At this time next year, there's a very good chance we'll be talking about what an amazing facility the Houston Dynamo are getting ready to move into. Maybe we'll be fawning over their selling out the stadium before they had even played a game. Maybe we'll watch the final touches being put on a true architectural beauty. But that day is not today. For now, we can only give Houston credit for settling their stadium situation.
In Part 1 of this series, I explained my methodology. Rather than explain it again, I'll just ask that you refer to that story if you have any questions about how I came up with my list. One note, this list is not supposed to be a "who has the best stadium," but rather "which team and their fans are in the best situation." Without further ado, here's the teams with the top 9 stadium situations:
Home Depot Center was held up as the model MLS stadium for many years, but the fact that it's now ranked in the middle of pack says something about how far the league has come since 2003. By the end of the 2012 season, HDC will be older than all but five MLS stadiums. Still, the biggest knock against it isn't anything to do with age, but the cost of watching a game there. The mid-priced season ticket is almost $200 more expensive than the next closest competitor, although as long as people are willing to pay it, maybe that's not such a big problem. The other problem with the Galaxy's home is its Carson, Calif. location. And again, this being Southern California, no one really expects anything to be centrally located and it doesn't seem to be hurting the gate. It should be said that if any team is poised to outgrow its stadium before its 30-year expected life is up, this is a pretty good candidate. I could definitely see the Galaxy one day becoming popular enough to justify sharing a stadium with an NFL team, similar to how they're making it work in Seattle.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 57 (11); Attendance - 21,473 (2); Long-term viability - 2033 (11); Soccer-suitability - 4 (5); Mid-priced season ticket - $850 (18). Average: 9.4.
8. Philadelphia Union
From everything I hear, once you're inside PPL Park, it's a really spectacular stadium. It borders the Delaware River and provides some quality vistas and is obviously built to showcase soccer. But that doesn't make it perfect. Chester, Pa. is not exactly the kind of place you want to spend an afternoon and the immediate area around the stadium is pretty dismal. The other knock is that it's a pretty expensive place to watch a game. That said, if the stadium really does spark a resurgence in the neighborhood (the dream of practically every suburban stadium that has ever been built) and the area around PPL becomes just league-average walkable, the stadium would shoot up to No. 4 in our standings.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 29 (17); Attendance - 19,252 (4); Long-term viability - 2040 (4); Soccer-suitability - 5 (1); Mid-priced season ticket - $610 (16). Average: 8.4.
7. Houston Dynamo
No one is going to pretend that Robertson Stadium is a good place for MLS, but now that the Dynamo have broke-ground on their new digs, it's significantly less of an issue. That said, the Dynamo did a decent job of making the best of their stadium situation. They kept prices relatively low and did a good job of getting butts in seats. I fully expect them to be topping our list next year once we can start fully accounting for their new stadium.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 57 (11); Attendance - 17,310 (8); Long-term viability - 2042 (1); Soccer suitability - 2 (15); Mid-priced season ticket - $370 (2). Average: 7.4.
I'm sure I'll get some guff for the Sounders being so high, as people love to point out that they share their stadium with the Seahawks. But what people fail to recognize is that Qwest Field was designed, at least partially, to host soccer matches, too. Anyone who has attended a game there knows that it works almost perfectly for the Sounders, even if the FieldTurf is probably less than ideal. The bigger pluses are the near-perfect location and the fact that they've set MLS attendance records each of their first two years. As much as some may like to poke holes in Qwest, the reality is the Sounders seem perfectly happy to be there for the foreseeable future.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 92 (1); Attendance - 36,173 (1); Long-term viability - 2032 (12); Soccer suitability - 3.5 (10); Mid-priced season ticket - $519 (12). Average: 7.2.
5. Toronto FC
If I had run this little exercise during TFC's first year in 2007, I have no doubt they would have been No. 1. But the four stadium situations that are ahead of BMO Field are all newer and are all cheaper, too. It will be interesting to see how strong attendance is this year after the big flap over ticket pricing this past year. Aside from that stuff, BMO really does seem to offer a great soccer experience. It's also relatively walkable and is even expandable by about 8,000 seats if demand ever warrants it.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 75 (4); Attendance - 20,453; Long-term viability - 2037 (7); Soccer suitability - 4 (5); Mid-priced season ticket - $670 (17). Average: 7.2.
As I've said repeatedly, I'm not trying to make this out to be a scientific study, so you'll have to forgive me for making some projections here, as well. Just about everyone seems to think SKC's stadium is going to be an absolute beauty, and I'm not going to try to throw cold water on them. Season-ticket sales are already at more than 9,000 and it doesn't seem far-fetched at all to project a season average of at least 16,000 (which would still put them below the league median). I didn't hold this against them, but it is not an insignificant issue that they aren't playing their first game until June 9. Here's hoping they're still in the race when that time comes.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 60 (10); Attendance - 16,000* (10); Long-term viability - 2041 (2); Soccer suitability - 5 (1); Mid-priced season ticket - $500 (11). Average: 6.8.
This is just another reminder that this list is not supposed to be a "who's got the best stadium" kind of thing. While Red Bull Arena may be the current standard bearer of MLS stadiums, it is not the best situation, at least not yet. If they can ever start selling out on a regular basis, there's a chance the Red Bulls could find themselves closer to the top spot, but right now they'll just have to settle for Top 3. As it is, the Red Bulls are probably under performing. Harrison, N.J. is actually not has bad of a location as you might imagine, but it's also easy to see why MLS wants a team in the city itself. Red Bull Arena is at least an hour's train ride from almost any of the five boroughs and its tough to capture that market being so far away.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 63 (8); Attendance - 18,441 (7); Long-term viability - 2040 (4); Soccer suitability - 5 (1); Mid-priced season ticket - $530 (13). Average: 6.6.
Last year marked the fourth straight year that attendance has improved in Salt Lake, and that includes three years at Rio Tinto Stadium. Considering the success the team has had over the past two seasons, they unquestionably offer the best ticket value in the entire league. Considering the stadium is just a 10-minute walk from a light-rail station that connects to downtown Salt Lake City, the location is actually even better than it seems. Maybe I could have given Rio Tinto a perfect 5 for soccer suitability, but that wouldn't have changed its overall ranking. I instead settled on a 4.5 there. I'm sure an argument can be made that this is the best stadium situation in MLS, I guess I just won't be the one making it today.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 66 (7); Attendance - 17,095 (9); Long-term viability - 2038 (6); Soccer suitability - 4 (4); Mid-priced season ticket - $350 (1). Average: 5.4.
It probably seems unfair to grant the Timbers the No. 1 spot considering they have yet to play a match in their refurbished stadium, but a lot of the areas they excelled in really don't have a lot to do with anything with things we don't already know. PGE Park is located in the heart of downtown, earning a walkscore of 95 (which comes down a bit in our scoring system because I averaged it with the transit score) and they've already sold more than 11,000 season tickets, so projecting 19,000 does not seem like a reach. They've also kept prices very reasonable. I really don't think it's much of a stretch to call this the current best stadium situation in MLS, and I have no doubt Timbers fans will agree.
Summary (MLS Rank): Location - 89 (2); Attendance - 19,000 (5); Long-term viability - 2041 (2); Soccer suitability - 4 (5); Mid-priced season ticket - $420 (7). Average: 4.2.