Major League Soccer's Future: Not In the Suburbs

By Adrian Duyzer
Published August 05, 2010

An alert soccer fan sent us a link to this fascinating article by Max Bergmann, a self-described "avid Tottenham and DC United fan", writing for a website called Association Football.

In the article, he examines why suburban soccer stadiums fail to draw as many fans as urban stadiums, even when the suburban stadiums are newer and dedicated to soccer.

The hard fact that MLS must come to realize is that even if you build it (a new soccer-specific stadium) they still may not come. Now there are many contributing factors for these differences in popularity – from cultural elements in these cities, to successful management and marketing, to on the field success, but the fact is that the location of new stadiums really matter. Colorado plays in the middle of nowhere, while DC plays in the city center located on two metro lines. The fundamental lesson that MLS must learn is that its future is not in the burbs but in the cities.

If you look around the league where the crowds are strong they are all teams with stadiums in urban locations – Seattle, New York, Toronto, DC, and Los Angeles. The teams with disappointingly low attendance are almost all due to teams with stadiums in the suburbs.

Not only do suburban based teams do more poorly at the gates than urban ones, but by strategically catering to a suburban clientèle they also fail to develop an intense and passionate fan base that is vital to penetrating local sports culture and ancillary revenues – like jersey sales. By building stadiums in the middle of nowhere, these franchises may have doomed themselves to cultural irrelevance within their respective cities for the next quarter century.

Bergmann posits three reasons for why suburban soccer stadiums fail. First, suburban families are less reliable ticket-purchasers than urban fans - they have less leisure time and are more prone to skip games due to poor weather.

Second, when you put a stadium in a suburb, you tend to make it much further away from other, populous suburbs. You may delight suburban fans who happen to live near the stadium, but you'll lose the suburban fans who live on the opposite end of town. Urban locations are by definition centrally located.

Third, you stop attracting people from downtown. Suburbanites are already accustomed to traveling downtown (and to other suburbs), for example, by commuting to work. But urbanites are much less likely to travel to the suburbs.

The entire article is worth a read.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted August 05, 2010 at 23:26:59

The success of many centrally located stadiums is often due to the fact that attending the game becomes part of the urban social scene. But in the suburbs, if you drink at the game, someone has to drive back, which means that going to a game is not something that 20 somethings looking to party on a Saturday are going to do regularly.

This touches on something that I'm surprised hasn't really been mentioned very much. The fact of the matter is, a lot of people attending both soccer and football games want to have a drink or two during the game. And with prices the way they are, I'm sure a big chunk of the Cats' revenue comes from those $9 beers. So why would you build a stadium that is only accessible by car, leading to either increased drunk driving or a decrease in alcohol sales?

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By Be T (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2010 at 13:37:18

Buses don't run anywhere outside of downtown...very astute observation.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2010 at 14:07:25

So someone who is descibed as a "avid Tottenham and DC United fan, writing for a website called Association Football" knows the future of MLS soccer?

Are you kidding me? Is this all that you have to back up your argument against suburban stadia? A self described fan?

This site is really starting to become a joke if you have to pull stuff like this out you a$$.

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By Wondering Wilmot (anonymous) | Posted August 07, 2010 at 19:31:54

So, here's a problem ... Right now, Pan Am is ALSO looking at a site in Burlington for 'preliimary' soccer matches. The City of Burlngton was part of the whole Toronto 'Bid' for the Games and put forward, initially, well-known 'urban' soccer park, Sherwood Forest Park in the southeast end of the city. Trouble is they forgot to ask the residents. Several months later, City and the Pan Am Games got the boot. City went scrambling looking for another location that wouldn't have 'citizens' protesting. They came up with the "remote" site of a new park currently 'in development' - New City Park, on the escarpment, tucked into the 'backwater' of Ward 1.

Everything seemed fine, except they had to get the Niagara Escarpment to, in principle, go along with it. At first, the NEC didn't. In February, 2010, they squashed City's first presentation rightly concerned that the projected 10,000 or so would upset the equilibrium of the natural aspects of that ESA. (Ecologically Sensitive Area). City went away, sharpened their pencils, came back to the NEC and said, ok, 5,000 and we've got popular support.

On June 17th, 2010, the NEC said alright, but be sure you keep the public informed and keep us posted. Fast forward to today. It's now August 8th and there is a growing protest and a grassroots pettion to 'STOP the Pan Am Games getting into New CIty Park'. ( Why? Well, try CONVINCING rural people that putting down million dollar artificial grass on the living earth is a good idea. They rightly point out that this toxic stuff needs to be replaced every 5-10 years, and who's going to pay for that? Taxpayers. And where does the 'old plastic' go? A landfill site. This doesn't make much sense.

WHY does the City want to put artificial turf into this exquisite unique escarpment parkland? Turf time. More games per daym and season, then good ol'fashioned grass. They also say there's no water to irrigate real earth. (Yet, they've just 'built' a fake lake of some depth. And a suburb is slated for development off Kerns Road over the next few years ...) So, water really is NOT the issue. They want artificial because of the soccer foot traffic. More games, more matches, more people, more revenue etc, etc. But WAIT A MINUTE - this is one of the finest natural parks in the area (little known because it is 'under-developed' at the moment) - what are they THINKING-? Could it just be the CIty is so desperate for that golden bauble dangling from the Pan Am Games they've lost sight of what is BEST?

What's happening now is a MEGA clash between 'suburban soccer' and 'rural roots'. The rurals want this 'high octane' divisional soccer on fenced-in artificial turf, including Pan Am Games, OUT OF THE PARK. They THOGUHT this was supposed to be a 'natural park' with a nice friendly recreational mutli-use sporting areas, not a 'Centre for Soccer Excellence'. It's all out of whack BECAUSE of the Pan Am Games 'fever'.

It's just WRONG to BURY THE LIVING EARTH with plastic, aka 'artificial turf'. But clearly, the suburban soccers - (SS) - don't care - they just want a 'trophy' playing field, as does the City, as does Pan Am.

Getting the picture here?

So NOW WHAT? Why not put artificial turf on 'dead land', why not put it on existing 'brownfields' that have NO PRODUCTIVE future? Bayview Park has been suggested by the rurals. A former landfill (just off the QE between Burlington core and Hamilton), it's been 'naturalizing' for 38 years. It has fantastic 'backdrop' views down over the Bay,(great photo-ops for Pan Am and future 'branding'. It's better situated to the highway. Municipal services are there too, and the 'revamping' of King Road is already on the books for development.

SO WHY won't they GO THERE? Ask them. Why won't they make the RIGHT DECISION about the land, the kids, the future and the monies and GO THERE?

Maybe someone can tell me.
In a line or two ... :)

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