MLS CONFIDENTIAL: Mexican purchase of Quakes nearly complete

By Ridge Mahoney, Senior Editor
Soccer America Magazine

Sources at Anschutz Entertainment Group and reports in the Houston press confirm that the long-negotiated purchase of the San Jose Earthquakes by Grupo Televisa, the Mexican conglomerate that counts Mexican team Club America among its holdings, has been finalized contingent upon the decision on where the team will play.

The surprise, though, is not that the deal has been completed, nor that the Quakes will play in Houston next season. Until, and if, a suitable stadium is built in Houston, the MLS team will play in the Astrodome, which sits next to the massive Reliant Stadium where the Houston Texans play and has been little utilized since the Astros, which had played there since 1964, moved to Minute Maid Park in 2000.

The Astrodome is used three weeks out of the year, from late February to early March, for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which according to the eventÆs Web site draws 2 million attendees each year.

In Reliant Stadium, which is climate-controlled and features a retractable roof, the Texans play on grass that is grown on eight-foot square trays and transported to the stadium. Whether the tray system will work in the Astrodome, which has a smaller configuration and a permanent roof, is being researched. There will also be conflicts during the football season unless additional grass can be grown to accommodate both facilities.

In addition to renovations of the facility itself, the Astrodome would need an artificial playing surface if a grass alternative canÆt be found. It underwent a $60 million expansion in 1989.

When the U.S. national team played Mexico in Reliant two years ago, sod was laid down in strips because the tray system wasnÆt in use. Preliminary meetings have been held regarding a proposal to build a soccer stadium, similar but smaller to the Frisco, Texas facility that opens in August, on property of the Houston Independent School District. Televisa officials have attended those meetings.

A source says Televisa will purchase the Quakes and move them to Houston rather than pay the $10 million expansion fee paid by CD Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake, and that the deal to buy the Quakes is part of a much larger partnership being forged by Phil Anschutz and Emilio Azcarraga Jean, who as CEO and president owns 49 percent of Grupo Televisa.

Televisa produces television, radio, Internet, and print content. It operates four television networks and owns, wholly or in part, nearly 225 affiliated stations. It also publishes several magazines, and last June reported in the fiscal year ending last December $2.63 billion in total sales and net revenues of $387.4 million. Televisa is the leading producer of Spanish-language content, much of which airs on Univision.

Through Grupo Televisa, Azcarraga owns the Spanish-language rights to the 2006 World Cup and Anschutz, through Soccer United Marketing (SUM), controls the English-language rights. Azcarraga and Anschutz are reportedly discussing all manner of World Cup coverage, from over-the-air broadcasts to cable telecasts to pay-per-view, as well as AzcarragaÆs ambitious plans to dominate Spanish-language entertainment in the United States.

Azcarrga has already partnered with Clear Channel Entertainment, which is in the process of being sold by its parent company, Clear Channel Communications. CCC announced in April that in the first quarter of 2005, its radio broadcasting revenue dropped 7 percent to $773.6 million and event revenue fell 17 percent to $424.5 million.

CCCÆs main rival in the staging of mega-events is AEG Live! Club AmericaÆs entry into MLS, should it occur, will add yet another twist to the clubÆs fierce rivalry with CD Guadalajara. The two most popular clubs in Mexico have played numerous friendlies in the United States during the past few decades, and Club AmericaÆs interest in the league dates from the initial inquiries of Guadalajara owner Jorge Vergara in early 2003.

CD Chivas USA has the leagueÆs worst record and is struggling at the gate. If it buys the Quakes, Club America will not start from scratch with an expansion team, as did Chivas.

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