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MLS in the Dome

I confess, I don’t pay all that much attention to soccer, so I haven’t been keeping up with this story.

The Astrodome might recover some of its faded glory if a Mexican club interested in bringing a professional soccer franchise to Houston has its way.

Club América, the Mexican First Division franchise that hopes to bring a Major League Soccer team to the Bayou City, has told city and county officials it would like its prospective Houston club to play at the former home of the Astros and Oilers. Officials with the Mexico City-based team, which is looking to buy MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes from the Anschutz Entertainment Group and relocate it to Houston, met this week with Mayor Bill White and officials with the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp.

MLS officials have expressed a preference for soccer-specific venues, such as a $45 million, 20,000-seat stadium and sports complex proposed in conjunction with the Houston Independent School District at the site of the current district-owned Delmar Stadium. But the 40-year-old county-owned Dome seems to be feasible for Club América.

“It certainly makes sense before you invest a penny in a new stadium to look at what’s already built, what’s available,” said Harris County-Houston Sports Authority head Oliver Luck, one of several city and county officials working to bring MLS to Houston. “I think it’s a smart idea to at least look at whether the Astrodome is a good short-term venue.”

Well, yes, the Dome is sitting there empty, waiting to be turned into a casino or a convention center/hotel or a space-themed theme park or whatever. That’s certainly cheaper than building a new stadium from scratch. Having attended the last rodeo at the Dome a couple of years back, though, I’m not so sure that you wouldn’t have to spend a few pennies to make it amenable to soccer fans. The old place had clearly seen better days since it got jilted by its former tenants. How much you’d have to spend, that I couldn’t say.

Anne, who was up in arms at the idea of HISD paying money for a stadium that a professional team would use, also wonders about the potential cost of sprucing up the Dome. It clearly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put much money into what is clearly a stopgap solution, but let’s not forget, the Dome is currently costing Harris County one point five million bucks a year as it is. Given that, it’s not outrageous to me that spending a little money in order to generate some regular revenue and offset those costs a bit might make financial sense. Thus, I’ll wait to see what actually gets proposed before I worry about it.

It is curious to me that MLS turned to Houston after San Antonio shot them down.

Major League Soccer has pulled out of talks with San Antonio to locate a team in the city, saying local officials were not bargaining in good faith.
The Wednesday move came shortly after incoming mayor Phil Hardberger said at a news conference that the proposed deal with MLS didn’t make financial sense for the city.

“Goodbye. That’s what I would tell MLS,” Hardberger said.

But MLS officials said goodbye first in a terse letter to outgoing Mayor Ed Garza, a strong proponent of bringing pro soccer to the Alamodome.

[…]

Hardberger and several city council members criticized terms of the proposed deal, among them that the MLS team would get rent-free use of the dome.

Garza and MLS said an anchor tenant for the dome would help cut its operating costs and its annual deficit.

Garza questioned the abruptness of Hardberger’s decision to end negotiations. Garza said the 10-member city council also should have some say in the matter.

“What are the alternatives?” Garza asked. “To continue to lose money (on the dome) or to try to find a major league sports tenant that creates opportunities to make money.”

The Alamodome is an even bigger white elephant than our Dome, and it’s much younger to boot. You’d think there’d have been room for a deal there. Any San Antonians want to comment on that?

Last but not least, kudos to Lair for his prognostication skills. You called it, dude.

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6 Comments

  1. William Hughes says:

    I think the San Antonio plan would have been for an expansion team, as opposed to Club America’s plan to come to Houston. San Antonio would have had to sell 5,000 season tickets to get the franchise.

    The Astrodome would be similar to Giants Stadium for MLS soccer in that the upper deck would have to be covered and capacity would be kept at under 30,000. On the other hand, given Club America’s (“los Aguillas”) popularity in Mexico, I can see Houston as an ideal location for such a team. Club America is second in popularity to “los Chivas” of Guadalajara (with sincere apologies to all the “Cementeros” (Cruz Azul) fans that seem to be in NYC). In any case, it would be far more successful with fans than the Houston Hurricane were in the NASL.

    I give Guadalajara and Club America credit for recogizing that MLS can be used as a developmental league for future stars either in Mexico or abroad. Other than Hugo Sanchez, there really has not been a soccer player from Mexico that went abroad and succeeded on the highest level.

  2. Cincinnatus says:

    As far as what happened in San Antonio, this was an issue caught square in the crosshairs of the June 7 run-off. But it was an extremely bad deal to begin with.

    The initial memorandum of understanding had SA spending $2.8 million on 14 more luxury suites at the dome, and another $3.7 million on a practice facility. In addition to this, we were about to give MLS a 5 year rent free lease (with four more 5 year extensions), the MLS would keep all revenue from tickets, parking and concessions, MLS would receive half of any revenues from events it co-sponsored (like the recent Mexico-Guatemala soccer match held here), the city would receive 5 (count it, five) percent from any advertising signage sold by the team in the dome, and the city would receive 30 percent of the naming rights payments if a sponsor was lined up by 2006. If the sponsor was signed up after 2006, the city’s cut would drop to 20 percent.

    So basically, we were hoping to cut into the Alamodome’s operating deficit through the 5% advertising revenue, and the 30/20% cut we’d receive in naming rights. Talk about giving away the farm.

  3. Sergio Davila says:

    True for the most part…but remember Rafael ‘Rafa’ Marquez had a great season and helped F.C. Barcelona win the Spanish League this year.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am a fan of a M.L.S. team other than the EarthQuakes. I will not tell you the name of my team lest I give people ideas. I feel sorry for EarthQuakes fans, because I would be furious if my favorite team got folded or relocated. I hope everyone involved with the EarthQuakes moving reads this, because if you insist on having a club in San Antonio, or Houston, or wherever, you put an expansion club there. You simply do not move an existing club. How dumb can M.L.S. be?????????? If you move an existing club, you make one set of fans happy (i.e., the Houston or San Antonio fans) at the expense of the suffering fans in the first city (i.e., the San Jose fans).

  5. Sergio Martinez says:

    Being that I am a huge soccer fan…I am extreamly excited about the rumors of an MLS team possibly coming to Houston. The number issue is the stadium, more than the market where a team plays. The league wants new stadiums because it can make more money than have to lease. Now on the issue of better markets, Houston is by far better soccer market than San Antonio. For one look at the diverse population that Houston has in comparison to San Antonio. We have a huge asian population, which loves soccer. We also have a big african population, middle eastern, and european. Which means we would not have to depend soley on the hispanics to buy tickets. The financial issue would also be better in Houston. San Antonio has a huge military population, which does not make much money, they do not have as diverse of an economy. Plus they do not have as many fortune 500 companies to lean on for corporate sponsors. Houston’s only issue is the stadium, which has several options. I think the dome should be the first option to look at. It certainly won’t be cheap to retro fit it to meet the needs. However, the cost could be split between HISD, Harris County Sports Authority, and new franchise ownership. The new team could use the stadium for soccer, HISD could use the stadium for high school football and soccer. The Harris County Sports Authority could use the field for exhibition games or for tournments for youth soccer (championship games). Also the rodeo could use it for other things as well. It could be the life line that the dome needs. It would also save the tax payers money, by not having it sit there empty.