MLS Beat: To Build, or Not to Build

Need ancillary revenues? Tired of renting? Do it yourself!

At least four stadiums are in various stages of planning or discussion by MLS teams. A proposal by the Los Angeles Galaxy to build a soccer complex has caught the most attention. Los Angeles. Philip Anschutz routinely refuses to be interviewed or quoted and has turned down requests from Newsweek, "60 Minutes" and dozens of other media outlets, but to those whom he is most important, he is well known. When he strolled near the team bench at Lockhart Stadium just prior to a preseason exhibition match last February, the Galaxy players greeted him warmly. When Chris Henderson was a member of the Rapids in 1997, Anschutz offered the player use of the sprawling Anschutz ranch home near Denver for his wedding. As operator-investor of three MLS teams, all of which are in different stages of stadium planning, Anschutz (estimated worth: $16 billion) carries more clout than just about anyone else in MLS. Anschutz is one of the leading advocates among MLS operator-investors for an American women's league and envisions a Southern California complex that would serve as the Galaxy's home field as well as the U.S. national training center. Plans announced by the Galaxy cite a capacity of 25,000 for the main stadium. There would be a smaller stadium, as many as six training fields, a clubhouse and locker rooms within the facility. Galaxy president Tim Leiweke, who heads Anschutz's sports operation in Los Angeles, estimated the team would spend between $50 million and $60 million. But how a partnership between an MLS team and U.S. Soccer would work is unclear. The Galaxy has not declared its intention to build on the Carson site or anywhere else. Leiweke stated the team will not seek funds from either the city or nearby Cal State Dominguez Hills but did drop hints about wanting assistance regarding land, infrastructure and parking. Former MLS commissioner Doug Logan prodded the Anschutz Corp. to demolish the Forum - which it bought last year - and build on that site in the city of Inglewood, but Anschutz's vision of a state-of-the-art soccer complex has prompted him and Leiweke to inspect a half-dozen sites in Southern California. A helicopter flyover Jan. 14 - as reported in Soccer America - helped spur the pursuit of the Carson site. U.S. Soccer's solicitation of bidders for a training center prompted the Galaxy's March 15 announcement. The Galaxy is in the final option year of its Rose Bowl lease, and Leiweke has stated negotiations to extend that lease are continuing. League sources state the club's lease includes escalation clauses that sharply increase its costs as per-game attendances rise. Chicago. General manager Peter Wilt sets the odds for stadium possibilities this way: About 95 percent chance the team will be playing in a new home within three years, with that figure about evenly split between a joint arrangement with the Bears to play in a rebuilt Soldier Field and its own "Fire House." The remaining 5 percent? "We could move to Milwaukee," says Wilt, who maintains his permanent home there and rents an apartment in Chicago. In a serious vein, Wilt says of the dual possibilities, "I see it as two ways to win. For our fans, the amenities of a rebuilt Soldier Field would be second to none. We could downsize it to 35,000, but that doesn't really work. "We can generate sufficient revenues in a smaller stadium. Our [current] expenses aren't the problem. We need the revenues from other sources besides tickets, and we need a small stadium so we can create demand. "I think it's a mistake to build soccer stadiums in this country larger than 25,000." The Bears' project to rebuild Soldier Field carries a price tag of $400 million. Wilt said a decision would hinge on the actions of the state legislature during its sessions this fall. A location within the city limits has been chosen. If the rebuilding project is chosen by the Fire, it would be bumped out of Soldier Field for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Comiskey Park is among the alternatives. Colorado. Unlike the Fire, Colorado is working feverishly against a deadline. The wrecking ball hits Mile High next year, with the Broncos set to move into their new stadium in 2001. The Rapids are reportedly deep into the planning and construction of a stadium that would hold approximately 20,000 on a downtown location near the University of Denver. Team president Roy Kline said the team is not locked into a specific site, and is evaluating "a couple of options." But he admits he's concerned about 2001, since right now, the Rapids have only a few options, none of them attractive. "We could play at a few different sites, go to Boulder or Colorado Springs, or expand a facility in Denver with temporary seating," says Kline. "The new Mile High will be even bigger than the old one, not in terms of seats, but in terms of size. One of our typical crowds wandering around in there, it will look like a ghost town." General manager Dan Counce says the team may play in an expanded high school stadium for the early phase of the 2001 season and move into the new Mile High when it's ready. As for the future, he says, "It's very likely the Rapids will be playing in or building our own stadium within three years." MetroStars. Commissioner Don Garber likes to call himself "a Queens guy," which has nothing to do with poker. Rather, like those from the "Show-Me" state of Missouri, guys from Queens prefer nuts and bolts to song and dance. MLS's Queens Guy has to deal with a proposed second team in the MLS headquarters' backyard, perhaps right there in Queens itself. YankeesNets, the group that runs the baseball and basketball teams, has been having meetings on plans for a new sports complex in Newark, and the Metros have been permitted to tag along. Talks continue regarding renovation and expansion of the Mitchell complex on Long Island. Metros operator-investor Stuart Sobotnik initially bought an expansion option intending to locate a team on Long Island, but at the March 15 MLS Gala in New York he announced he is instead looking to place a second team within the city limits. Metros GM Nick Sakiewicz doesn't believe a second team within the city limits would affect Metros attendance. "The New York fans are just as pissed off as the New Jersey fans about how bad we've been," he said. "S*** soccer is s*** soccer, no matter where it's played. "For our fans, what they complain about more than anything else - aside from our record - are two things: Parking, and public transportation." Metros fans must pay $10 per car to park at the Meadowlands, and public transport is a no-brainer, since there isn't any. Newark, about six miles away, offers subway and train access. "From that standpoint, Newark is ideal," said Sakiewicz. The Metros are also desperate to escape their Meadowlands lease, which costs the team approximately $1.2 million per year. The New Jersey Sports Authority, which manages the Meadowlands complex, has made noises about erecting a soccer stadium within the current complex. "That's an option," said Sakiewicz, ever the diplomat. by Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney
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