Soccer in America: Creating Soccertown, USA

Follow-up Post: Creating Soccertown, USA Part 2


What would it mean to US Men’s National Team to have an atmosphere at home like Wembley or Azteca or even Saprissa?

For the USMNT, playing on American soil doesn’t mean a stadium full of supporters. All too frequently it means that the crowds will be just less hostile than if the game was played on the home turf of their opponent. Although not surprising, it is a shame. The reasons for the home field disadvantage are many and well known, so I won’t go into those. The more important question is what can be done?

We need more of this...a lot more.

We need more of this...a lot more.

One could take the “rising tide lifts all boats” approach and assume that as soccer continues to gain momentum in the US more American fans will flood the stadiums on game day for the USMNT. However, the tide is rising steadily, but not fast. Another approach could be to creatively “direct” to whom tickets go by requiring multiple game purchases (like some NFL teams do). That wouldn’t work as US Soccer would take a hit politically as well as in wallet as attendance could potentially plummet.

I like an all-together different approach—stop moving games around. Develop the fan base in one city and designate the two stadiums in that city (the 70,000+ NFL stadium and the 18,000+ MLS stadium) as US Soccer National Stadiums. I know many of the soccer super-powers move the game around (including Brazil, Germany, Spain and Italy) but soccer is the national sport in those countries and geographically they aren’t nearly as vast as the US.

With the competing professional sports, inferior CONCACAF competition and games constantly on the move, US fans aren’t inclined to follow the team around the country. Since the beginning of 2006 the USMNT has played games in 19 cities —San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Cary (NC), Nashville, Cleveland, E. Hartford, Phoenix, Tampa, San Jose, Boston, Chicago (2 locations), Houston, NYC, Washington (DC), Columbus, Seattle and Salt Lake City (9/5). (Yes, some are Gold Cup sites.)

What are they, the circus?

This disjointedness seems to be part of the plan as US Soccer is based in Chicago, the National Training Center is near Los Angeles (Carson) and another developmental center is near Dallas (Frisco) attached to soccer-only stadiums, Home Depot Center and Pizza Hut Park, respectively. It is good for US Soccer to encourage the opening of soccer-only stadiums around the country as growth opportunities (see: Facility Development Initiatives [Edit: This link is broken following the redesign of ussoccer.com on 8/5] ), but that doesn’t mean that the USMNT has to play in them.

The growth of soccer in the US will come via the success of the national team, television and (hopefully) a better quality MLS product. Having the USMNT come to your town may generate some buzz, but is not a great strategy, especially if it is to the detriment of the support of the team on the field.

So pick a city, make a ten-year commitment, market the hell out of the squad and coordinate the various supporter groups (Sam’s Army, American Outlaws, US Soccer SC). Then when it comes time for friendlies, qualifiers and cups, put the game in the NFL stadium for big draws and the MLS stadium for smaller ones.

Perhaps the hardest thing is deciding who gets the honor—not due to the right demographics and interest, but unfortunately due to the money and politics. Let’s assume politics aren’t in play and start with the above list. (Let’s also assume winter weather is not a factor as only two games are typically played in January and February.)

San Diego, San Francisco, Cary (NC), Nashville, Cleveland, Tampa, San Jose, Houston, Washington (DC), Seattle, Columbus, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles don’t meet the stadium requirements of having both a soccer-only stadium and a state-of-the-art NFL stadium. (Before someone comments about the Rose Bowl, I’d like them to sit on those aluminum seats in 90-degree weather…it’s not a state-of-the-art stadium.)

Questionable support based on MLS / national team attendance (save games versus Mexico) would knockout Boston and Dallas. And I am going eliminate Seattle due to its (far) location and weather. [Edit: Seattle doesn’t have a soccer-only stadium and won’t anytime soon.]

That leaves us with Denver, New York, Houston and Chicago.

I have lived in New York and Denver so I can make their cases:

New York has the largest metropolitan area in the country and will have two brand new stadiums by fall of 2010. The issue with NY is that saturation of sports with 9 pro sports teams in the metro area. There is a big international population which is good for overall attendance, but I question the American support.

Denver is a relatively small metropolitan area, but a rabid sports town along with stronger soccer programs. It would also be a great destination for visiting fans and its stadiums are relatively new and located near downtown. The altitude could also be a positive as well.

Houston and Chicago I am going to need some help on, but I’ll start their cases:

Houston will soon begin construction of a downtown soccer-only facility and has shown strong support for its successful MLS team.

Chicago is the home of US Soccer, but has a smaller, “large stadium” (Soldier Fields max capacity is 60,000) and of the fourhas the most questionable weather.

I think one city is the way to go, but the case could be made for a rotation of two or three; certainly not more than that. If it’s three, pick east coast, middle and west coast locations (with LA re-entering the fray.)

As the USMNT grows in stature it deserves to have a true home field advantage based on the vociferous support of a pro-American crowd. Grow the sport by wins and television, not by 9,000 people at a time watching a game versus Sweden in a half-empty stadium.

(What do you think?…comment below and vote on the poll to the right.)

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23 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/05 at 2:40 PM

    Interesting post — I’m going to need more than a day to think about your plan….before I’m critical of it. :>

    I think it is one solution.

    Some quick thoughts without any rhyme or reason:

    – Cmon Mark, you can’t put the US Stadium that close to Mexico — that’s just not going to work. You’re asking for trouble.

    – Eliminating Seattle due to location–what’s the location criteria besides being in the U.S.–and weather?! Try playing Gold Cup games in Houston….during the summer! That being said, Seattle presents a compelling option. Reason being:

    1) The Seattle Sounders are the model franchise in the MLS — I believe they’ve soldout all their games…true?
    2) The NorthWest — home of Kasey Keller! — are fanatics about soccer — even with Portland 2 hours away, the Portland Timbers have formed for soccer play and the Sounders don’t expect fan loss.
    3) Lack of choice — Houston has the Rockets, the Texans, and Astros. Seattle just has the Seahawks and the Mariners — so the only true competition is the Mariners on any given Saturday.

    …I need to noodle on this one, but some other considerations are obviously revenue (for funding the team) and proximity (which may rule out Seattle) to Europe with more and more U.S. players having to come back from overseas for games.

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/05 at 3:31 PM

      Matt,

      In your thinking about my plan, research the attendance at the recent Gold Cup match played in Seattle. Besides, I goofed…Seattle doesn’t have a soccer-only stadium. In addition, let’s see how the Sounders look a few years out, every team does well in attendance their first year, especially when your basketball team was stolen.

      Mexico will travel well anywhere. The point is to build US support, not just move the games far from the border.

      Reply

  2. Posted by aupamexi on 2009/08/05 at 4:23 PM

    i got to agree… US soccer needs to grow… but its almost impossible because nobody cares about it. americans only love winners… US is far from that status in world soccer…. do not use the cofederations cup example.

    “Mexico won it in 1999 and is still just average”

    Because on any given day any team can win in soccer…. a lucky call, lucky bounce, bad defending, lucky shot, player being sent off… all can but examples…

    A team needs to win consistently and win the big games and tourneys.

    look mexicans showed up in force in New York…. far from Mexico.. its true Mexicans always go were mexico plays… fifa named mexico in the top 5 best supported countries.

    Why ….Soccer is the only sport in these countries.. its just to hard for soccer to stand on its own with football and baseball.

    I bet you follow football and baseball teams, too? see thats a problem too.

    soccer in the world is a religion almost, its life, it the only thing.

    Reply

  3. […] 5, 2009 by Bob There is an interesting proposal over at The Shin Guardian about having the US National Soccer team pick a particular city as its “home base” for an […]

    Reply

  4. Interesting thought.

    My approach would be a hybrid of this, with a limited stadium set, maybe four: NY, LA, Chicago, and Houston.

    What’s nice about that is you are able to showcase the team in the different regions of the country, without the pain of deciding only on one. Also, this would allow for the training camps, home office, and the need to play to the largest population centers (LA, NY).

    And, with that you get 4 football stadiums, and 5 SSP stadiums, correct?

    Win-win all around.

    Thanks for the great post, BTW.

    — Sean

    Reply

  5. Posted by Justin on 2009/08/05 at 10:24 PM

    Why so quick to discount So Cal?

    If the recent Barca friendly is any indication So Cal has MAJOR soccer “pull” power … sure lots of those fans are unlikely to be supporters of the US team (at the start) given your model I can see many of them being “converted” if the US continue to improve.

    I think people can get over the Rose Bowl (and there is nothing to say that US Soccer can’t pump some money in that place to improve it??? Why not?)

    Further, given that Home Depot (Carson) is the training center and an amazing soccer-only facility it only makes sense.

    However I’d be in favor of a 2-3 city stagegy. We aren’t England we simpley can’t play at one big location … but I think a LA/DC/NYC triagle would be great.

    Heck, DC which is really DC, MD, VA and even some WV, PA even DE (Delaware) has RFK … and close by FedEx (in MD with over 91k) … also VA,WV,DE for that matter have NO major sports teams and from growing up in VA (in the DC Metro area) I know everyone plays soccer as a kid and that area has a pretty big built in market.

    What a great place to grow the US game where there is a need for more pro sports teams?

    So think about it, LA, DC and NYC … all really easy places to get a flight to, and areas with plenty of hotels, good transport (‘cept LA) … you can mix and match the areas with the weather (You don’t want to be in DC in July/Aug!)

    Reply

  6. Posted by Markus on 2009/08/06 at 11:58 AM

    Seattle !

    Reply

  7. Posted by Soccer fan on 2009/08/06 at 2:55 PM

    I was just thinking about this the other day since CONMEBOL qualifiers are coming up and all the home teams are selling out their “National” stadiums. I would say Denver or Chicago where the elements are a factor and fans can fly in easily. Although DC would be a good choice as well since it is in the capital. I DONT think moving around all the time is the best choice. No successful national team does that as far as I know.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Adam on 2009/08/07 at 11:44 AM

    Seattle. I went up there to see the Quakes play and it was awesome. They basically did everything right. The atmosphere outside the stadium before the match is rad: marching band, food vendors, easy to walk around.

    And even the management of the Sounders did it right. The scarves are everywhere on game day. You can see people in jerseys all over the place. It’s a great time…and it’s right downtown. Definitely will have the fan base there to show support for the USA. That’s my two cents.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/07 at 11:48 AM

    Stay tuned…Part 2 is coming tomorrow which addresses the comments and the poll.

    Reply

  10. […] was some great feedback on the Soccer in America: Creating Soccertown, USA via the comments section, the poll and a blog post over at Soccer Soap […]

    Reply

  11. […] Simmons questions why the US doesn’t have a national stadium in Soccertown USA. (Sound familiar?) […]

    Reply

  12. Posted by kaya on 2009/08/28 at 12:12 AM

    f*#!
    Why can’t it be San Francisco?
    Besides the reasons you gave.
    In seriousness, saying NY isn’t a good option because it’s “too international” is BS. It’s part of the reason I think a place like SF would be great. The problem with the bay area is that the soccer is in San Jose. Bull feces!

    Reply

  13. Posted by Dan on 2009/08/30 at 8:32 AM

    This discussion is disappointing in the fact that creating one or two cities to host Nats team games will shut out millions of soccer fans that are not geographically close. Yes we all want massive US support at out national team games, but the reality is that we are a much larger country than most nations that have one specific stadium to host their games. You cite Germany and Brazil as two counties that rotate stadiums… they are a few of the nations geographically large enough to have to do that.

    I want to reward cities for having passionate soccer fans… I really do. That’s why they get MLS teams, big matches with overseas clubs, AND Nats games. There are many who would love to have the Nats play in their town and the discussion of that in this thread is evidence that we cannot shut out all of the candidate cities (and others).

    Even though it splits our fan base to move the games around the number one objective is to attract more fans. If the game is in Chicago nearby fans will go there and the ones who want to travel from their corner of the country will go. That is the same situation that would occur if you located the Nats stadium in one place as well. Locals come out (in force like they do for any game) and those who can travel will. Those who wouldn’t travel wouldn’t and then you have limited your fan options once again.

    Not to mention the logistical problem of having one stadium (that I just thought of while writing)… international dates are set and since we’re trying to take an NFL stadium for games what happens when the int’l calendar falls on a home NFL game?

    In closing a moving target stadium location opens the game to more Americans which is the ultimate goal. Does it limit some access geographically? Yes. But having a stadium in one or two places all the time will restrict that more than any rotation policy. Its why we move the World Cup!

    Thanks.. great blog… good discussion.

    Sincerely,
    Free Beer Movement
    “Bringing soccer fans and non-soccer fans together through free beer”

    Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/08/30 at 2:58 PM

      Dan, thanks for taking the time to comment. It is great to see such passion out of the fan base.

      As the discussion here progressed, I moved away from the “one-city solution” in favor of a three city rotation (east coast, west coast, somewhere in the middle) However, where we ultimately disagree is in the “ultimate goal”. For me, it is to create an advantage for the team by a raucous (mostly) pro-American crowed rather than opening the game up to more Americans. That’s not to say it is an unimportant goal to expose this great game to more Americans, but the best way to do that is through a winning program.

      Now, tell me more about the Free Beer Movement.

      Reply

  14. Posted by Dan on 2009/08/30 at 3:34 PM

    Spot on with your last comment about creating winning teams. It’s a classic chicken and egg problem; atmosphere equals winning or winning brings great fan support. I’m not totally sure of where I stand in that occasion. I guess my biggest worry is not having access to the National Team when they play!

    As for the Free Beer Movement, I’m concerned with bringing the fan to the game side of our debate. I can’t do anything about Bob Bradley’s tactics, but I can do something about empty seats at soccer stadiums. The FBM centers around having the soccer fan, the fanatic, the obsessed, the I-will-be-there-because-it’s-soccer-fan to take that passion and use it to market the sport. I think sometimes as soccer fans we’re very concerned about debating and watching soccer with other soccer fans, but not about getting more people into that conversation.

    What the FBM does is ask the soccer fan to try and bring other people to games and expose them to the sport on the off-hand chance they too will become fans. That can sometimes be a hard sell, so we’re pushing for you (as a kinda soccer ambassador) to buy that friend a beer. Almost everyone likes free beer so why can’t we use that as a motivating factor (read: pay off) to get the casual sport fan (who just might be open minded but under-exposed to the sport). Even if you take 10 people and one or two go back to the stadium next time that’s one or two more people that would have never gone without a little push. The site itself is home to that idea and we’re hoping to use it as a base for soccer fans to get together and push the idea and report back to its success (or failure). The site is also a place to track the growth of the American soccer scene in our culture through highlight news stories and providing our own content.

    In the end if US Soccer, MLS, USL, etc are to be successful they need more economic clout and with more people in the stand they have that clout to become more successful in player development, infrastructure improvements, etc.

    Our site is just the home of that idea… a place to promote the idea that soccer fans should not be the same type of person as the Star Trek convention guys … we need to be social, we need to spread the love of this sport beyond our niche market. Love it or hate it soccer needs more fans and I’d much rather have soccer fans defining the sport to their friends and family they bring rather than having Dave O’Brien or Jim Rome defining it for them.

    I’d love to talk some more and work with your blog to promote each other’s site. Love the writing here. E-mail me at: freebeermovement@gmail.com.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/08/30 at 4:33 PM

      Dan, Mark’s brother here. Good commentary.

      First of all I wish that they had the free beer movement as motivation to make early classes at college. I would have gotten a bunch of free beer.

      Second, you know Frankie Hedjuk should be your spokesman, rights?

      Thanks for weighing in our publication and I’ll keep checking out your blog.

      Best,
      Matthew

      Reply

    • Posted by Mark T on 2009/09/01 at 9:53 AM

      Dan, nothing like a simple, but brilliant idea. — I love beer…check. I love soccer…check. What would happen if we put those together? Good times…that’s what’ll happen.

      You make a great point about the economic clout. MLS can’t play with the big boys until it pays big boy money.

      As for US Soccer, check out this article. The author basically says that US Soccer punts on trying to sell-out qualifiers (if it would mean support for the foreign side) because the real money is in the WC.

      http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=670376&sec=us&root=us&cc=5901

      Not sure how I feel about the article yet, but I may write on a post on it.

      Thanks for the compliment. We’ll be in touch.

      Reply

  15. Posted by Joe on 2009/08/31 at 12:41 PM

    I would add Philadelphia to the list though they don’t have as much experience as some of the other cities with hosting matches. They have Lincoln Financial Field and coming soon a soccer-specific field for the Philadelphia Union. It makes a nice middle ground for DC, Baltimore and New York and isn’t horrible from the New England states. It is the birthplace of America and Philadelphia is rabid for its sports. Throw the SOB’s a bone for their efforts at gaining a team and supporting the USL-2 Harrisburg City Islanders from time-to-time and you have the potential for some hardcore supporters.

    Reply

  16. […] Soccertown debate aside and unless I am missing something, it seems like the USSF “selects” locations for […]

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  17. […] takes on the beautiful game, soccer history and issued one of our most popular piece’s “Soccertown, USA.” Those that don’t know, Mark was on this soccer stadium/Soccertown USA soccer tip long […]

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  18. […] Tagged: Soccertown USA, Stadium. 14 Comments Back in August, TSG explored the idea of creating “Soccertown USA” — one city where the USMNT would play all of its games. In that piece the following was […]

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