Going Big: MLS cities' larger venues

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's note: As we often do, we promoted this FanPost to the front page because we think this is something worthy of a larger discussion.

If you frequent this site, you don’t need to be told that MLS has some pretty big aspirations for growth. With expansion bids under review, big crowds in the Southeast, a planned stadium expansion in Portland and more, it’s easy to feel the league’s upward trajectory even as challenges remain (primarily TV ratings and associated contracts).

The top 10 attendance leaders by average are all topping 20,000 per game. Atlanta, at the moment, is ahead of even the Sounders in average attendance. There are a lot of ways for the league and its teams to make money. TV contracts will remain a major source. Individual teams do have some control of revenue streams such as local TV contracts, ticket prices and in-game sponsorships (among others).

Those in-game sponsorships and advertisements are big – and they’re related to attendance.

We probably have several years to go before we see big money TV contracts and 67,000-seat sellouts. Still, it’s clear that there are opportunities for MLS teams to "go big" with attendance to increase the gate at individual games, try to convert new fans to season ticket/partial season package holders and maximize the prices they can charge for in-game ads.

In most cases, MLS teams and expansion bidders are in good shape here, though there are caveats. It creates an interesting conundrum: in 5-10 years, if stadiums are packed to the brim, what do the teams with less ideal situations do? Is there a risk of haves/have-nots in terms of creating local revenue? Is the ability to "go big" part of MLS’ expansion thinking? Let’s take a look.

All set, can use home field, nbd…

  • Atlanta – Pretty easy here. Open the top deck of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • New England – Again, pretty easy in theory, though one would imagine the Revs would love to even fill the lower deck of Gillette right now.
  • NYCFC – A full stadium game at Yankee Stadium is easy enough, albeit some of the seats would be remarkably bad. But if butts-in-seats are the measure, they’re good to go.
  • Seattle – We invented 67,000+ crowds for games that aren’t the league’s inaugural match.
  • Vancouver – They invented Atlanta’s roll-back-the-curtains situation (though I am not sure they’ve put it to use, so the trademark might be available.)

Venue change, but mostly all set

  • Chicago – Soldier Field is good to go and might even be better than Bridgeview.
  • Colorado – Invesco is basically the same situation as Chicago: bigger with better access.
  • DC United – Unless Dan Snyder knocks down FedEx Field. Which is a possibility.
  • Dallas – AT&T Field has hosted plenty of soccer. It’s also nowhere near Frisco. So this is a bit interesting as it will require a bit from the home fans in terms of a different gameday plan.
  • Houston – Reliant is right there.
  • LAFC – Let’s just go ahead and assume they’d use the adjacent Coliseum, which does host soccer from time to time.
  • LA Galaxy – Let’s just go ahead and assume they’d use the new Rams Stadium, which is closer to Carson and the South Bay.
  • Minnesota – Big, shiny, new downtown stadium that has hosted soccer.
  • Montreal – There’s an argument to be made that Stade Olympique is best-suited for soccer.
  • NY Red Bulls – Met Life Stadium is a great option.
  • Orlando – Citrus Bowl is ready as needed for the Lions.
  • Philadelphia – Lincoln Financial Field is a solid soccer venue.
  • Real Salt Lake – Rice-Eccles Stadium has hosted RSL in the past and could again.
  • San Jose – Someone needs to fill Levi’s. Might as well be them.
  • Sporting KC – Arrowhead has hosted soccer, though it’s the Dallas thing again. Fortunately, Kansas City is a lot closer to both Children’s Mercy and Arrowhead.
  • Toronto – This one is interesting. The Rogers Centre can take them… unless the Blue Jays install grass. If they do, it would lock the seating bowl in a baseball configuration and would make the venue much less suited to soccer. BMO isn’t small, but should MLS turn into a league drawing 50K/game, TFC is suddenly behind the times.

Ruh roh…

  • Columbus – The Horseshoe is a wee bit narrow for soccer these days, no? Happy if someone could confirm otherwise, but unless they’re looking to showcase their brand in Cleveland, they have a potential issue.
  • Portland - Simply put: there is no good option, short of a privately-funded Paulson Coliseum that hovers over the Willamette. You’ll note in the renderings of their new expansion they’ve got as many tiers for ads as they do for seats. It’s clear they’re going to maximize the resources they have. Their ace in the hole could be local TV, though. Certainly, at some point, demand to watch the Timbers is going to far outstrip the supply of tickets and the team should be able to command a good bit of TV money. Columbus, of course, could have this same situation should their attendance fortunes change.

Expansion bidders

It’s not everything, but it is something. Which expansion bidders have a built-in option for big crowds?

  • Charlotte – Bank of America Stadium has hosted plenty of soccer.
  • Cincinnati – They claim both Paul Brown and Nippert Stadiums are good to go.
  • Detroit – Ford Field can accommodate.
  • Indianapolis – Lucas Oil Stadium would be fine.
  • Miami – I am unaware of any MLS franchise in Miami at this time/in the future, actually…
  • Nashville – Nissan Stadium has hosted plenty of soccer.
  • Phoenix – Phoenix does not have a stadium. A place called "Glendale" does. It is best reached via helicopter at rush hour.
  • Raleigh/Durham – NC State’s Carter-Finley could host and, since I believe the NCFC proposal is for Cary, it would be pretty easy trip.
  • Sacramento – This one’s a bit tough. Potential Portland situation here.
  • San Antonio – Remember: The Alamodome.
  • San Diego – Zero options. Qualcomm is coming down. Petco is downtown and not at all suited for soccer. Of all the expansion bidders, this one has all sorts of problems and the stadium is another box unchecked.
  • St. Louis – The Edward Jones Dome is not the busiest venue in the country. Just sayin’... pretty easy to solve this ownership groups' stadium woes
  • Tampa – Raymond James Stadium is ready.

Basically, the vast majority of the league and potential new teams are ready to accommodate league growth on the attendance front. Longer term, it would seem that most teams aren’t going to find themselves in a situation where their venues are too small for the demand for the league.

That said, several of the leagues "marquee" teams have some unique challenges. NYCFC, Toronto (potentially) and our neighbors to the south aren’t clubs MLS is going to want to have behind the pack long term. Could be interesting to watch.

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