The growth of soccer-specific stadiums in Major League Soccer (MLS) has been a significant development in the sport’s history in North America.
In the early years of MLS, teams were often forced to share stadiums with other sports, resulting in less-than-ideal playing conditions and a less authentic experience for fans.
However, over the past two decades, many MLS teams have built their own soccer-specific stadiums, designed specifically for the needs of soccer players and fans.
This feature article will explore the advantages and disadvantages of soccer-specific stadiums compared to shared facilities with other sports.
Advantages of Soccer-Specific Stadiums
1. Enhanced Fan Experience
One of the primary advantages of soccer-specific stadiums is the enhanced fan experience they provide.
The multi-purpose stadiums, soccer-specific stadiums are designed specifically for the sport, meaning that they are optimized for sightlines, acoustics, and other features that enhance the viewing experience.
This allows fans to feel more connected to the game and to the players on the field.
For instance, the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, which opened in 2018, was designed to provide a unique fan experience.
The stadium features a seating capacity of 22,000 and provides unobstructed views of the field from every seat. It also features a state-of-the-art sound system and video board, which allows fans to feel fully immersed in the game.
2. Increased Revenue
Another significant advantage of soccer-specific stadiums is the potential for increased revenue. Multi-purpose stadiums, which often have to split revenue between multiple sports and events, soccer-specific stadiums can generate revenue from soccer games and related events year-round.
This includes ticket sales, concessions, merchandise, and other revenue streams that can help teams generate additional income.
The Seattle Sounders’ home stadium, CenturyLink Field, is shared with the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League (NFL). While the Sounders have been successful in sharing the stadium, the team’s ownership group recognized the potential benefits of having their own stadium.
In 2019, the Sounders opened Lumen Field, a soccer-specific stadium with a seating capacity of 33,000. The stadium is designed to create a more intimate fan experience, while also providing additional revenue opportunities for the team.
3. Improved Playing Conditions
Soccer-specific stadiums are designed with the needs of soccer players in mind, meaning that they often have high-quality playing surfaces, proper drainage systems, and other features that contribute to a better playing experience.
This can lead to fewer injuries and a higher level of play, which can help attract more fans and improve the overall quality of the league.
Namely, the Orlando City Stadium, which opened in 2017, features a playing surface made of Bermuda grass, which is designed to provide excellent ball roll and footing for players.
The stadium’s pitch is also designed with proper drainage systems, which ensures that games can be played even in inclement weather conditions.
4. Greater Sense of Community
Soccer-specific stadiums can also contribute to a greater sense of community among fans and players. Because the stadium is specifically designed for soccer, it can become a focal point for soccer culture in the city or region, bringing fans and players together in a shared space.
This can help build a stronger sense of identity and loyalty among fans, which can translate into increased attendance and revenue for the team.
As an example, the Portland Timbers’ home stadium, Providence Park, is widely regarded as one of the best soccer-specific stadiums in MLS.
The stadium has a seating capacity of just over 25,000 and is known for its raucous atmosphere, which is created by the team’s passionate supporters.
The stadium has become a cultural icon in the city of Portland, and the team’s success on the field has helped to build a strong sense of community.
Disadvantages of Soccer-Specific Stadiums
1. High Cost
One of the primary disadvantages of soccer-specific stadiums is the high cost of construction. Compared to shared stadiums, which can be used for multiple sports and events, soccer-specific stadiums are designed specifically for soccer, this means that they can only generate revenue from soccer-related activities.
This can make it more difficult for teams to recoup their investment and generate sufficient revenue to cover the costs of building and maintaining the facility.
Building a new stadium requires a significant investment of time and money, and not all MLS teams have the resources to build their own facilities. As a result, some teams may be forced to continue sharing facilities with other sports, despite the potential drawbacks.
For example, the Colorado Rapids have played at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park since 2007, but the stadium is shared with other sports and events, which can limit the team’s revenue potential.
Despite the challenges, the Rapids have been successful in sharing the stadium, thanks in part to a strong fan base and a supportive ownership group.
2. Limited Use
Soccer-specific stadiums are designed specifically for soccer, which means that they may not be suitable for other sports or events. This can limit the revenue potential of the stadium, as well as its ability to serve as a community gathering place.
For example, a soccer-specific stadium may not be suitable for hosting concerts or other events that require a different type of seating configuration or acoustics. This can be a disadvantage for teams that want to host events or activities outside of soccer season, as they may not have a suitable facility available.
Soccer-specific stadiums also tend to have smaller seating capacities than multi-purpose stadiums, which can limit the potential audience for games and events. This can be particularly challenging for newer teams or teams in smaller markets, which may struggle to fill the stadium on a regular basis.
The location of a soccer-specific stadium can also be a disadvantage, depending on the team’s market and fan base. Building a stadium in a remote location can make it more difficult for fans to attend games, which can limit revenue potential and fan engagement.
On the other hand, building a stadium in a densely populated area can be prohibitively expensive, especially if the team has to acquire land and navigate complex zoning regulations.
4. Potential for Oversaturation
Finally, the growth of soccer-specific stadiums in MLS has led to some concern about the oversaturation of the market. With so many teams building their own stadiums, there is a risk that the league could become overextended and struggle to sustain growth over the long term.
However, the trend toward soccer-specific stadiums is not unique to MLS. Many other soccer leagues around the world have also moved towards building dedicated facilities for their teams, including the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga.
These leagues have not experienced significant issues with oversaturation, despite the fact that there are often multiple teams in the same city or region.
Soccer-specific stadiums have become a significant trend in Major League Soccer over the past two decades and for good reason. These facilities provide a number of advantages, including enhanced fan experience, increased revenue potential, and improved playing conditions.
However, there are also some disadvantages to consider, such as high construction costs, limited use, and location. The decision to build a soccer-specific stadium will depend on a variety of factors, including the team’s financial resources, its fan base, and the local market conditions.
Nonetheless, for many MLS teams, a soccer-specific stadium can be a key component of a successful and sustainable franchise.