The Search for the Next Big Thing: MLS Facility Planning

Columbus Crew Stadium

Most MLS stadium stories of late have centered on expansion bids, but the league has a handful of existing teams that need to resolve their facility situations. Those situations are very much in flux at this point but could have major implications for the league once they are settled. To consider the ins and outs of each pursuit, we are providing an overview of ongoing MLS stadium searches.

Only active teams that have been credibly reported to be seeking new facilities are highlighted in this story. That is not to say that more clubs could be on the search for new facilities in the near future (yes, rumors of a new Seattle stadium pop up now and again), but for now these are the teams that are widely known to be in the midst of stadium searches. The range includes a club that could be on the move, and two others who have been embarking on stadium searches within their current markets.

Columbus Crew SC

Current Home: MAPFRE Stadium

Doubts about whether the Crew will get a new home in the coming years have dwindled, but the question is where it will be built. Club investor-operator Anthony Precourt announced last fall that he was exploring a move to Austin, with the potential relocation taking place as early as 2019 and a new stadium opening in 2021. After considerable debate, the Austin City Council voted in August to approve the term sheet for an agreement that would allow Precourt to build a privately financed stadium at the city-owned McKalla Place, but that does not mean that the Crew will relocate.

It was announced in October that Haslam family, owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, and the Columbus-based Edwards family were negotiating to keep the Crew in Columbus. If those negotiations are successful, Precourt will remain an MLS investor and be granted rights to a team in Austin. Any scenario to keep the Crew in Columbus will likely require upgraded facilities—including a replacement for the aging MAPFRE Stadium—so it remains to be seen whether an agreement can be reached.

New England Revolution

Current Home: Gillette Stadium

The Revolution have played in Foxborough, MA’s Gillette Stadium—also home to the NFL’s Patriots—since it opened in 2002, but the club has desired a soccer-specific stadium for years. Problems with a shared MLS/NFL arrangement tend to arise from having the clubs under separate ownership groups, but that is not an issue in this case, as the Revolution and Patriots are both backed by the Kraft family. Rather, Gillette Stadium’s large configuration and suburban setting standout as contrasts in a league where soccer-specific stadiums in urban areas are becoming the norm.

Therefore, the Revolution is expected to pursue a soccer-specific stadium in, or at least closer, to Boston, but no firm plans have emerged to this stage. Land is at a premium in Boston, and the city has historically not been inclined to fund professional sports facilities, so it will likely take time for a new MLS stadium to become a reality.

New York City FC

Current Home: Yankee Stadium

New York City FC has played at Yankee Stadium since its inaugural 2015 season, but that was always intended to be a temporary measure. While the owners of the Yankees are invested in the club, the overlap in MLS and MLB seasons creates scheduling challenges, and Yankee Stadium has never been an ideal environment for professional soccer.

Much like the Revolution, NYCFC has had to grapple with how to develop in a city with high costs for land and a likely stipulation of private financing. Several proposals around New York City’s five boroughs have come in gone over the years, and a bid to construct a new stadium on land at Belmont Park was passed over last December in favor a development that includes a New York Islanders (NHL) arena. Although reports over the summer indicated that the club could be looking to construct a stadium as part of a larger development in the Bronx, no firm plans have emerged to this point. If/when it does become a reality, a new NYCFC soccer-specific stadium in New York City could be a showpiece for MLS.

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August Publications