On Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET, Major League Soccer is set to announce that their 23rd franchise will be based in Atlanta.
You can watch that announcement live, right here, and over here at ProSoccerTalk we will be breaking down all of the reaction and analyzing what this means for North America’s top flight.
With New York City FC expected to announce they will play at Yankee Stadium for at least thee years and the Minnesota Vikings aiming to “step up” their pursuit of an MLS franchise in their new downtown stadium, all of this expansion and stadium news got me thinking; is it okay for MLS sides to share their home venues with an NFL or MLB franchise?
Of course in an ideal world, every single MLS team would have their own soccer-specific stadium and we’d all love it and praise the amount of money being pumped into the league, but this isn’t an ideal world, my friends.
The smart, sensible and slightly less exciting option is to merge with NFL teams when possible. The franchise in Atlanta is an example of that, as well as Minneapolis looking to have an MLS team now that a new precedent has been set. With so many MLS teams struggling from playing in huge NFL stadiums in the past, when attendances levels were much lower and the lack of atmosphere inside the vast stadiums was a huge issue, now MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems to have changed his thinking on new franchises not having their own soccer-specific stadium.
Now, technological improvements have seen these multi-purpose stadiums work quite well.
Look around MLS with the Seattle Sounders sharing the Seahawks CenturyLink Field, (they may be the exception to the rule, as not every market will have a huge soccer fanbase like Seattle’s) the Vancouver Whitecaps play at BC Place where a false roof is lowered down to enclose the lower-tier and the New England Revolution play at Gillette Stadium owned by the Kraft family who run the Patriots.
That last example will give everyone a worrying reminder that MLS teams playing in NFL stadiums doesn’t always work out that well, but I’m optimistic it will, in the long run.
With Atlanta’s plans including a similar design to BC Place, the lower tier of the stadium will more than suffice for 25-30,000 Georgians looking to get on the MLS bandwagon. Similar plans are also in place for the Vikings’ stadium downtown, as two of the riskier MLS expansion franchises will take to soccer pragmatically.
It may not be ideal but in terms of costs and sensibility, piggy-backing off of new NFL stadiums is a smart move. You’re basically getting a free stadium which would’ve have otherwise gone empty for most of the year and handing it a franchise in the fastest growing of all the major league’s in North America. Hopefully the owners will spend more money on buying players for their new MLS franchise, rather than having to fork out extra cash to build a soccer-specific stadium. As long as that is the case, it’s a big win for both the league and the teams involved.
The output is relatively low and the income for the league, if Atlanta, New York City and possibly Minneapolis get it right, is sky high. The smart and sensible option for the next wave of MLS expansion franchises is to grow the brand into new markets with relatively low spending. Sharing NFL stadiums means the risks are low and the potential for success is high.
If done correctly, there’s no real reason why MLS-NFL stadium sharing can’t be a success.