Revolution Home No Justification for Olympic Stadium

The New England Revolution need a new home, but not in the form of an Olympic stadium.
The New England Revolution need a new home, but not in the form of an Olympic stadium.
Jae Hong/AP

Could I just clear up one little point in the much wider debate about whether or not Boston should host the 2024 Olympics?

It’s been bandied about in a few places, but most recently it was mentioned in a Boston Globe column looking at some of the possible locations for Olympic venues. It’s the notion that an Olympic-sized stadium, if built in Boston in time for those games, could ultimately make for a long-term home for the New England Revolution.

From the Globe:

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Later, it could be reused as a soccer stadium (something that Bob Kraft would love for his New England Revolution) or a concert venue.

It’s plenty interesting that the article identifies where a stadium could go. (“[T]he committee is looking at cobbling together parcels in South Boston, including a city tow lot and an adjacent MBTA maintenance facility. You can see it off the Southeast Expressway when you’re driving into the city.”) But as a long-term home for the Revolution, the stadium wouldn’t make any sense.

There are a couple reasons for that.

First, any stadium for the Revolution is almost certain to be a lot smaller than the Olympics would require. Soccer-specific stadiums have been taking off in markets across the country with Major League Soccer teams, to mostly rave reviews. Much of that praise is rooted in the stadiums’ size. They generally seat between 20,000 and 25,000. And every time the Revolution organization chimes in on a stadium, they’ve suggested this range to be the target capacity. An Olympic stadium, meanwhile, would need to seat far more—a number much closer to the 68,000-fan capacity at Gillette Stadium, where the Revs already play.

Oh sure, if we want to compare a 70,000-seat stadium in Boston to a 70,000-seat stadium in Foxborough, the Krafts and Revolution fans would prefer the former. It would mean MBTA access, which in turn would make for an easier time getting soccer fans—who tend to be urbanites—through the turnstiles.

But even if you’re bullish on the growth of the sport in the country and the region, which I am, it’s highly unlikely that an urban stadium seating that many fans would be able to draw nearly enough to counteract the already-existent complaints about Gillette as a pro soccer venue. That is, it’s so big that you can’t even tell when the Revolution draw a crowd of 24,000—a large turnout by American standards. The songs, the chants, the cheers—they all get lost in the caverns of the massive stadium’s seating. (This, of course, is not a problem for the Patriots, who regularly sell out Gillette.) A stadium that size just would not make for an ideal home for a Major League Soccer team—at least not at this juncture, and probably not in 10 years.

The other reason the argument is faulty is that 2024 remains a long ways away. Revolution fans have long grown impatient in waiting for a soccer-specific stadium, which has been floated by the team since at least 2006. Construction on an Olympic stadium probably wouldn’t happen before a 2024 host is officially chosen in 2017. Many Revolution fans are already deeply skeptical at this point that the long-awaited stadium will ever be built. Holding off on any news for another three years could cause some serious fan resentment.

Now, the stadium might have some other use on the soccer front. Like if the United States winds up hosting the 2022 World Cup, a real possibility, given its fervent bid to do so a few years back and the chance that current host Qatar might be stripped of the right to host due to an ongoing and utterly unsurprising corruption investigation.

In that event, if FIFA wanted to host games in our neck of the woods, it too might prefer a stadium in Boston rather than out in the suburbs. But given that Gillette is all of a 30 or 40-minute drive from downtown Boston (without traffic), any committee—representing either the World Cup or the Olympics—might have a hard time selling the public on the need for another massive stadium.

As I said above, this is just a tiny smidgen in the much larger discussion about whether Boston’s Olympic bid makes any sense. But when it comes to building a 60,000- or 70,000-seat stadium in the city’s limits, the possibility that it could serve as a long-term home for the Revolution is not a reasonable justification.

Note: Some have suggested shifting the larger stadium into one more appropriate for MLS. That has been done with other Olympic stadiums, such as in London and Atlanta. They were converted to venues that were still much larger than American soccer stadiums. But I’ll grant that conversion might be an option, albeit an expensive one. It would still mean the Revolution wouldn’t have a home until after the 2024 games have passed, which again, fans might see as too far off.