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'Futbol' Can't Fill a Football Stadium

NYC FC will play its next three seasons in Yankee stadium, but when it comes to venues, MLS teams have proved smaller is better.

(Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports)
Buck Shaw Stadium (Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports)

In terms of drawing fans, the San Jose Earthquakes have been one of the more successful franchises in Major League Soccer. Their current venue for home games, Buck Shaw Stadium, is shared with Santa Clara University and holds a capacity of 10,000 fans.

Buck Shaw is consistently filled to the brim with passionate soccer fans, and last season was at 124 percent capacity, meaning the Quakes were cramming in an extra 2,500 fans because there was such a demand. To date it seems like the Earthquakes executive staff has understood soccer’s place in America; it doesn’t draw football-sized crowds and it won’t any time soon.

Which makes it all the more surprising that the Earthquakes are electing to play in a football venue. San Jose is following the San Francisco 49ers, and making a move next season to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, which will has a capacity of 68,500. Incidentally they are not the only team playing out of their league attendance-wise.

Just Monday it was announced that the Major League Soccer’s 20th team, New York City FC, will play its next three seasons in Yankee Stadium, which holds over 50,000 fans.

MLS’s newest club is funded jointly by Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees, and will have the promotional dollars to spend to draw fans to games, but the MLS blueprint has shown that large venues are not a successful approach.

The Earthquakes played a game in 2011 in Stanford Stadium, where the Stanford Cardinal football team plays, and, even in setting an attendance record, was still more than 10,000 fans short of filling the stadium to capacity.

Forbes recently released a list of the most successful American soccer franchises, and only eight of the 19 teams at the time (New York City FC is an expansion franchise), were even making a profit. Seven of the eight profitable teams play in stadiums that hold less than 25,000 fans, with the one exception being the Seattle Sounders who have a fan base recently named “America’s Best Fans,” and, subsequently, can not realistically be emulated.

So while the Earthquakes and New York City FC may be trying to emulate the Dallas Cowboys (Stadium capacity: 110,000), they may be smarter to follow FC Dallas’s lead (Stadium capacity: 21,193)

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