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Major League Soccer's Future: Not In the Suburbs

Posted 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.


On August 6 2010 at 8:07 AM nick said:

totally agree with the article.

look at Montreal and Olymic stadium.

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