Major League Soccer desires to be one of the premiere leagues in the world by 2022, and many of the league’s teams have their own soccer specific stadiums (Kansas City, Houston, New York) or are on the way, (San Jose). Orlando will likely get one as they enter the league in 2015, along with NYFC, Miami will also be looking to bring a team into the league over the next five years, an expansion team, could be looking at a picturesque stadium to prospectively host its’ expansion team.
Seattle fans have long talked about wanting the Sounders to have to have a soccer specific stadium, unfortunately, that is all it will ever be.
The Paul Allen Connection
Paul Allen is a minority owner of the Seattle Sounders, and many would see this as a boon to the possibility of the Sounders getting a soccer specific stadium. Yet, Allen owns the Seattle Seahawks, and is the prime reason the Seattle Seahawks remained in Seattle in the late 90’s, and the sole reason, I would argue, Century Link Field was built. Mike Gastineau revealed there was a much deeper connection to soccer in his book,
With the Allen connection, the Sounders share many of the Seahawks employees through the Vulcan Inc. and are able to use the resources of the NFL team to its advantage. The Sounders have the advantage of using marketing and promotional ideas which originate on the NFL side and parlay them into success on the MLS side. This partnership also aligns the team with First and Goal, who operates the stadium at a cost of $6 million per year. Through this connection the team gets to use Century Link Field rent free, meaning they keep the money made from their games at nearly 100%.
The number one reason Seattle will not have a soccer specific stadium in the next 20 years is the fact the team used Century Link Field rent free. What other teams are able to have an evolving and expanding stadium, which you are regularly able to expand and sell out multiple times a year. In 2012 the team opened up three regular season games and an exhibition game against Chelsea, in 2013 the team opened up all 67,000 seats for 4 regular season games and two over 60,000, including Clint Dempsey’s home debut against Portland.
Seattle announced at their annual business meeting, there would be 5 regular season games opened up for the year, meaning the team will likely move above an average of 45,000 fans per game in 2014.
Building a stadium costs money. A LOT of money.
Exactly 1165 people in the world have enough money to build the stadium by themselves. That is less than one tenth of one tenth of one percent of the worlds population.
The cost to build a similar stadium although smaller and enclosed in the Seattle area to house and NBA and NHL franchise by billionaire Chris Hansen, is estimated to cost $490 million. This is almost three times the valuation of the entire Sounders organization, and would seat only around 20,000 fans. This could mean the costs to build a dedicated soccer stadium in the same area, near a billion dollars. In area where real estate is at a premium, and acres of land are not easily had near the downtown area, building a new stadium would require a massive investment by not only the owners and team, but the community as well.
The team’s current training complex at Starfire Sports, 20 minutes south of Seattle, would not be a suitable location to build a new stadium as it lies in the middle of a flood plain for the Green River. The team would have to find a suitable location which could hold a stadium for 40,000 people and likely have to build the infrastructure to support the game day crowd in the form of roads, highways, and additional public transportation option (light rail, train, bus, ferry) needed to handle crowds of this size.
A new stadium would require some type of public contribution, and while there is much support for the Sounders, there is no sign there would be support from the political factions needed to move a arrangement forward. Seattle recently faced a possible new stadium in the area where both Century Link Field and Safeco Field sit, and there has been stiff opposition from day one, from the Port of Seattle, which is located in the vicinity. On top of this potential road block, several political supporters of this arena, lost bouts for re-election this past November, including the mayor of Seattle.
Starting the process to build a new stadium would immediately cut into the $40 million dollar revenue stream the team had in 2012, which will likely be much higher for 2013. The team or owners would have to first acquire the real estate needed to build a stadium, deal with environmental impact studies, traffic impact in an already snarled area,
The cost to build a smaller enclosed arena in the Seattle area to house and NBA and NHL franchise by billionaire Chris Hansen, is estimated to cost $490 million. This is almost three times the valuation of the entire Sounders organization, and would seat only around 20,000 fans. This pushes the price tag to build a dedicated soccer stadium in the same area, near a billion dollars.
By looking at available land, the stadium would not be able to be built in downtown Seattle. This would immediately change the dynamic of the stadium, many fans live in the Seattle metro area, and are able to walk, bike, take a short bus, or light rail ride of 30 minutes or less to the stadium. Putting the stadium outside of the downtown corridor, means many of these same fans would have to drive or find other ways, (not currently built) on game days.
With a team which averages over 40,000 fans a game, would you cap a stadium at 45,000? 50,000? The team announced at their annual business meeting, there would be 5 regular season games opened up for the year, meaning the team should cross the 45,000 fan mark in 2014. Seattle is yet to have a true down year in its five year history, so the impact of that type of season would have on attendance has yet to be tested.
The design work needed, would be one of the toughest challenges for the architects. Century Link Field is designed to amplify the noise made by the crowd, make no mistake about it, this design adds to the atmosphere of the stadium, as do the 44,000+ attendance.
Seattle did discuss the addition of a residency program for the organization during the annual business meeting. The details of what this will entail are unclear, but building a stadium with a training complex and residency program incorporated into the design would make logical sense. This means there could be residences/dormitories, training fields, and office complexes, on campus and locating them near Century Link Field would be a challenge fiscally and logistically. With the likely location to be near the current Starfire location, where the possibility of some growth exists.
Support Is Strong
The Sounders are rolling in the money, they have recently struck a new deal with local Seattle station Q 13 Fox, and while the details of the agreement have yet to surface, in all likely hood it will continue to provide cash to Seattle’s current revenue streams. The team has the financial backing to build a stadium privately, and as the team’s primary owner Joe Roth has an estimated value of over $700 million. They have also been valued as the richest franchise in MLS which bodes well if there is a desire to build a soccer specific stadium in the emerald city.
Ultimately the price tag will be too steep for the long term health of the team both financially as well as in fan support. Taking the stadium out of the downtown hub of Seattle with easy access to light rail, major bus lines, and a north and south train line, Century Link Field is too prime of a location to think there may be a better location elsewhere.