Major League Soccer began its 15th season a few days ago as it just averted a player-owner disaster with a lockout/strike. The beginning of the season brings two new soccer-specific stadiums: PPL Park outside of Philadelphia in Chester, PA and Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ outside of NYC. This now means that more than half of the league plays in a soccer-specific stadium (9 out of 16). I think this trend is terrific. For one, it means more stadiums!!! But it is so important for these teams to create their own atmosphere and income instead of playing in a borrowed home of an NFL team (or in the case of the Kansas City Wizards, a minor-leage baseball team). Crew Stadium in Columbus, OH was one of the first to be built in the country in 1999 and the process took a lot of time, but finally more teams began to build and plan through the 2000s. Even 2nd divison clubs have created their own places: like in Charleston, Cary, Rochester and Montreal…all being much improved or a better alternative then their previous venues.
I enjoy soccer and the stadiums that go with it and its been great to see this influx of soccer stadiums as the design is much improved for watching play. I’ve only been to one soccer-specific stadium and unfortunately it has been part of a disappointing trend in what was once a great soccer city and likely the only failed new soccer stadium. The Rochester Rhinos play a tier below the MLS in the USL First Division. They played their games at Frontier Field, designed for baseball. The Rhinos routinely averaged 12,000-plus crowds in the late 90s and early 2000s as the popularity of the team exploded. The atmosphere was great despite it being a ballpark. However, everyone wanted their own stadium and possibly a jump up to MLS. Finally, after getting that stadium (now called Marina Auto Stadium) in 2006, attendance dropped under 10,000 and most games were in the 6,000 – 8,000 range. What happened? I have no idea. Either the novelty wore off or the ‘so-called’ poor area that the pitch was in had an impact on fans getting to games.
I hope this story is rare and am not familiar with all of the other newly built stadiums, but from the little I’ve heard, they’ve all been success stories. I look forward to more of these places being built, hopefully with all different, unique touches to make it special and to create that unique atmosphere associated with soccer as the sport continues to grow in the US.