Soccer in Silicon Valley, Web 2.0 Style

Steve Jobs and Steve WozniakSo it’s finally official: the San Jose Earthquakes will take Major League Soccer up to fourteen teams next season, as MLS soccer returns to the Bay Area after a hiatus since 2005.

Lew Wolff, leading the investment group behind the new team, had this to say about the news:

While we are thrilled to bring Earthquakes soccer back to the Bay Area, we want to make one thing very clear: this is the dawn of a new era for professional soccer in San Jose. We join the MLS at a very exciting juncture in the league’s – - and the sport’s – - history in the United States. With the development of new soccer-only stadiums, expanded national television exposure and increased fan and corporate sponsor support, coupled with this area’s cultural diversity and long-standing interest in soccer, we expect a very bright future for this team.

But San Jose do not have a definite deal in place for a “soccer-only stadium”. What does this mean for Earthquakes fans and MLS?

Bay Area soccer fans have worked hard to bring back the Earthquakes – not least the folks at the Soccer Silicon Valley Blog – and it’s great they’re using the Earthquakes name, one that goes all the way back to the 1970s, when George Best turned out for the San Jose Earthquakes in the NASL.

The name was resurrected for MLS, only for AEG to move the “franchise” to Houston in 2005, after failing to build a soccer specific stadium in the Bay Area. The Earthquakes had been successful on and off the field, but the recent model for AEG and MLS has been to build soccer specific facilities.

What is perhaps a surprise is that MLS is allowing the return of the Earthquakes to the Bay Area with no soccer specific stadium deal finalised. Only weeks ago, MLS Commisioner Don Gerber noted that the outstanding success of Toronto FC’s launch as being in part due to a soccer stadium already in place for their first game, something that undoubtedly created a buzz in the city and gave the team a real home off the bat.

San Jose, however, will not only not have a soccer specific stadium for at least two years, they won’t even have a single home temporarily: they’ll instead flit about the existing stadia in the south and east bay, perhaps using different venues for different anticipated crowd sizes, and presumably depending on venue availability.

Will this nomadic existence succeed? On the one hand, it will surely make it hard for San Jose to sell season tickets, and the team will lack roots until a soccer specific stadium is built. On the other hand, it will increase the visibility of the team in a variety of communities. And in some ways it makes sense to hold big games in big stadiums (presumably when they play the Galaxy, or international friendlies) and smaller ones (hello, Columbus Crew) in smaller stadia. I’ve even read (though I’ve lost the link) of this described as a “web 2.0″ approach presumably fitting for soccer in the Silicon Valley.

Ultimately, the Earthquakes plan to build a stadium near San Jose airport if a deal can be finalised, as explains:

Pending approval from the San Jose City Council, Earthquakes Soccer LLC has plans to build a new downtown privately-financed soccer-only stadium near Mineta San Jose International Airport. The stadium, targeted to open in 2010, will feature an intimate seating capacity of 18,000 to 20,000, and state-of-art technology and fan amenities. If city council members and the Wolff investor group reach agreement, the Earthquakes’ new playing venue will mark the first outdoor stadium built in nearly 80 years in San Jose, the third most-populated city in California.

Call me a dinosaur, but when I think of my team, I like to think of it as attached to the place they play every home game. I know that some Silicon Valley folks have more than condo, but most of us still live in one place and call that home. The sooner Wolff can get a soccer specific stadium built that the Earthquakes can call home, the better.

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