See the initial post on where America’s Wembley should be… part three will continue tomorrow on lessons learned.
3. Washington DC
Bill Simmons rightly got excited about RFK after the Costa Rica game. Ives called the fans at RFK arguably the best he has seen at a USA game and as these videos attest the place sure was rocking. DC has a number of solid advantages – all of which came to light in the game against Costa Rica. Like Seattle, it has an inbuilt soccer fan base, culture, and infrastructure due to DC United and all the supporters groups. Therefore DC will always turn out solid support for the US.
DC also has great symbolic value. Playing in the nation’s capital is about as patriotic as you can get. It is also on the east coast and is a relatively short flight to Europe. Its climate gets cold enough (without being too bitterly cold) to give us an advantage against central American teams there in spring and fall – summer however is sort of brutal. It also has a big population – 9th largest region in the country with 5.4 million it has a big media market and is easy for fans from other east coast cities to get to.
Final analysis: There are two major problems. 1. Home-field advantage is not assured. DC has a sizable Hispanic population, especially from El Salvador and Honduras, and because it is on the densely populated east coast there will always be a sizable, if not dominating, opposition fan base. There was a good turnout from Ticos fans, but Costa Rica’s immigrant population is much smaller – hence USSF deciding to use RFK. The US will always get good support at RFK no matter who the opponent but it will often not resemble the RFK crowd against Costa Rica.
2. The venue is a problem. RFK is a real dump. Read MatchFit’s break down of one possible solution – a renovation of RFK with USSF and DC United money. While something to think about, I think that is probably too costly just based on the size and age of the stadium. Another option would be for the USSF and DC United to propose building a joint stadium. The city would be more likely to allocate funds to a joint project that made Washington the home of US Soccer and both United and USSF could chip in additionally funds. I would envision about a 40,000 seat stadium that United could decrease to 25,000 by closing a top deck – much the way it does now for MLS games. Anyway, I am definitely biased in wanting DC to have a stadium – I live a 10 minute walk from RFK. But ultimately the lack of a guaranteed homefield – perhaps the most important criteria – and a stadium venue that is highly uncertain, keep DC from claiming the top spot.
2. St. Louis
I really wanted to make St. Louis number one. In almost every way this is the perfect place for an American Wembley. St. Louis – along with Kearny, NJ and Fall River, Ma – was an original soccer hotbed and has a deep soccer history and tradition. The University of St. Louis has been a consistent collegiate soccer power, the city has produced many great American players, and it is frankly nonsensical that it wasn’t part of MLS from the beginning.
St. Louis is a decent sized city with 2.8 million people. Importantly is has a very small Hispanic population of just 2.1 percent. So it should be able to provide a good homefield advantage. St. Louis is also a short flight from the east coast and travel from Europe would be fine. It’s climate would work well, as February/March games could be brutally cold. It also has the symbolic value of being in the middle of the country, serving as the gateway between west and east. Furthermore, it would be putting soccer back into middle America and could help broaden awareness of the game, as well as serve to emphasize that soccer has a long history in this country. Budweiser would also probably be a big sponsor – although it no longer is an American beer company (and it kinda sucks).
Final analysis: The biggest problem is where would they play? The Rams play indoors on turf so that won’t work. The new Busch stadium doesn’t work, because the seasons overlap. And there doesn’t appear to be another suitable stadium. The one option would be for USSF to partner with a new expansion franchise similar to what I proposed with United above – essentially creating a joint USSF/St. Louis facility or an “American Soccer Center” in St. Louis. However, this is a lot to ask for and would require significant public funding, something an economically depressed city and state maybe hesitant to provide. Furthermore the size of the city is fairly small and the prospects for big attendance and large revenues maybe limited, making any new stadium construction a big big risk. In the end, it would just take a lot of work to make this America’s venue.
And the winner is…
This may seem like an odd choice, but Pittsburgh has a number of things going for it.
First, blue collar town. The city has the working class label that the U.S. team would do well to adopt both on and off the field. On the field, the US team often takes pride in its “blue collar” work ethic and playing in Pittsburgh would hopefully strengthen this quality. Off the field, it would be great for the team to be seen associated with a blue collar city to help defray views of soccer as an effete European sport.
Second, Pittsburgh is a global city. steel city is actually not as economically depressed as one might think. Pittsburgh effectively revamped itself after the closure of the steel mills in the 70s and 80s and has become a fairly globalized city. Word is that the city is really underrated in terms of bars and nightlife and culture. It has a few big colleges – potential key source of fans. It is also a major source for green innovation and just held the G-20 and the Netroots Nation progressive bloggers conference (which is where I heard good things). All these signs indicate that there is a potential hardcore fanbase among 20-30 something white collar workers, on top of trying to appeal to the patriotic leanings of the blue-collar workers.
Third, small Hispanic population. While the Hispanic population is growing it is still around just 2 percent. Pittsburgh is far enough away from the east coast to make it unlikely that a massive amount of central American fans would make the trip. Some would for sure, but not enough to dominate the crowd.
Fourth, it is in between the east coast and midwest. This means it could draw fans from Ohio and from Philly and DC (about 4 hour drive). It is also a quick trip to Europe and has the climate that we have been after.
Final analysis: The big potential negative is that there is little soccer history and its population of 2.3 million is pretty small – the smallest of the cities we looked at – meaning that there is little evidence that the city would take to the Yanks. However, Pittsburgh is a city that would likely embrace that patriotic fervor that goes with rooting for the Yanks. A big promotional effort, marketing Pittsburgh as America’s Town or something, along with the national buzz that the USMNT is starting to have, would likely make it quite a draw likely creating a significant homefield advantage.
Additionally, Pittsburgh is a city that will likely never get – at least in the short to medium term – an MLS team. It would also help expand the reach of the game into a city and region that the US sports media takes seriously, as associating the team with a blue collar city would significantly benefit the game’s image. It also has a great venue and lively city that could attract traveling Nats fans. In the end, there is little risk (no stadium has to be built, no jostling with city councils) and lots of upside in the prospects to grow the game.
Do you agree? Let us know…
Also tomorrow I will conclude the series with some lessons for the US team should that I took from this exercise.