In Part 1, BSJ's soccer guy highlighted four things the Revolution can do to increase their ambition in Major League Soccer. And now, in Part 2, he tackles the issue of a soccer-specific stadium.
Ah, the stadium issue.
Mention the contentious words “soccer-specific stadium” to any Revolution supporter, and you’re likely to get a long, resigned sigh (almost like the one Lee Nguyen gave me last week) and sad eyes, or pent-up rage. Some fans have abandoned the club over it. In other words, tread with caution when dealing with a die-hard New England soccer buff.
While most clubs in Major League Soccer have abandoned NFL-sized stadiums -- necessities in the 1.0 days; they needed a place to play when the league launched, after all -- for cozy venues half and sometimes even a quarter the size either on the outskirts of their main city or in suburban locations, the Revolution have not done so. They have stood pat, “moving” only once: some three hundred feet down the hill from Foxborough Stadium to Gillette Stadium, and were, in fact, Gillette’s opening act. That's led to quite a bit of fiery, not-printable words sent toward not only the New England front office, but toward the ownership box, too.
Simply put, there is a genuine argument that Gillette is not truly fit for soccer: its 68,000 capacity is way too big for the sport in New England (although if certain parameters were met, say, Commuter Rail/shuttle bus service from Boston to Foxborough, it would be more crowded than it is now), and there’s also one of the dreaded no-no’s in soccer in play: the plastic pasture, better known as FieldTurf -- as the playing surface. It’s one of the reasons the club cannot attract big-ticket names to Route 1, and the reason certain players refuse to play the Revs when on the road. And there’s also the fact current MLS players hate the ambiance of the place, and truly don’t want to come here if they had a choice in the matter.
But New England has, since 2006, explored the idea of moving the club out of Foxborough and closer to Boston, where it can be near public transportation and the urban soccer fan with plenty of disposable income who just can’t get down to Gillette for a match. The ideal stadium would be between 20,000-25,000 seats, and hopefully with a grass surface (seriously, did you see the way the defense slid across the grass in Columbus last weekend? Can’t do that at Gillette).
Unfortunately, there have been plenty of hiccups over the last 12-plus years:
- Back in 2007, the Revs and town of Somerville held preliminary discussions to build a stadium near Interstate 93. The recession occurred, and that was that. Somerville’s Assembly Square was also an option in ’12.
- At about the same time as Assembly Square was in the mix, the Revs looked into Revere and the old Wonderland greyhound track, which hinged on the casino license for Eastern Mass. The casino went to the City of Sin, and Revere didn’t get the Wonderland agreement anyway.
- A couple of years later, the club set its sights on South Boston’s Widett Circle, which would have held Boston’s Olympic Stadium in 2024. Nothing came of it; it’s also city-owned land, which would have gone out to bid. There were no guarantees the Krafts would have been the winners.
- And last year, there were closed-door discussions with UMass-Boston about the old Bayside Expo Center property, which the college bought in 2010. But the Boston Teacher’s Union, which has office space in the land the Revolution wanted to build on, wanted a little more than the club was reportedly willing to give. That plan died a year ago.
And that’s just five of them.
There is plenty of speculation among certain corners of Revs fandom -- we’ll call them the Doom and Gloom Society -- that the Kraft family and the front office aren’t trying hard enough to get a stadium in Boston. Any news coming out of the soccer side of Patriot Place that doesn’t scream “We have bought land for a stadium! Rejoice!” is almost akin to treason in their minds. Just last week, when Foxborough Patch reported on the Revolution’s plans to expand its training facility to the south of Gillette, the Doom and Gloom Society went ballistic on Twitter due to a segmented sentence in the story: “There are no plans to move the team (out of Foxborough).”
In short, Revs fans thought it meant the stadium issue was dead, and that the club would remain in Foxborough for good.
Not so, tweeted Revs Prez Brian Bilello last Wednesday:
In terms of training facility improvement and expansion, as I’ve stated in the past it is unrelated to our stadium project and that our intent is still to build a stadium closer to Boston. That was also stated at the recent meetings on the training facility expansion.
— Brian Bilello (@RevsPrez) April 18, 2018
Bilello is right on the money here: Boston is a 398-year-old community, with 70 percent of it consisting of landfill; its roads are converted horse paths. If and when a stadium is built, the club would still have to train in Foxborough.
However, a story in The Boston Globe last year, just after the potential stadium for the Bayside Expo site fell through, can, in a way, give credence to the GaDS’s fears of not seeing a SSS any time soon:
The Krafts are in the challenging position of competing in a hot market for the few properties close to public transit that are large enough for a stadium, said David Begelfer, head of real estate group NAIOP Massachusetts.
And in a city that has been skeptical of public subsidies for sports projects, rejecting not only the Olympics two years ago but Kraft’s proposed South Boston stadium for the Patriots in the 1990s, it’s unlikely such a project would get public funding, as have other MLS stadiums elsewhere.
“Land costs are going to be quite high,” Begelfer said. “A stadium is going to have to come in and compete for a really large land area that could be used for other purposes.”
Let’s hold up for a second and explain a couple of things: