Revolution are on lookout
Site for soccer-specific facility is team’s focus
FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution intend to be playing in a soccer-specific stadium, and Major League Soccer is committed to helping them make the move, team owner Jonathan Kraft and commissioner Don Garber confirmed in separate interviews yesterday.
The hangup, though, involves finding a suitable venue, preferably in Boston. In other words, the Revolution are not about to vacate Gillette Stadium unless they can find vacant land and receive financial aid from a municipality.
“We believe if we’re going to build one of these, then it should probably be closer to the urban center and public transportation,’’ Kraft said before meeting with season ticket-holders. “We’ve looked at a number of locations that could make sense but haven’t yet been able to get anything finalized. I think communities in which this could potentially happen, the financial downturn has readjusted the priorities. But, hopefully, we’ll ultimately be able to get one built.’’
There’s nothing new there. But the focus on finding the properly scaled facility for the Revolution has increased as other MLS teams attract attention and fill medium-sized stadiums in cities from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest to Ontario.
“Our stadiums are a lot less expensive than larger stadiums but this would be an expensive proposition,’’ Garber said. “We’ve got to find a way to drive more commercial revenue into the team so we can marshal some of that support to funding the package, coupled with getting a local municipality believing in it enough that they would work with us on some public support.
“We will only have two teams not playing in stadiums they do not own or operate. The Kraft family owns and operates Gillette, and that provides a valuable economic environment for us. Without it, I don’t know if this team exists.
“But the real driver for MLS success is this young, urban demographic that so deeply loves the game and wants to experience it in a small, urban environment. So, we believe if we are able to achieve that with the Revolution they will be among the most successful teams in the league. I have no doubt about that. I don’t think anybody questions that this is a fantastic soccer market. The question is how to bottle all that up, harness all that passion and convert that passion into support for the Revolution.’’
The Revolution and D.C. United are in some ways trapped by past success. They are the only MLS teams that have played under their original names and in the same location — the Revolution moved next door from Foxboro Stadium in 2002 — since the league started in 1996. But, though the Revolution and United have fallen behind, they also have been able to learn from the experiences of soccer-only stadiums since Crew Stadium opened in 1999.
The ideal solution for a Revolution move would combine the siting of Qwest Field in Seattle with the financing of LiveStrong Sporting Park, which received $150 million in public funds in Kansas City. The Sounders have sold 32,000 season tickets and have established rivalries with Portland and Vancouver, which are expected to sell out most of their games in their debut season.
“Many people think the success in Seattle came out of nowhere and you can’t attribute to anything specific what’s driving success there,’’ Garber said. “But that’s not true. They are incredibly focused, have a very disciplined business plan, are effective marketers, they’ve done a good job with the team. And, they have a good relationship with the stadium partner, great corporate relationships, and good media partnerships.
“If we can put some of those elements together in the Northeast we will be more successful than we are today. Then, if we do our job right, we can replicate and create some of the rivalry stories everybody is so excited about over there, here — what we call the I-95 rivalries, New England, New York, Philadelphia, D.C.’’
The New York-Revolution rivalry received a boost last year as the Red Bulls invested in three designated players — paid above the league-designated maximum salary of $400,000. Kraft has committed funds to the Revolution acquiring a DP and is clearly in a competitive mood.
“This offseason we thought we had a deal,’’ Kraft said. “We thought we had a striker, a major high quality player, but at the last minute his club wouldn’t release him. We’re still hopeful maybe at midseason we’ll get him over here.’’
The Revolution are not likely to come close to matching the $15 million payrolls of MLS’s top teams and their financial interest will remain dwarfed by the family’s NFL franchise, the Patriots. But Kraft said his attention is squarely on the Revolution as they take a 1-0-1 record into Saturday’s game against Portland.
“I can tell you, when the Revolution are playing, I don’t miss a minute of their games, and I don’t believe [Patriots owner] Robert [Kraft] does,’’ Kraft said. “I feel as disappointed when they lose, I feel as happy when they win.
“We want to win. If you’re in professional sports you have to be in it to compete. We’ve written too many checks, and been through the tough times, for people to say we don’t care. I don’t think that’s an educated opinion. But, to be fair, if you don’t know us, I can see [how] the way media covers both teams and our involvement would lead you to come to that conclusion. But it’s not true.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.