By J Hutcherson (Feb 21, 2017) US Soccer Players – If you live in certain parts of the country, you’re already familiar with the town center phenomenon. Instead of strip malls, most of the same stores group together on opposite sides of a purpose-built street. Behind them are apartment and condo buildings, maybe a newer version of an office park. It’s the mixed-used community that developers decided Americans want.
Developers attempting to salvage the suburbs have been happening almost from the beginning of the post-World War II construction boom. What was once an ambition to live in a new house on a new cul-de-sac in a newly developed suburb turned into the type of ennui that fueled a lot of popular culture. It didn’t work well enough, at least for enough people.
Trying again, we’re now in an era where adding high-rise office towers and a stadium to the mix starts to make sense. Instead of a town center, it’s a city center built from scratch. The Atlanta Braves begin playing in their new mini-city center nowhere near downtown Atlanta this season. As these things go, what one team gets another team wants. Enter the proposed MLS team in San Diego.
We’ve gotten a better look at what San Diego’s MLS bid and the city itself want to do with Qualcomm Stadium, or at least the land it sits on. It’s more than just a new stadium with soccer and college football in mind. It’s a major development, recreating a former stadium site as a community of sorts.
Like with Atlanta, instead of adding a stadium or building in a popular location that’s already seeing growth, everything starts from the ground up at the same time. It’s all new, growing together. Like those suburbs and stripmalls, it’s also all positive at least in the beginning. It has to be. Otherwise, who would take the risk?
Somehow, MLS is now in position to be one of the driving forces for a sports city, or at least a major sports development. This isn’t sitting a professional soccer stadium in a soccer complex in a rapidly growing exurb. It’s building a major development that is in that place due to an MLS team.
Should this become the new ideal for pro sports, MLS has the chance to get in early. That certainly has to be on the minds of the people making the decisions on what cities get an expansion team. It also potentially unlocks more expansion from other leagues.
MLS hasn’t had a lot of competition in the expansion market in their era of new teams. The National Basketball Association moved Seattle to Oklahoma City. The National Hockey League finally put a pro team in Las Vegas. The National Football League moved two teams back to Los Angeles. What hasn’t happened is identifying multiple new markets for the major leagues and taking chances. That era is long gone in the minds of most fans, accepting places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Phoenix as established multi-sport markets.
It’s not just the cities that might come next. It’s where teams might go within their metropolitan markets. The Braves packing up and moving out of their city limits should have repercussions. If they establish that as a way to generate even more revenue, other teams will consider doing the same thing. We’ve already got the Dallas Cowboys trying to use their new training site as the hub for development miles away from their stadium.
With the history of all the pro sports in the US we’ve seen the pull to the suburbs and then back downtown. That has to do with where people want to live. What’s rarely happened is teams trying to force that choice on their terms. A stadium that’s part of a brand new center trying to pull residents to it isn’t the norm.
Should it work, things will change across pro sports. The clubs will demand it, trying to make their sports team turned brand a new type of center for all types of development. What this means for a league like MLS is a new style of competition with the teams in other sports. It’s competition with significantly higher stakes and larger expectations from the people living in those markets.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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