America’s Wembley cont… The finalists are….

See the initial post on where America’s Wembley should be… part three will continue tomorrow on lessons learned.


3. Washington DC

800px-rfk_stadium_aerial_photo_looking_towards_capitol_1988

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

photo by: whiterabbit uo

photo by: whiterabbit uo

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…

1. Pittsburgh

photo by: Godspeed70

photo by: Godspeed70

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.

photo by: E 420 B

photo by: E 420 B

Fifth, the venue is great. Although I have never seen soccer at Heinz field, it would presumably be no different than other football stadiums like Soldier Field where the Nats have played. It also has a grass field and is located close to downtown.

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.

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26 Responses

  1. OK, I get DC, saw a DC United v KC game there this year, great atmosphere most like a European game (with no disrespect to Seattle, who I think provides the same atmosphere) ST Louis is stretching it. Pitssburgh is really pushing it, but how about the new ground thats being built in Philadelphia for the Union? I think That one may be a little better idea.

  2. Umm…

    Seattle
    Portland
    Philly
    Minneapolis
    Boston

    All better than your last two.

  3. I would like to throw out a suggestion to you, Detroit. I will wait for everyone to stop laughing and then continue. Detroit has all of the benefits the Pittsburg has, minus being financially sound of course. Blue collar, check. Global city, check. Small Hispanic population, check. Centrally located, more so than Pittsburgh. Soccer history, check. On the contrary to what people think there is a solid soccer history in Detroit with the Express, the Rockers, the Bucks and hosting previous US team games here including the world cup. In fact the stadium where the world cup was played at here is up for sale…cheap too. During the return trip for the USWNT they had a game in Detroit that was second in attendance only to Philly’s. They got the opener on a Saturday and we got Wednesday during a snow storm that cancelled school. Michigan is one of the top states in terms of soccer playing “youth” all the way to the college level. There is a rather hidden pocket of soccer fans here that are itching for some of the beautiful game. That is my spiel for Detroit, in response to the question as a whole I favor no one stadium. I like that it travels around and makes sure everyone gets a fair shot to see the team. I would like the scheduling to be more mindful the local populations and regulate ticket sales though. If it ain’t broke…

  4. Thanks guys –

    Seattle and Detroit made the top 5: see the past post: http://assoc-football.com/2009/10/21/if-america-had-a-wembley-where-would-it-be/#more-382

    Also I left off Philly and Boston for the lack of homefield advantage. DC made it because the fan base and New York made it just because it is – well New York. Foxboro is also a hike from Boston and has turf. I really considered Minneapolis but I gave Detroit the spot instead. Portland I left off because it is not as big as Seattle but has the same distance problems.

  5. Great article. I like the logic that went into actually having home field advantage. I have a soft spot for St. Louis, but the lack of stadium is definitely a problem. Another option in the same line as Pittsburgh would be Cleveland. The Browns stadium is grass, was specifically designed to be big enough for soccer, and seats 8,000 more than Pittsburgh’s. Also, Cleveland is a slightly larger metro area. It’s a two hour drive from Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Toledo, and a three hour drive from Detroit and Buffalo. I would never have thought of Pittsburgh as a good home for the Nats, but following your logic, maybe cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland should be given a shot at a major friendly in the next couple of years.

  6. [...] may one day be… There’s a pretty interesting piece on Association Football about where America’s Wembley would be, featuring a video shot from a fan’s perspective last Wednesday at RFK Stadium when the [...]

  7. Hey Max! Pittsburgh native here, and although I appreciate you bringing up the parts of Pittsburgh that tend to get overlooked, I have to disagree that they’re the best that the US can do for a soccer home. After all, there’s a reason we don’t even have an MLS team.

    The venue is very nice… I saw Chelsea and AS Roma play a friendly @ Heinz Field a few years ago, and it was a very cool experience, but I simply don’t think there is the fan base to support the national team. Of course, I’d be thrilled to see the US MNT in Pittsburgh, but I don’t think it would be the best idea.

    I’m a little surprised you didn’t mention Columbus… similar geographical and demographic advantages, with a very nice soccer-only stadium (saw Everton play the Crew there 4 years ago) and a state with very strong high school programs. Crew Stadium may be a little small, though.

  8. I completely agree that Pittsburgh would be an outstanding place for it… Despite football being king, every kid grows up playing soccer, and the young leagues are really quite active. Plus this is the sort of thing that Pittsburghers would embrace fully….and I definitely second what you say about it being a vibrant, global city. People who haven’t been there need to go, especially young 20-30 somethings…
    here’s a stat that should be relevant

    http://www.pitt.edu/~cbriem/SelectedTables2.htm

    I live in Chicago though, and think it makes a strong case as well.

  9. I love football. I am from Pittsburgh. You will never, EVER fill Heinz Field for a football match. Ever. I love my city but it is rampant with American-football meatheads that have no respect for football. Sure, we have our fanbase that fills the sporadic pub on Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch EPL games, but nowhere near enough to support hosting the US National Team. I’d love for it to happen but even if it did it would be embarassing to see 80% of Heinz Field empty for a huge qualifier.

  10. Nice to see some love for Pittsburgh here. You do make some great points. I still think Columbus would be a better fit if they could play in Crew Stadium for the smaller games and if needed, go to the Horse Shoe for big games. They’d need to install sod though at the Horse Shoe since they have Field Turf now…

  11. Pittsburgh is an interesting choice. I”ve spent all 35 years of my life in Pittsburgh and as far a sports towns go, if we’re not #1 we’re not far off. However, when talking sports in Pittsburgh, soccer isn’t even on the radar. I’m a supporter of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USLD2) and know full well the lack of support for the beautiful game. Also, the Rooney Family,who control Heinze field, will probably refuse to allow their field to be utilized. They’ve been very uncooperative towards bringing some games to the city’s biggest venue in recent years. We are historically a hard-working, blue collar town and we’re not very diverse so those points are valid. If we could get the Riverhounds and the Rooney family to work together to bring some soccer events to the city sort of as a “test run” then it may be worth pursuing. One of the best things about USMNT games in Columbus is that it’s mostly a pro-American crowd. Pittsburgh would be the same, just on a much larger scale.

    @Bob, do you support the Hounds? If not, then aren’t you as much a part of the problem as the rest of the yinzers?

  12. Thanks for the comments guys. To MDoubleA and Paul, I definitely thought about Columbus, but decided it was a bit too small – both in terms of Crew stadium and in population – for “Wembley” consideration. Horseshoe is a good idea – but that seems way too huge a venue for a city that size (also maybe as Gator fan I am just biased against Ohio State). In reality Columbus is a great place for US World cup qualifiers and the USMNT should definitely still play there.

    Also to bob and espo’s point about the lack of support for soccer in Pittsburgh. That is clearly a massive drawback, and perhaps I am being way too optimistic, but I think one of the appeals is the chance to grow the game. Sure if the Nats play in Seattle they would likely get big crowds, but I think it does little to grow the sport. I would hope over the longer term, if the Nats became seen in the city as a Pittsburgh team that support would grow. It is at least worth trying to have a friendly their before the world cup.

  13. USSF in Pittsburgh? As a person who grew up in the city and goes back once every few months I’d have to say no way would it ever fly. The city is too small, the footie base is wayyyy too small. USSF would have to compete with 3 pro franchises, the Steelers, Penguins and the Pirates, well OK 2 pro teams. It would also have to compete with Pitt basketball, plus PSU and Pitt football. Plus unlike other pro/college teams ticket prices are very reasonable so say unlike NY or Chicago they won’t attract sports fans unable to say go to a Bears/Giants game.

    As far as the home team/away crowd the place will still be packed with Hispanic fans as Pgh is only a few hours away from Baltimore/DC/NY and hotels are much cheaper than other cities. Plus its not as if the Hispanic fans in the crowd have hurt the US as they have only lost once at home in 6? years (this doesn’t include the Gold cup loss to Mexico when our under 14 C-Team played).

    If you want a US version of Wembley the ideal place was DC but instead of building a 150M soccer specific stadium for DC United and the USSF next to RFK they decided to spend 750M for the Nats and thanks to the wretched Nats the city won’t be spending a dime on a sports stadium for another 50 years (Verizon Center and Fed Ex Field were privately funded). Though even w/o a soccer specific stadium I like RFK for soccer too. Sure the place is a dump but the sight lines are great, there is plenty of parking for tailgating and the Metro stops at the stadium.

    Anyway the thought of having a Wembley especially in a country so large is idiotic. Plus the new Wembley sucks, and the stadium is often only 1/2 full for England matches and you could hear a pin drop in the stadium. The atmosphere for England matches were much better when the new Wembley was being built and they were playing matches in Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield etc.

  14. As a former Yinzer (is there such a thing?) it’s nice to see Pittsburgh get it’s due.

    Sadly however the USSF is more interested in making cash than actually promoting the game. Cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffulo would be great cities to promote the game as you suggested…however the Hispanic population is just to small, and like it or not it’s the Hispanics that are putting butts in the seats.

    The game is growing and continuing to grow, and I would love to see the USSF get it’s head out of its arse and put games in places like Pittsburgh…but I don’t see it happening for at least 20 years.

  15. Espo and Bob what are you talking about? PA West has 60,000 youth players, 2,000 adult amateurs, 7,000 coaches, and over 2,300 referees. We also have several colleges. If the USMNT played at Heinz Field it absolutely would be filled. Don’t overlook the soccer community here. It’s there, just their isn’t a local team to support. Pitt and the Riverhounds both are trash, both coaches are buddies and stink. And like the article says, we are a pretty neutral territory for people to travel. I think it’s a great selection and the hispanic population is under control for home games.

  16. I’ve seen progression in every post. Your newer posts are simply wonderful compared to your posts in the past. Keep up the good work!

  17. This is the nice site! I love examples of articles which have been written, and especially the comments posted! I’ll definately be visiting again!

  18. The University of St. Louis? Seriously? It’s Saint Louis University. But don’t worry, the Billikens have only won 10 national titles in soccer…it’s not like the school has one the most storied programs in collegiate soccer or anything.

  19. Pittsburgh is a good choice. This city is more outstanding from others.

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