Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Albuquerque Deserves a MLS team

            I come from a city in the southwest known as Albuquerque. It is a city that is always over looked for just about everything. I am not writing this to complain about how Albuquerque has nothing to do in it because that is a flat out lie. I am not going whine about how we never have any good bands come through and I am not going to cry about how we do not have pro Soccer team. But I will talk about why Albuquerque should have a soccer team, preferably in the MLS.

            As I mentioned before, Albuquerque is looked over for a lot of things; and why should it not be? We have Denver to the north of us and what was once a boom city in Phoenix to the west of us. Hell, Most people hear “New Mexico” and think we are part of Mexico, we have to have green cards to live here and we all speak Spanish. So admittedly, we are an easily overlooked state and city. In some cases, we like it that way. We even refer to ourselves as "America's best kept secret". But there are some things that Albuquerque deserves and one of those is a MLS team.

            Everyone can come up with reason why we should not have a MLS team at all and why the MLS should stick another two teams in California, or another two in Texas. I am pretty sure if the commissioner of MLS, Don Garber (get well soon Don) had his way, all the teams would be moved to CA and NY and have it set up like the BPL where we have the “Blue side” of NYC. But you cannot do that in a country like the United States. The first thing I am going to do is get the obvious out of the way and the reasons people will say “Albuquerque will never have a MLS team”

            Let’s first look at population. What is important to note is the metro area of Albuquerque and the surrounding areas that have teams and potential teams.

Albuquerque – 555,417
Rio Rancho - 90,818 (major city in Albuquerque metro area)
Phoenix – 1.489 Million
Tucson – 524,295
Las Vegas – 596,424
El Paso - 672,538
Salt Lake City – 189,314 (Real Salt Lake)
Sandy UT – 89,344 (Where Rio Tinto Stadium actually is)
Denver – 634,265 (Colorado Rapids)
Commerce City CO – 49,913 (Where Dick’s Sporting Good park actually is)

MLS Team map and expansion sites of interest as of 2014 for the 2015 - 2020 seasons

One of the arguments people make is Albuquerque or NM in general does not have the population to support a MLS team. The total number of people in New Mexico is 2.086million which is just behind Utah at 2.855m, Colorado is at 5.188m. Yes, we have one the smallest population in the south west states (which, for this article will be NV, NM, CO, AZ, UT). I will round out the five with Nevada at 2.759m. “But what about Arizona?” Well as I said before, Phoenix is the boom city of the southwest. So you can guess it has a large population. Coming in at first place easily with a population of 6.553m. So Yes, NM has a small population when you put CO and AZ in there. Compared to the other two, we are not that bad. But I am not done with this population argument.

            Let me point your attention to our neighbors to the west. Arizona does not have a MLS team either. We can bring up that they do have a Pro Soccer team in the form of Arizona United SC (SC stands for soccer club for those who do not know) that play in the USL Pro. Yes, the USL Pro is a pro league. But if we are talking population will dictate attendance of the games; you are wrong yet again. April 12, 2014 Arizona United had a crowd of 2,888. For the size of the state, that is a low attendance. Take a look at a Chivas USA, New England Revolution or DC United games. All three teams regularly show at the bottom of the attendance table. We also have to look at the UNM Lobo soccer games that regularly hit between 2500 to nearly 5000 in attendance on a weekly home game basis. This is for a collage team in a sport that is not American Football. The population argument means absolutely nothing in this case. I will point out a few more numbers to prove this point. Sporting KC play in Kansas City KS, population of 147,268 in the city, on the MO side of the city 464,310 (Total 611,578) and SKC games regularly sell out. Are you getting the picture here yet? Population counts for something but not what people want it to count for. Albuquerque is actually a rather large city with a healthy sized population and if you add in the two biggest cities in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. the population is  646,235, Just over that of Kansas City. So we can drop this argument.

            The next argument is money. It usually comes out as “The people in Albuquerque are poor. They do not have money to spend on the tickets” This is also not true. Maybe not on a NFL, MLB or NBA game, but the MLS ticket costs are significantly cheaper than those of the NFL, NBA or MLB. Just last year, I went to a Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers game. I paid $22 per ticket. I went with my Girlfriend and my aunt so in total, plus the service fee I paid $71 for 3 tickets. I will lay down another table so you can get the idea of how much MLS tickets cost on average compared to other leagues.

MLS - $26.15
NBA – $48.48
NHL - $57.10
MLB – $31.27
NFL – $81.54

        These are just the averages of a single game ticket. We all cannot get season tickets, and if you know anything about Albuquerque. We are a very Ala carte kind of city. So the money argument is not a problem either. The single game ticket for an Isotopes game (Triple A baseball) is $16.35. Roughly $10 more and you get a top flight league game in soccer. People come to the Isotope games in droves as well. The stadium holds just under 13.5k people and April 12, 2014 they pulled in 11.2k people. With numbers like that, I think it is safe to say that the money is here for people to come to a MLS game. Season ticket for MLS range between $350 to $850 and that is getting around 18 home games a season. That drives the price of the per game tickets down even further.

            Going along with the money argument, many believe the investment for a team is not here. Now this one I cannot talk about too much. But there are businesses that are in deep with the community, businesses that are invested in Albuquerque. Some of those companies could be HP, Intel (they are in Rio Rancho, but a business opportunity is a business opportunity), Southwest Airlines. Those are just the big three that come to mind. There is money here and enough to invest in a team. We might not have the ownership group to drop $6m a season on a Michael Bradley as a DP, but the money is here.

            Another argument is a stadium. That they cost too much. Why make the people pay for a stadium? A lot of people believe that building a stadium would cost $100+m. In some cases, that is true, but not in all cases. We need to think of the seating capacity we want but more importantly, need. So I will hit on the capacity before I get to the cost and location.

Ideally people here would like a stadium in the 20k to 25k range, which is just unreasonable. The SJ Earthquake are building a stadium that seats 18k. This is for a soccer specific stadium (commonly referred to as a SSS and that is what I will call it from here on out). The largest SSS is the StubHub Center, home of the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA that seats 27k. Next in line is Red Bull Arena at 25.2k. Those are two big budget teams. The idea size of a stadium for Albuquerque would be between 17k and 18.5k. One of the best venues in MLS is Sporting Park (home of Sporting Kansas City) and they seat just under 18.5. So let’s say about 18k capacity is good for Albuquerque. It seems small but part of soccer is having an intimate experience. We cannot have that if the stadium is too big for the number of people that show. Ask the New England Revolution or Chivas USA that. Even the Colorado Rapids have a hard time filling their stadium of 19,680. They typically come in 4000 to 5000 short of capacity. But that is a good sized stadium for the number of people that come.

            Cost is the next topic. There are several factors that come into this. Capacity is one of them, who designed it? Who is building it? Where is it going to be? The most expensive stadium in the MLS right now is Red Bull Arena at $200m. The cheapest one is Columbus Crew Stadium at $29m. Yes, the stadium will be expensive, but it is not going to break our bank. The Renovations done on The Pit were just over $60m. What I am getting at here is we can get a stadium, a good stadium for sub $100m. BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the Houston Dynamo cost $95m and that is a beautiful stadium.

            Where would it be? Well there are several locations around the city. The MLS right now requires (or at least prefer) that it be in the downtown area. Now we have room to put an 18k seat stadium in downtown Albuquerque. But is it really the best place to have it for us? Albuquerque is a different story. Our downtown area is not our city center the way it is in places like Seattle. People go downtown for few reasons here. To get to the zoo or the museums, the night life, to get some paper work done. That is really about it. There are other places we can place a stadium. The best place would be just south of the UNM Baseball stadium. That area of town already handles a large volume of people for UNM football, soccer and basketball games as well as Isotopes games. Rumor is that UNM will be using that land for a small shopping center for the people who live in the dorms over there, so that location might not be an option. There is still land over in the Mesa del Sol area. It is not that far away and people drive there to go to the Journal Pavilion. It is fairly easy to get to as well and the shots of the sky would be beautiful for TV. But downtown Albuquerque is really the most feasible. The rail runner is right there so it is easy for people to come from Santa Fe, Las Lunas and Bernalillo. All of those places are really no further away than driving from the NE highest or deep in the west or southwest valley. It is really a central location. The roads might have to be redone. Rio Rancho is out of the question. Parking might be a pain, but we love parking parking structures here and the city is big on the "Park and "Ride" idea. so parking would not be a problem either.

KSU Soccer Stadium. Capacity 10k. Design can be modified for 18k for Albuquerque.

Sporting park. Home of Sporting KC. 18,467 for soccer. 

            The next problem we have here or at least one people would point out as a problem, Our TV market. Albuquerque-Santa Fe sits at 44th in the nation out of the top 100 TV markets. Alright, so it is a little low. But Las Vegas NV is at 42. The MLS is looking at LV for a team. That is not much better. Buffalo NY is a 51. They had mentioned Memphis, they are sitting at 48. Tucson (a city I think should have a team) is at 68. Yes, we are low, but not so low that, that should be a reason to overlook us. Then they talk about TV deals. Well we have three fantastic TV stations in town. Two of which I had the pleasure of working for. And I bet you that if we had a MLS team that KOB, KRQE or KOAT would broadcast home games. But most the people that will be watching the game will be at the game. That can be said about any team in any city. The people who are watching will be at the stadium with a few watching on TV. The MLS has a TV marketing problem as it is. Locally, it is good, nationally it is a joke. We get one game on NBCSN a week and UniMas shows a game here and there, but that is a subscribed channel. The only way to get the most out of MLS is MLSLive (which is about $90 for the season and streams online) or Direct Kick from Direct TV.Those are your only options. I know as a proud New Mexican, if NBCSN Play a Sol FC vs whomever, people in Albuquerque will tune in. especially if it shows up on KOB (a NBC affiliate), which I am sure it would. The TV market is not a problem. We would have the same problem that other cities have.

            There is one other issue people bring up which is invalided from the start. I have heard people say “Albuquerque is not a soccer town. It is a baseball town” or it is a football town or basketball town. Some could argue it is a hockey town (yes, we have a couple of hockey leagues in town and a hockey team). But it is none of those. Albuquerque has parks set up just for soccer. Albuquerque Public Schools has a soccer complex. Bernalillo host the Albuquerque Soccer League games which features 22 fields and on any Saturday and Sunday each field is being used; these are primarily adult games. Let’s not forget Johnson field at UNM that is usually running 2 to 3 games a day. The number of kids playing soccer in Albuquerque is 20k+. That is more than any other youth sport in town. We also have three indoor arenas. That is not including UNM Johnson center. All of these places typically have games going on whenever they are open and all host open gym that have so many people that attend, you could create an entire league. You can go to nearly any park in the city and find kids kicking the soccer ball around, even in the winter. You rarely see kids playing baseball in town. You might see some kids throwing a football around but not as often. This is a soccer city. You think no one cares about soccer in Albuquerque? The Albuquerque Sol FC, our PDL team has gained so much attention in the community that they went from 0 to 4000+ likes on Facebook in under 4 months. Even their supporters group went from 0 to 300 in about 2 months. The interest is here, we care. More than people want to give us credit for.

            Those are the top reasons people say we do not need or deserve a MLS team. And each of them is absolutely false. People will say that we would do well in NASL or USL Pro. And no hit against those leagues, both are highly competitive. They do not fit Albuquerque. If you want to base it on population, half the cities in the MLS should be moved down. If you want to talk about poor attendance there are some teams that need to be moved down as well (DC United, Chivas USA, New England Revolution). There is absolutely no reason Albuquerque should not have a MLS team other than a bias that there is nothing here and we do not support our sports. You could bring up the other 3 soccer teams we used to have in town. But the league the Chiles were in collapsed around them. The Geckos were moved to CA out of greed and the Asylum’s competition mostly went bankrupt. None of those were a result of ownership here or attendance.

            Lastly i want to talk about rivalries. The MLS has been big on rivalries these past few years. even producing a week called rivalry week. If they want a rivalry. there is no better place to look at than Albuquerque. You throw a team in Tucson or Phoenix in the mix and you have the four corners between Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The supporters of the Albuquerque Sol FC and FC Tucson have already started a rivalry. For the most part, New Mexican universities do not get along with universities from Colorado. getting all four corners involved could be the 2nd best rivalry (behind Seattle and Portland) if not the best in the league. the Lobos faithful get up when we hear Air force is coming to town and we have never got along with Denver University. This is the making of the most fierce rivalry in MLS ever.

            Let me be blunt why we deserve a MLS team. We are a small market that surprises every time someone comes here. Utah is a small market. Real Salt Lake is one of the best teams in the league. KC is a small market. SKC were the 2013 MLS Champions. We are a small market that has one of the top soccer programs in the country. We are passionate about what we have and grateful for what we get. Yes, the USL Pro or the NASL would be a nice stepping stone, but we are a MLS state and we would succeed in the MLS. People will pay to go to the games. There is no reason why we do not deserve a MLS team.  And the way Albuquerque works there is only one team that should be moved up; the Albuquerque Sol FC. We like our stuff local. The Sol are locally owned, locally ran with heavy local support that has shown up across the nation and internationally and the big name businesses that are in the city and state love the community. Albuquerque Deserves a MLS team. 

Albuquerque Sol FC Logo. PDL team starting play in 2014.

Jeremy Wood. April 12, 2014
Albuquerque NM

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