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Ahead of Atlanta’s expected MLS entry, are NFL stadium shares the way to go?

Apr 16, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

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On Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET, Major League Soccer is set to announce that their 23rd franchise will be based in Atlanta.

You can watch that announcement live, right here, and over here at ProSoccerTalk we will be breaking down all of the reaction and analyzing what this means for North America’s top flight.

With New York City FC expected to announce they will play at Yankee Stadium for at least thee years and the Minnesota Vikings aiming to “step up” their pursuit of an MLS franchise in their new downtown stadium, all of this expansion and stadium news got me thinking; is it okay for MLS sides to share their home venues with an NFL or MLB franchise?

Of course in an ideal world, every single MLS team would have their own soccer-specific stadium and we’d all love it and praise the amount of money being pumped into the league, but this isn’t an ideal world, my friends.

(MORE: Report – New York City FC to call Yankee Stadium home for three (!!!) years)

The smart, sensible and slightly less exciting option is to merge with NFL teams when possible. The franchise in Atlanta is an example of that, as well as Minneapolis looking to have an MLS team now that a new precedent has been set. With so many MLS teams struggling from playing in huge NFL stadiums in the past, when attendances levels were much lower and the lack of atmosphere inside the vast stadiums was a huge issue, now MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems to have changed his thinking on new franchises not having their own soccer-specific stadium.

Now, technological improvements have seen these multi-purpose stadiums work quite well.


The false roof at BC Place encloses the lower bowl and still keeps the atmosphere on a ‘Caps matchday.

Look around MLS with the Seattle Sounders sharing the Seahawks CenturyLink Field, (they may be the exception to the rule, as not every market will have a huge soccer fanbase like Seattle’s) the Vancouver Whitecaps play at BC Place where a false roof is lowered down to enclose the lower-tier and the New England Revolution play at Gillette Stadium owned by the Kraft family who run the Patriots.

That last example will give everyone a worrying reminder that MLS teams playing in NFL stadiums doesn’t always work out that well, but I’m optimistic it will, in the long run.

(MORE: Minnesota Vikings “stepping up” bid for MLS franchise)

With Atlanta’s plans including a similar design to BC Place, the lower tier of the stadium will more than suffice for 25-30,000 Georgians looking to get on the MLS bandwagon. Similar plans are also in place for the Vikings’ stadium downtown, as two of the riskier MLS expansion franchises will take to soccer pragmatically.

It may not be ideal but in terms of costs and sensibility, piggy-backing off of new NFL stadiums is a smart move. You’re basically getting a free stadium which would’ve have otherwise gone empty for most of the year and handing it a franchise in the fastest growing of all the major league’s in North America. Hopefully the owners will spend more money on buying players for their new MLS franchise, rather than having to fork out extra cash to build a soccer-specific stadium. As long as that is the case, it’s a big win for both the league and the teams involved.

The output is relatively low and the income for the league, if Atlanta, New York City and possibly Minneapolis get it right, is sky high. The smart and sensible option for the next wave of MLS expansion franchises is to grow the brand into new markets with relatively low spending. Sharing NFL stadiums means the risks are low and the potential for success is high.

If done correctly, there’s no real reason why MLS-NFL stadium sharing can’t be a success.

  1. kirielson - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    I think it depends on owners. That’s the major thing, while the Krafts are bad, the vast are actually relatively good.

  2. chadmoon1 - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    NO, NO, NO!!!!!! This is not the way to go. This is a step backwards for the league. Every team (Yes, even you Seatlle!) should have there own stadium, creating their own revenues.

    • gazza305 - Apr 18, 2014 at 3:01 AM

      Seattle creates it’s own revenues. So will the Atlanta club.

  3. dfstell - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    I can understand that it is a basic reality that teams need to share. It is a little dumb for cities to have football and soccer stadiums that are used a 20 times per year when you could have one facility that is used 40 times per year.

    But…..I don’t want to see football lines and I really don’t want to see turf either.

  4. Greg - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    If Atlanta follows the Vancouver route, yes, if they follow New England, no… Seattle is somewhere inbetween

    • jdfsquared - Apr 16, 2014 at 3:33 PM

      I think Seattle is on the leading edge, especially considering that they just separated their front office from the Seahawks completely. This kind of partnership proved fruitful early on, and was eventually outgrown. Sounds like success to me.

      • kirielson - Apr 16, 2014 at 4:55 PM

        The question is though, is it same owners and everything, the only difference is separation of staff? If that’s it, they there’s really nothing to worry about.

  5. robe1300 - Apr 16, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    The only real detriment to the stadium-sharing arrangement is being forced to play on artificial turf. Obviously, having the stadium infrastructure, including parking, downtown location, and transit connections ready to go as a part of something else is desirable from a monetary standpoint. The complaint about turf is admittedly the stock complaint of basically any MLS fan about NFL stadium sharing (the dreadful situation in New England aside) but it certainly changes the way the game has to be played. Part of the problem is the preferences of soccer and football players: apparently, football players prefer a firmer surface while soccer players want one that is more forgiving. Football always takes priority in these situations so you end up with a much firmer surface than is desirable for soccer, which leads to negative effects on the game. Just look at a Seattle game, where the ball plays so much more quickly than on natural grass, making passes harder to control and making the game look a lot sloppier. That problem is only exacerbated when, as is frequent in the PNW, it rains before or during a match.

    Personally, it would be nice to see MLS discount the expansion fee in exchange for having Blank install a removable grass surface with the stadium. Similar technology exists at University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, AZ and could certainly be employed in Atlanta as well. That would allow the soccer team to have its own dedicated playing surface which would never be marred by gridiron lines (and vice versa) and make for fewer nightmares when there is a quick turnaround between MLS and NFL/NCAA football games (of which Atlanta hosts many). I don’t think that turf is the root of all evil in MLS or even that it necessarily holds the league back from what it could be. But when teams fail to travel their biggest stars to games played on artificial surfaces and the game looks uglier when played on them, I think it certainly begs the question with regard to whether new teams ought to be able to play on it, especially when the league might be able to negotiate an alternative.

  6. talgrath - Apr 16, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    I believe I saw plans that had a retractable grass field (much like a retractable roof) in the Atlanta stadium plans, if you can pull something like that off then I think playing in NFL stadiums will work out extremely well. As we’ve already seen with the Miami stadium, a seemingly win-win stadium deal for a soccer team isn’t necessarily going to go smoothly; the idea of building a stadium for soccer hasn’t gained quite the same foothold in the US as basketball or football, for example. Ultimately, teaming with an NFL team is a very practical decision, the NFL team gets to fill their stadium seats during the spring and summer and the MLS team doesn’t have to fight tooth and nail just to get land approval for their stadium.

  7. wandmdave - Apr 16, 2014 at 3:24 PM

    The ideal world comment sums it up. It would be awesome to have grass field SSS in the middle of downtown of every MLS market but it ain’t happening yet. MLS has grown surprisingly quickly but it just doesn’t have the clout yet. This is a decent stepping stone to get there while expanding the league’s footprint and hopefully interest in domestic soccer geographically.

    Beyond the stadiums I’m sure the NFL marketing contacts help a good bit for corporate sponsorship deals at least (which in turn helps product on the field and therefore fan outreach). I’ve heard it has helped Seattle quite a bit.

  8. jdfsquared - Apr 16, 2014 at 3:31 PM

    It may be unlucky to talk about, but future expansion is something to be considered. These new venues are built to last, what, thirty or forty years? It is not inconceivable that within that timeframe, MLS might need to retract that temporary roof and accommodate more than 30,000 fans. This isn’t just the optimist in me talking, it’s one of the very real possibilities resulting from current growth rates. If it also makes fiscal sense in the here and now to partner with NFL teams, the larger stadia might be a fortuitous byproduct.

    But I agree with dfstell… turf sucks, for sure. But absolutely NO FOOTBALL LINES! Nothing kills MLS on TV faster than that.

  9. kryptock - Apr 16, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    And we are back to torn up fields and orange lines? no thank you. Terrible idea.

  10. novemberreign - Apr 16, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    The Caps have the crappiest pitch in the MLS. Besides that BC Place looks gorgeous.

  11. Vnice - Apr 17, 2014 at 1:36 AM

    But the Caps could easily replace that pitch and solve a lot of problems.

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