it can be sacrificed on a whim when convenient.

    MLS doesn’t really care about the stadium being soccer only. What they care about is getting control of all the revenue streams (either directly or to their owner/operator).

    1. As the old joke about the politician goes: “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them … well, I can change them.”

  5. Seattle doesn’t have a “soccer-specific” stadium, yet the Sounders seem to have somehow managed to overcome that impediment with crowds routinely over 40,000 for years and an MLS championship team last year.

    I think John Bladen has it right: This isn’t about a stadium’s countours, it’s about control over a stadium’s revenue streams (and playing dates, too). Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati could easily house an MLS team but owners always want to be the landlord, not the tenant.

    1. Which is exactly why NFL owners getting their own MLS teams to then play in their existing NFL stadiums is okay with MLS. Seattle is the same circumstance as Atlanta: the local NFL team owner also owns the local MLS team. New England is the same thing too.

  6. And to these statements (talking about NFL owners also being MLS owners, what happens when the NFL owners sell the MLS team, or the NFL team changes ownership? Will MLS demand SSS then? Unless current NFL owners are willing to give up the MLS revenue when selling the team, it will most likely result in the MLS team seeking SSS.

  7. MLS has tried for years to get the New England team to build an SSS within Boston Urban core. Garber nor anyone outside of Atlanta knew there was such a demand for the beautiful game. It really is about revenue streams and control of playing dates. Also real soccer fans hate watching a game on a field all marked up with lines inconsistent with the sport.

    1. “Real soccer fans” ha. Almost every kid that grows up playing soccer did so on fields that had football lines on it. Almost every kid who grew up playing basketball did so on a court that had volleyball lines on it. Most people are used to it and don’t care. If you bring in the money UCLA does, there will be no volleyball lines. If you bring in Long Beach State money, you do. If you bring in MLS money, you live with football lines. The thirty-four “real soccer” fans who are bothered don’t get the million other people in the city to pay $100 million for a soccer-specific stadium.

      1. Perhaps I should have used the word purists. It’s about presentation and quality of play. Garber doesn’t care who pays for it as long as it gets done when necessary. It’s why the EPL was popular even when level of play was low. Presentation and atmosphere.

        1. The issue here is that MLS has a confusing message. Sometimes it is about “presentation”–though if you are a fan who actually wants to see the game you want to be at Cincy’s beautiful old stadium–designed for a pre-TV age to allow folks to actually see the game. Watching a game from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium is going to suffer by comparison no matter who owns the team.

          So which is it?–fair to say that revenue control is a sensible criteria for an MLS owner, not an MLS city. Even better–revenue control plus some plots of free land for “ancillary development” which has long seemed to be the MLS racket.

          MLS has long used the sincere but somewhat misplaced desires of the purists to achieve a business model that has absolutely nothing to do with quality of game presentation.

          1. Well that’s what Garber is saying. Each city and owership is different . As for NYCFC they tried to get a stadium in place and are still trying to do that. Believe me partnering with the Yankees or Mets wasn’t their first plan.

          2. I got to see two matches at Camp Nou this summer, and while it is a big old concrete pile with plain metal railings that reminded me of Shea Stadium, man is it a great place to watch soccer. Even from the upper deck, despite 99,000 seats.

          3. Amazing what stadium design gives you when it’s based on the Roman Colosseum. Your gladiator season ticket holders didn’t want suboptimal sight lines!

          4. MLS racket ? Free land for development ? Was this free land outside an impoverished area where land is basically free . Red bulls maybe but if it’s a Racket there must be at 10 other teams. Again non free to anyone land. Land that actually can be sold for more than a dollar. Please name all these land rich teams you speak of.

          5. The Braves , Rangers , Cardinals ,Cubs , Redsox , etc are not in MLS but have gotten some of those land rights you speak of.

        2. I would say you don’t know what you are talking about with the “EPL” (not a term used anywhere but here).

          When the quality of play was low (when? 1970s? 1980s? 1990?)–the “atmosphere” was often accompanied by serious violence, racist chanting, and plenty of other antisocial behavior. This actually pushed attendance to its lowest levels.

          As for presentation–any stadium in England built before 1990 was a dump at best and a deathtrap at worst. Field quality was often horrendous and the “amenities” nonexistent, and quite a few were prone to fires and panicked evacuations.

          Many of these stadia are amazingly still used today, and basically serve as a form of suffering for those hardy enough to buy tickets. Gillette Stadium they ain’t.

          So I guess I’m not really getting the “soccer specific” angle here.

          1. EPL only used on this site ? Really ? As for the soccer specific angle , those early NFL stadiums that MLS teams played in we’re often narrow and the stand farther away from the field. The move into stadiums design with soccer in mind has lead to better presentation and the crowd closer to the field has lead to better atmosphere.

          2. what specific epl stadiums are you talking about? Because of the Hillsborough incident, the safest stadiums in the world are probably in England. As for quality of play, England ruled the
            world until they got kicked because of Liverpool.

        3. When English teams couldn’t beat anyone in Europe????

          Are you talking about the 1960s, when the competition wasn’t really taken seriously yet? Or the 1970s/80s–when English teams won 6 in a row and came in second a couple times (to include such clubs as Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa)?

          They couldn’t beat anyone for five years because they were banned from European competition because of a number of awful stadium incidents!

          The kind of “atmosphere” enjoyed in England back then was often best enjoyed from expensive seats or a TV set.

          I agree that stadiums built since Hillsborough are quite nice. Those who got to spend an afternoon in Upton Park, White Hart Lane, or (still) Loftus Road might feel differently.

      2. Where I grew up there was plenty of basketball courts and tennis courts were used for soccer. BTW there were 70000 & thirty four at the last soccer game at an NFL stadium.

      3. So what you are saying is that when MLS makes NFL or MLB money then it’s okay to ask for taxpayers to hand over a billion dollars.

        1. No, I am pointing out the rather obnoxious way in which you are taking offense to something almost everyone who grew up here is used to seeing.

          Also, if an MLS team wants to build a soccer stadium, fine. Kroenke is building a Taj Mahal for tourists in LA because the locals aren’t that interested in the Rams. To each their own. Any one of those rich guys who want an MLS expansion team can do the same even after the locals have turned them down, and the field won’t have football lines. If they don’t build their own stadium, they have to live with the lines.

          1. Because I made the mistake of saying real soccer fans instead of purists , your offended and feel the need to attack me personally ? Gee wiz please don’t cry , I am sorry, Ha ha.

          2. It wasn’t a wording mistake. It was a statement where you think if it doesn’t look like it does in England, there is something wrong. That is not how most people in America view matters. People here haven’t rejected or been indifferent to soccer because it isn’t English enough. In places where soccer is a passion, there are stadiums where the fans are separated from the field by a fence, a running track, and police on horseback. It is not about the stadium. It is not about lines on the field. Most people know this. Feel free to think otherwise, but this process is about tax funded stadiums. It is unacceptable for such nonsensical arguments like yours about atmosphere and presentation to be given credence.

          3. I agree no stadium should be built with taxpayer money. Presentation however is very important in most businesses. A soccer game in a narrow field with NFL lines and a running track is just as bad as a football game in Wrigley Field. The one positive coming out of the Chargers playing in Stub Hub is how close the fans are to the action. BTW privately built. If the NFL stadium was designed with soccer in mind , like in Seattle, and Atlanta it’s acceptable.

          4. The Bears actually played at Wrigley Field for 50 years. Not that it’s ideal, but there is a precedent for fans being happy enough to go see teams play in odd geometries. (FC Cincinnati in Nippert is arguably a good example of this.)

            The only reason European football doesn’t have to deal with NFL dimensions is that American football doesn’t exist there. I know they play soccer at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, for example, and no one seems to mind.

    2. This is wrong. The MLS has tried to get Boston to build them a SSS in the city core. They’re rather not have the Revs spend any money on building it if possible.

      As of right now, Boston has repeatedly told them to pound sand, so the MLS is waiting for them to change their minds.

      1. No Wrong ! MLS has wanted Robert Kraft to build an SSS closer to the Urban core. If Boston didn’t build a stadium for the Patriots why would MLS expect a public subsidized stadium. Most MLS fans believe Kraft has no real interest in spending the money because he needs the game dates for the NFL stadium in summer months.

        1. Kraft might have thought he could get some public dollars when Boston needed a more local venue for their failed Olympic bid. Perhaps that’s what you remember.

        2. Boston isn’t building a soccer stadium in the core, and neither is Robert Kraft.

          Land prices are very high in the neighborhoods that have been discussed–even the harbor/South Boston area (discussed for the Olympics) is growing fast with GE, etc. If you have land in that area, you have plenty of folks who are willing to build income producing buildings on them. Soccer stadiums make basically no money at all in that market.

  8. Also many NFL stadiums have turf which leads the a soccer ball rolling too fast and therefore leads to missed passes and sloppy play.

  9. Watching soccer with other lines on the field is distracting. And watching a game on turf is not as good as a game on good grass. Having said that, none of these things are worth more than $60 million of the taxpayers money (if the MLS owner want to put up the money that’s fine).

    I watched the Colorado Rapids when they played in the old NFL stadium and now when they play in a MLS stadium. For me, the MLS stadium is a much nicer experience, and its a lot of fun when it is full. However, Seattle and Atlanta, with downtown stadiums have done really well, so, rock-on. Perhaps location is the key, and thus why New England looks poor. While I will always defend the taxpayers money first, one thing about MLS size stadiums is they are a good size for concerts, high school soccer finals, and HS football. So they can get more use than a huge NFL stadium.

    1. Agree. You must be one of 34 Mr. BW was referring to. Most SSS have been privately built. But as we’ve seen in multiple cities even when that’s the case they have still had trouble and the bashers come out from under their rocks.

    2. You want “distracting?” Try attending a cricket match at a football stadium with artificial turf that has football markings on it. I did that once and it was almost impossible to watch but when you’re a fan of a sport with nary a toehold in the country you’re in, be ready to live with less-than-ideal playing conditions. At least the wicket was true.

    3. An MLS team plays 17 homes games per year. According to Forbes, a team averages $31.7 million in total revenue, and the median is lower at $28.5 million because LA bumps up the average. How is $60 million (and many of the supposed expansion bids have asked for much more) a good investment for a local government? The tax revenue gathered is not great. Even with concerts and the odd high school football game (which other than a state title is probably not much of a revenue generator), the building is going to be empty, or near empty, 300 days per year.

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