"We think that sports today, and beyond, absolutely have to be in venues that are absolutely perfect, as perfect as you can get for that sport," says Wolff, whose soccer stadium project cleared a political hurdle last week. He's also developing a stadium for his other sports team, the Oakland A's, to replace the Oakland Coliseum shared with the NFL Raiders. "The moment you try to have hockey and basketball, or football and soccer, you lose something. Occasionally for a huge game, you can use a huge venue, but our whole goal is the fan experience."
With Wolff in attendance, the Quakes played their official home opener at the Coliseum April 12, where a crowd of 20,038 watched them lose to Chicago, 1-0. They will also use the Coliseum this season for two visits by the Galaxy and one additional game.
The fan experience at Buck Shaw, a converted baseball facility built more than 40 years ago, will be low-key. The Bronco baseball team moved out only three years ago, and the long grandstand running parallel to what used to be the third-base line before it curves behind the corner flag/home plate couldn't be mistaken for anything else.
Yet Wolff authorized about $3 million in renovations and upgrades, more than double the cost he cited in December before work began, for a facility the team will most likely abandon in three years, when its own stadium near San Jose International Airport is scheduled for completion.
"Lew was kind of funny when I started asking about stuff I thought we needed," says general manager John Doyle, who played for and then assistant coached the original Quakes before their move to Houston in December, 2005. "When we first started talking, he asked me, 'Do you want to wait a year so we can get all this just the way you want it, or do you want to start playing now?'
"I said, 'I don't want to wait, I want to play.' But everything, or just about everything, we asked for, he's given us, and not just in regards to the stadium. That's just the kind of person he is."
Ticket prices for single games range from $20 to $60 at Buck Shaw, named after a college and professional football coach who played for the legendary Knute Rockne at Notre Dame. The stadium has been outfitted with bleacher seating that will increase capacity from 6,000 to approximately 11,500, a new scoreboard and video screen, a new grass field and adjacent practice field, and new locker rooms.
The grandstand will still have wooden benches and a cramped press box will have to suffice. It's not permanent, nor is it major league, yet the investment of Wolff and his partner John Fisher has bestowed upon the team a stability its predecessor, bandied from owner to owner during its tumultuous decade of existence, never had.
"We bought a franchise for $20 million and if it were to go to $100 million, I don't know what we'd do with it, but the quality of the ownership, excluding us, is terrific," says Wolff, who doesn't rate his operations in the same league as those of AEG, Hunt Sports Group, and other MLS investors. "The answer is: it's an asset-building play, and you can build the asset without gouging the public. If we hold true to our desire of attracting families at reasonable prices, I think we'll be very successful."
Said coach Frank Yallop, whose team plays at Real Salt Lake Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup and will train at Buck Shaw Friday, "We're not expecting it to be fancy but we know with Lew Wolff it will be as good as it can possibly be, and it's our home field. We can't wait."