Friday, May 4, 2012

MLS Relocation?

An Ocean of Blue Tarps
at Gillette Stadium
(Courtesy of Zenmama)
It's no secret that Major League Soccer (MLS) has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade; nearly doubling in size and adding soccer-specific stadiums (SSS) in almost every expansion market. Even original clubs like New York, Dallas, Chicago, Kansas City, and Colorado have moved into new stadiums during that period of time. The expansion franchise fee as ballooned from $10M a decade ago to potentially upwards of $100M with the 20th team, assuming it will be in New York City. But with so many positives going for it, there is a dirty little word that is making it's way around the MLS offices... relocation.

Every major sports franchise in America has experienced relocation during some if not all of it's history. Major League Baseball spent most of its early years with teams changing cities frequently and most recently the Montreal Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals (DC's third different MLB team in its history). The NBA has done it most recently with the Seattle Sonics and Charlotte Hornets becoming the OKC Thunder and New Orleans Hornets. And just last fall the NHL moved it's Atlanta franchise to Winnipeg where a team had been moved from 15 years prior to play in Phoenix. In each respective sport, a league sees a chance to grow through expansion but eventually they get to a point where previous markets are less profitable. MLS may be getting to this point sooner than a lot of people think.

We have talked about it on the blog before, even suggesting that a team like the Columbus Crew could relocate to Orlando or another Florida market in the next few seasons. In all honesty there are just a handful of teams in consideration for relocation:

1. Chivas USA
2. Columbus Crew
3. DC United
4. New England Revolution

Chivas USA is all but certain to relocate in the next few seasons assuming a stadium deal can be worked out in San Diego, Las Vegas, or Phoenix. Each of these cities have had private investors step forward and offer visions of a SSS for a new MLS franchise built with a combination of public-private dollars. Chivas currently shares the Home Depot Center in Carson with the LA Galaxy a team that has the stars and dollars to be the hot Hollywood item for the league. Chivas has a strong fan base, sitting in the middle of league attendance averaging a hair under 15k per match last season, so a move would ensure better than 15k a year numbers to make sense. San Diego and Phoenix have the population and local fan support to exceed this number, but Las Vegas is a bit of an unknown as no professional team currently resides in Sin City. There is an outside chance that if AEG is successful with your Farmers Field proposal for a 70k seat stadium in downtown LA they could move the Galaxy (owned by AEG) to that stadium and leave Chivas to the HDC. Regardless, the old model of two teams sharing a stadium in LA in MLS has come and gone and Chivas deserve their own spot light which they will get in the near future in my opinion.

Columbus  is a fantastic city with some of the best fans and original supporter groups in the league, but the franchise has grown tired. With shining new stadiums popping up across the league, Crew Stadium, the original SSS model has become a bit dated and lacking the important revenue stream of high-end luxury suites. The team is owned by Hunt Sports Group (HSG) who also own FC Dallas and previously owned Kansas City before selling off the brand. We've stated previously that HSG as aspirations of owning a England based franchise in the near future, selling the Crew is a likely scenario to gain the cash to make this move. Yes Ohio is a huge market, but Columbus isn't when you compare it to cities like Atlanta, Miami, or Tampa in the south that lack a professional team. Again, if an owner has a stadium plan approved in one of these southeast markets in the near future, I expect relocation and not further expansion to be the most likely option.

A few months ago, DC United would have been at the top of the list for relocation, and depending on who you talk to they still might be there. But recent changes in the lease deal (for the next two seasons) with DC Events and the United have ensured a longer period of negotiations with the District about a long awaited SSS inside the beltway. In my opinion, DC has the best supporters in the league from the original set of teams. The team have played in a rat-infested 50-year old hybrid baseball-football-soccer facility, but the fans continue to show up in numbers consistently averaging over 15k per match. I, however, think that getting a stadium built in DC is not going to happen. The city is still trying to figure out their bond rating after paying for a huge chunk of the Nationals new $611M park, I just don't see where they will come up with any money for a new SSS. Baltimore is the only option for United, MLS will not allow them to move out of the DC-Baltimore area because the fan base and history is far too strong and would be a PR nightmare for the league. Baltimore is ready, willing, and able to build a SSS downtown adjacent to the Ravens and Orioles stadiums, but only with a commitment from United and the league.

Why are the New England Revolution on this list? Consistently near the bottom for league attendance, no SSS or plans for an SSS, and a general lack of excitement for the team. I live in New England, I remember going to Rev matches back in the late 90's and there was an excitement for the team. They were one of only ten teams in the league and NY, LA, Miami and others came on a more regular basis and had some big name stars that added to the atmosphere. Back in the day there was Joe Max-Moore followed by Clint Dempsey a short time later. But for the last several seasons the fans, supporters, and general public have grown tired of the Revs. It seems crazy to think that the Boston area, or New England as a whole, would be left without a team, but it is possible. The most likely relocation would be from Foxboro to Boston, which to people outside of New England might think isn't a move, but it really is a big difference. If someone happened to get in Robert Kraft's ear and offer a good sum of money for the team there is no reason they couldn't relocate to the southeast to one of the previously mentioned markets. The league would have to approve the move, which they would only if they had plans for an expansion team in downtown Boston in the years to come. Relocating the Revs and putting a new expansion team downtown might answer the re-branding issue that the Revs would face with just moving there on their own.

So that's what I have on my radar for MLS relocation, what do you think? Let us know your thoughts on this piece and if there are any other teams we should be considering as well.

3 comments :

  1. Interesting thoughts on the Revolution. New Englanders are so loyal to their teams but soccer just hasn't caught on. Maybe an expansion team in Boston would revitalize the sport.

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  2. Chicago wasn't an original team-- expansion post 1 year... won it their first year in the league ;)

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  3. The Revs dont need to be relocated and expanded, They need a Soccer stadium and one is in the works off the boston blue line....just be patient the MLS will not give up the Krafts they would be stupid to let that money go...the krafts owned multiple teams helped the league survive in its darkest days. They will not lose their franchise.


    The krafts will build a stadium in the urban core after the Suffolk Downs Casino is approved, The casino will gift Wonderland dog track to revere who will then sell it to the krafts to build a 20k seat stadium off of the boston subway. Keep the name revs and rename them boston.

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