While soccer-specific stadiums are the league-mandated trend, MLS Commissioner Don Garber says the league could adjust its model in some circumstances after the huge numbers posted in Atlanta.
The trend for many new MLS stadiums now is to be designed as soccer-specific. This often means offering seating capacities of around 20,000 to 25,000, amenities that are designed with the sport in mind, and allowing clubs greater control over revenue. This is true of many venues that have debuted in recent years–including the new Orlando City SC stadium that opened this spring–and will be the case for upcoming facilities such as Banc of California Stadium (Los Angeles FC), Audi Field (D.C. United), and Allianz Field (Minnesota United FC).
Yet, there are exceptions to that rule, as some clubs share NFL facilities, and New York City FC uses Yankee Stadium with MLB’s New York Yankees. While teams like New England Revolution and NYCFC have sought to construct their own soccer-specific stadiums, both Seattle Sounders FC and Atlanta United FC are finding success in NFL venues. Seattle is perennially a top-drawing team in the league at CenturyLink Field, and United FC just set the single-game attendance record at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for a standalone MLS match.
When asked recently if Atlanta’s success could alter the league’s stance on soccer-specific stadiums going forward, Garber told the Orlando Sentinel “The good thing about being new and trying to figure it out as you go along is you have a specific plan and then there are times when you have to modify that plan. I think good business leaders and good businesses, ya know, don’t just get stuck in their previous strategies but try to evolve and see how things develop.”
He also pointed to Atlanta owner Arthur Blank‘s commitment to making soccer at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a success. More from The Orlando Sentinel:
If ownership groups present a different, viable option, MLS will make exceptions. That was the case with Mercedes-Benz Stadium, pitched to the league by Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Falcons and Atlanta United.
“We really wanted a soccer stadium here and Arthur said, ‘Hey, this stadium I’m going to build is going to be the best in the world, it’s going to be world class, we’re going to fill it up.’ And he did,” Garber said. “So, I don’t know that that changes our point of view in any other market, but certainly when I see what’s happening here and in Seattle I’m happy that we have stadiums that can have 70,000 people in ’em.”
There have been some signs in recent years that MLS is inclined toward soccer-specific stadiums. The Wilf family–owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings–attempted to land an MLS expansion club that would have shared US Bank Stadium with the Vikings, but MLS instead opted in 2015 to select a bid led by Bill McGuire that included a new soccer-specific stadium. Many current MLS expansion pitches are also making soccer-specific stadium a priority, providing evidence that the trend is not slowing down.
Image courtesy Atlanta United FC.