By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (June 27, 2012) US Soccer Players -- It isn’t really a surprise to anyone that’s ever been to the former World’s Fair site in Flushing, Queens that Major League Soccer is targeting it for a soccer stadium. The link was already there even before the New York Mets built their new stadium. Previously home to Shea Stadium, now home to Citi Field and the US Open tennis campus with the 22.547-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium, the site makes too much sense to be left out of the conversation.
Now, it’s the focus for MLS expansion. In the New York City model, it’s stadium first and then investor-operator. Though the importance of the New York market shouldn’t be lost on anyone, MLS is pressing the point by taking the lead.
Fair enough, all things considered. Though what happens with the team in northern New Jersey 20 miles away from the proposed site in Queens is a serious issue that goes well beyond playing up a potential rivalry, MLS has openly committed to the concept that New York is not New Jersey. That’s not the National Football League position, and it speaks to a new understanding for what the League wants for itself.
As it stands, the Red Bulls are playing a New York-based team up as a very good thing. Maybe they’re right. It’s easy enough to make the Chivas USA situation not the example for two teams in the same city. Though their scope changed dramatically almost from the day they took the field, Chivas USA was designed with a focus on a link to the parent club. The name is unavoidable, after all. In direct competition at the gate with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA has never had much of a chance. It’s the old second tenant relationship that we used to see in the multipurpose stadiums all over the country and still see in some arenas. Even across sports, one team will always be the bigger draw. LA is famous for that scenario, and it doesn’t necessarily transfer to the Tri-State area.
There might be enough of a buffer between the Red Bulls and a New York City team to legitimately put the focus on the positives. After all, it’s not like the plans for MLS NYC call for a massive stadium that by nature would need to draw from all professional soccer fans in the region. There’s still a scale here, helped by the insistence on soccer-specificity. This isn’t the old Metrostars still trying to fill the Meadowlands while a New York located team shares a 40k-capacity baseball stadium in Queens.
It’s also not MLS attempting to plant a stadium as close to New Jersey as is theoretically possible. That was the real problem with Pier 40. In Queens, the two stadiums aren’t a walk to the same commuter train. That extra ten miles should mean a significant difference between the two brands, certainly more of a buffer than attempting to build a stadium on the Hudson River.
That’s the LA problem looming large. There’s no buffer between locker rooms in the same stadium, and both teams have to wonder what their attendances would look like if they were the only topflight soccer team in town. As expected, that’s led to rumors linking Chivas USA with a move away from the Home Depot Center. Again, it’s a question of a buffer. How far is far enough to limit the impact of the other club while still remaining viable?
With soccer-specificity now a moving target, we already know the dangers of building in suburbs and exurbs. MLS as an entity now works with a better set of information than they had when moving teams from established stadiums to new and usually outlying areas. Flushing is much closer to what the Dynamo has built in Houston. It’s the proximity to sites that the greater metropolitan area already associates with seeing live professional sports. In that situation, it’s not just soccer selling itself and that becomes a significant advantage.
Still, the Red Bulls have to be a major concern. This is an investor-operator that spent and spent again to do right by their vision for professional soccer in this country. Major League Soccer owes it to the team already using New York in their name to not allow what comes next to overshadow what their existing New York team has already built.
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