Friday, December 16, 2005

MLS needs a new stadium?

First off, I think it's great that we just got a major league soccer franchise from San Jose. And I'm curious to hear new name suggestions in the comments. But can someone explain to me why they need a new stadium for a summer-season sport when we have two fully-air-conditioned, domed stadiums available - both of which are empty in the summer and one of which is empty year-round? (the Astrodome)

I seem to remember somewhere in the hype around Reliant Stadium when it was built that it was designed to handle an MLS franchise too if the time came. Well, it's come. What's up? Is this just a matter of strong-arming McNair to give some concession and parking revenue rights to the MLS team? (or heck, just become the local owner they're looking for) Whatever it is, it's got to be cheaper than building a new stadium. (or, worst case, making a few modifications to the Astrodome)

Comments are welcome, but I'd really like to see this fully explored by some in-depth investigative reporting in the Houston Chronicle. (and not just by the sports writers, who always want a new stadium)

(update: see comments below, and Metroblogging Houston has some stadium analysis)


At 8:29 AM, December 17, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I have gotten a couple emails indicating that the expected crowds are in the 20-30,000 range, and that big empty stadiums drain the excitement from the game (Reliant and the Astrodome both hold over 60,000).

So how about this idea? Start by imagining giant circus tents and the "event intimacy" they create. Now visualize the ceiling hole in Reliant with 4 large tent-canvas flaps hanging from the 4 sides of the roof hole all the way to the back of the lowest, ground-level tier of seating (or maybe just above the suites?).

Voila, you have intimate seating for less than 30,000 at a top-notch air-conditioned facility with an open-roof option. And I can pretty much guaranteed the enclosed environment will be much louder and energetic than any open air stadium. You could even put giant images on the canvas flaps like famous soccer players, team logos, and ads to increase the atmosphere.

Here's a pic of the interior of Reliant:

If Reliant is bad for some other reason, I'm sure a similar setup could be done in the Astrodome.

At 8:35 AM, December 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the MLS doesn't want to move into Reliant Stadium for the same reasons UH left the Astrodome. The odds are that attendance won't much surpass 10,000.
Going to a game where the crowd fills less than 1/6 of the stadium kills much of the excitement. Every stadium shot will show huge swaths of empty seats.

Unless they can find an accomodating partner who already needs or owns a stadium any construction would be a waste. The usual sports franchise blather about tourists and free publicity do not hold for the MLS and its meager attendance and TV audience.

At 12:28 PM, December 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

70,000 seat air conditioned stadiums cost lots of money to operate. Aside from the airflow logistics and hideous aesthetics of putting giant canvas tarps in Reliant Stadium, you will still have the problem of 70,000 seats of maintenance and AC being paid out of 20,000 (hopefully) tickets. There is no way to make that math work.

There has been talk of HISD sharing some expense of building a new 20,000 seat stadium to replace Delmar. Also, given the above referenced cost issues, combined with the fact that few events actually draw 70,000 spectators, a smaller facility would actually be used more than Reliant is, making it more cost effective than Reliant. The spring/summer soccer schedule leaves the facility available for high school football in the fall. Rarely does a high school event draw more than 20,000, even during the playoffs.

If the public-private partnership being discussed comes to fruition, it may not cost the taxpayers anything anyway. If that's the case, they can build whatever they want.

Notice, I did say "IF".

At 2:16 PM, December 17, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

My understanding from an Astrodome tour was that it's kept temperature-controlled year-round (maybe not 75, but a pretty tight range). I've heard actual rain clouds can form inside the stadium if the climate control system fails. Reliant may be the same way, although I don't know what they do when the roof's open.

Whatever they do, I hope they're not considering an open-air stadium for a summer-season sport if they want any substantial attendance. The only way that might possibly work would be night games, and even then it would be pretty unpleasant.

At 3:19 PM, December 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to think that we would actually build another domed sports facility in this city. Ever. What's next - a separate hockey arena? And then a separate rodeo stadium? And then every 20-30 years, interests for all of our sports will scream obsolescence and demand new stadiums or they'll leave town? Can you imagine the image of a third domed stadium rising adjacent to Reliant and the Astrodome (if it's not torn down by then)?

I think Tory's proposal for using Reliant or the Astrodome w/curtains is a realistic choice if the games must be indoors. Otherwise, I think the soccer team should just use an existing outdoor facility like Robertson or Rice stadium or one of the local high school stadiums and play mostly night games.

At 6:49 PM, December 17, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The team signed a 3 year lease with UH to use Robertson, so clearly the matches do not have to be indoors.

I know the prevailing wisdom in Houston is that fans will not go to a game outdoors, but non-professional teams play outdoors all the time. A look at the FC Dallas schedule shows that all home games started at 7:30 pm. A look at shows that through the month of August, game time temps were in the mid 80s, sometimes lower, with humidity in the mid 60s...certainly bearable, if one is in the shade.

As the city that invented the first indoor stadium, I'd like to see Houston be the city that makes outdoor events in hot climes watchable. Roofing over the seating area, with fans or misters to cool it down, with lots of trees around the stadium, similar to the very comfortable Cynthia Woods Pavillion, would help. Being that the stadium will not be fully enclosed, breezes will keep it bearable, if positioned correctly. Other features could actually encourage Houstonians to take back the outdoors. We sure need to.

At 10:07 AM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Rob Booth said...

The word on the Big Soccer boards was that it costs $200,000 per match to open the doors at Reliant. Looking at regular ticket sales in the 10,000-15,000 range (roughly league average) you can see where they can't make a financial go of it at Reliant.

I must confess that I really don't know anything about the business of sports so I'm just repeating what I've heard.

It is supposed to be great for watching soccer and we can maybe see an MLS championship game played here. (They select the city before the season, like the Superbowl.)


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