Pro Soccer in Elk Grove –
Visionary or Nightmare?

One of the on-going debates in California is the development of the state's voter-approved high speed rail. On one side is Gov. Jerr...

One of the on-going debates in California is the development of the state's voter-approved high speed rail.

On one side is Gov. Jerry Brown who has vigorously defended the continuations of the projects.

“Critics of the high-speed rail project abound as they often do when something of this magnitude is proposed. During the 1930’s, The Central Valley Water Project was called a “fantastic dream” that “will not work.” The Master Plan for the Interstate Highway System in 1939 was derided as “new Deal jitterbug economics.” In 1966, then Mayor Johnson of Berkeley called BART a “billion dollar potential fiasco.” Similarly, the Panama Canal was for years thought to be impractical and Benjamin Disraeli himself said of the Suez Canal: “totally impossible to be carried out.” The critics were wrong then and they’re wrong now.”

Although the plan is still moving forward, it continues to be derided as a boondoggle.

Closer to home, as the City Council weighs the pros and cons of developing a sports complex, there appears to be a movement afloat for Elk Grove to develop of a pro-soccer stadium. Recently Mayor Jim Cooper and City Manger Laura Gill traveled to Frisco, Texas to visit a pro stadium there.

The question Elk Grove taxpayers need to ask is this – is this proposal visionary? Could a pro-soccer stadium and team propel Elk Grove’s status or act as a boondoggle similar to Stockton’s ill-timed waterfront developments?

On the plus side, if we are to believe what has long been said, soccer’s appeal as a major American spectator sport is about to explode. Changing demographics certainly point to the continued growth in the popularity of “The Beautiful Game.”

Conversely, can Elk Grove and the Sacramento area provide a sufficient fan base to make a pro-team viable?

Perhaps the most successful American professional soccer team is the LA Galaxy, anchored by David Beckham, which plays in a 27,000 seat in the countries second largest media market. Likewise, the 20,500 seat stadium that Cooper and Gill visited in Frisco is in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex which is substantially larger that the Sacramento market.

Until earlier this year Pizza Hut had naming rights for the Frisco stadium. Could Elk Grove secure naming rights? Perhaps ask the Maloof’s about that.

According to one report, the Frisco stadium cost approximately $80 million, with $20 millions coming from the City of Frisco, $20 million form Collin County, $15 million from a bond issue by the Frisco School District and $25 million from Hunt Sports Group. It should be noted this facility also has 17 soccer fields for use by the school district.

Is it possible that Elk Grove could come up with a similar financing scenarios using 2006 dollars and California's more stringent environmental requirements? Would Sacramento County and The Elk Grove Unified School District be willing to kick in money for the project? If not, would Elk Grove taxpayers be willing to float some long term bonds to finance the stadium?

Another part of the thinking behind the proposed sports complex and now the soccer facility is what could be characterized as “The Field of Dreams Syndrome.” There seems to be a line of thinking that if we built it, the people and dollars will come.

While the novelty of a new stadium and a professional team seems to provide an initial draw, how long does it take for the blossom to fall? In at least one MLS city, a major one at that, ticket prices were slashed following disappointing attendance.

Going back to the example of the Maloof’s and the Kings, can a hypothetical Elk Grove-Sacramento MLS team expect to compete for corporate sponsors and players needed to win and compete with big city markets?

If the City of Elk Grove decides to seriously consider pursuing a soccer stadium, a great deal of analysis needs to be done to determine if this something akin to BART or the Golden Gate Bridge or the nightmare called Stockton.

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Anonymous said...

Don't come to me asking for money! If it was a viable commercial venture, then the private sector would have moved on it.

Capt. Benjamin L. Willard said...

Anybody thinking about a pro soccer team ought to think twice. If you think Oakland Raider fans are bad, they are child's play compared to you typical soccer hooligan.

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