December 16, 2005
The Earthquakes are coming

It's official: the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS are coming to Houston.

Major League Soccer announced Thursday that the Anschutz Entertainment Group will relocate its Earthquakes franchise from San Jose, Calif., to Houston, less than four months before the start of the 2006 season.

"The move is effective immediately, and all players and coaching staff currently under contract will transfer to Houston as part of the new team," MLS commissioner Don Garber said Thursday.

AEG will make the official announcement at 10 a.m. today outside City Hall. Mayor Bill White, members of City Council and other city and county officials are scheduled to welcome the team, which will be renamed in a contest. Among those expected to attend are AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke and team coach Dominic Kinnear.

MLS officials declined to speculate on where the team will play next season, although all signs point to the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium.

AEG did not return calls or e-mails requesting comment.

University of Houston athletic director Dave Maggard, who has held talks with the franchise's owners in the months leading to the move, also would not say whether Robertson will house the franchise on a temporary basis.

"There's a possibility," Maggard said.

MLS has said it expects to have a plan for a soccer-specific stadium in Houston carved out in the near future. Although nothing is concrete, Garber has said he would seek a public-private partnership in the building of a venue. Such a partnership would be similar to the one forged in Frisco with the city, school district and team owner Hunt Sports for Pizza Hut Park, home of FC Dallas.

Let's get the stadium issue out of the way first: If the proposal we get is another taxpayer-funded giveaway for a private venture, I will strongly oppose it. I've learned my lesson from the earlier referenda, and even if I didn't think it was a bad idea now, there's no room in the budget for that. It doesn't sound like that's what's in the works, but let's be clear about that up front.

If this "public-private partnership" is the plan, then it's a matter of the details. How much is the CIty of Houston being asked to put up, and what tangible benefit will it get in return for that? I'm willing to wait and see what that might mean, and in the meantime I'd love to get some feedback from folks in the Dallas area about the partnership-built stadium there.

Assuming there's a plan for a stadium that enough people can accept, where would it be built? John Lopez stumps for downtown.

If this franchise is going to survive and thrive, it must find a home downtown, near Minute Maid Park or on the north side of downtown. There is city and county land available in both those areas and the development all around downtown shows the power of downtown venues.

If the game is going to pique interest in casual fans and cross over into corporate Houston, the stadium must be easy to get to and within walking distance of Houston's downtown.

This is the formula that has doubled interest in the Astros in recent years.


The last thing that should happen is the eventual home stadium being put somewhere other than the heart of the local sports world. Robertson Stadium will be fine in the short term, but the longer the franchise calls Robertson home, the more industrious fans will have to become to fill it.

If the stadium is erected out where the deer and the soccer moms play — in Katy, Sugar Land, Kingwood, The Woodlands — it would limit the audience to a thin slice. Sticking it in a so-called "Hispanic" part of town would be economic disaster for the club. The Hispanic part of town, after all, is a nice way of saying barrio. Hispanics are all over town, just like soccer fans and soccer moms.

While it's true that putting a stadium in Sugar Land would make it hard for folks from The Woodlands to attend (and vice versa), that doesn't mean that the team couldn't survive there. You'll note that FC Dallas actually plays in the suburb of Frisco, for example. Maybe that's where most of the fans are, I don't know. A little marketing research before making any decisions would seem to be the wise course here.

That said, downtown does have a lot of appeal. The main question would be how expensive that would make it, since the land around there isn't cheap. Perhaps the city's contribution to the public-private partnership could be to just donate some unused property for the stadium. I could live with that.

Last but not least:

The company also will unveil a team-naming contest for the franchise. The league has retained the Earthquakes name, colors and logo for use by an expansion team in the Bay Area.

If they want to keep a similar theme for the new name, the Houston Floods would be an obvious choice. Any other takers?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 16, 2005 to Other sports | TrackBack

Ironically, the NASL franchise was known as the Hurricane.

Posted by: William Hughes on December 16, 2005 2:26 PM

It'd be nice if the powers that be could avoid the temptation to "Americanize" the team name. Dispensing with goofy nicknames and cartoon logos might actually make it easier to market the team to traditional soccer fans. Granted, "Real Salt Lake" is pretty silly, too, but there has to be a happy medium.

Posted by: Iain on December 16, 2005 3:52 PM

The suggested names are awful-no imagination whatsoever. Its already clear that those who are running the club have no ties or knowledge of the sport whatsoever. I agree with Iains comment. I vote for Houston Town Football Club. Fits in with H-Town nickname the city already has.

You would also think that the team would tap into some of the local institutions for marketing the game. No contact has been made with HFA for example-the biggest adult league in town and the ones most likely to buy season tickets. Its off to a very bad start. Unfortunately I dont think the team will average 10k a match. The new team needs to get on the ball!

Posted by: Phillip on January 1, 2006 12:14 PM