Can St. Louis be Soccer Heaven for More Than A Day?

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At least for a day, St. Louis was the center of soccer in the U.S. as 48,628 fans watched Manchester City reverse an 0-3 deficit to earn a 4-3 victory over Chelsea at Busch Stadium last night. It was the largest crowd to see a sporting event in the stadium's short history. The friendly drew praise locally and in Europe, where match reports cited "iconic" Busch Stadium and noted tickets for the match were gone in just 20 minutes.

European news reports placed the match in the "American Midwest" – that sounds like a label St. Louis could own. Chicago is itself, identifiable as a monolith. St. Louis however, can own the Midwest. Kansas City, Columbus, someplace else? Not so much. St. Louis is larger, has more history, and more soccer history.

So what will it take to bring an MLS team to St. Louis? An owner. A franchise can seem relatively cheap, the average value of a team in the league is just $37M (thought starting a new team can be much more expensive). The average NBA franchise? $509M. But an MLS owner, it is assumed, also needs to be able to carry financial loses as the league continues to grow and mature.

In St. Louis, it is assumed, Stan Kroenke is that owner. He purchased the MLS Colorado Rapids in 2004 and his Kroenke Sports Enterprises also owns the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and NBA's Denver Nuggets. Kroenke became owner of the St. Louis Rams in 2010 and is currently negotiating the team's future home with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC), owners of the Edward Jones Dome. Kroenke is also the majority owner (66.82%) of Arsenal F.C. of the English Premiere League.

Chelsea and Manchester City's other match in the U.S. is in New York, where City just announced a partnership with the New York Yankees to buy an MLS team for roughly $100M. The team would be the second in New York and likely play in Yankee Stadium until a soccer-specific venue is built. Setting the stage for this week's announcement, MLS began scouting sites in New York, hiring Icon Venue Group as stadium architect consultants more than two years ago.

nextSTL was first report that Icon Venue Group was also actively scouting MLS stadium locations in downtown St. Louis. An intitial study shoe-horned a 20,000 seat soccer-specific stadium in between the Union Station train shed and I-64. A portion of that one site now appears to be set to become home to the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. Union Station is owned by Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) and Bob O'Loughlin. O'Loughlin is Chairman of the Board at the CVC. LHM has reportedly been in talks with Kroenke's THF Realty regarding reenvisioning Union Station.


{several nearby sites could hold an MLS stadium – image by nextSTL Forum member geoffksu}

In short, if Stan wants an MLS team in St. Louis, there will be an MLS team in St. Louis. Other ownership groups could certainly come forward, but it's easy to see an informal first right of refusal existing for Kroenke. But the future of the Rams and NFL in the city almost certainly comes first, and a final stadium resolution could still be several years away.

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  • Mark N.

    These discussions regarding proposed new stadiums always seem to focus on the question of whether to locate them downtown or in the suburbs. Why isn’t there ever a question whether to locate somewhere in the city outside of downtown? To me downtown stadiums seem disruptive of the dense urban fabric of Downtown (or at least, the density we wish it had) but might be a good match for another part of the city. But I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Well, here’s an idea from 2010 (FPSE): https://nextstl.com/urban-living/a-st-louis-soccer-dream. And Richmond Heights has been proposed previously.

      • Mark Nugent

        Looks like a good suggestion, thanks!

    • Hasan

      For the efficient use of parking facilities and nearby hotels. And disruption of the urban fabric is site specific. Depending on site, disruption can be mitigated, if not eliminated.

  • Andy

    You guys are vastly overestimating what kind of impact the immigrant population in STL would have in making a soccer team in the area viable, much less successful. Per this article from Bloomberg
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-20/st-louis-invokes-lazarus-for-immigrants-with-dire-stakes.html

    “Even so, in St. Louis there aren’t enough immigrants to turn around declining population. They made up only 4.5 percent of the region’s people while other top 20 metropolitan areas had four to five times the number of foreign-born residents, Strauss found.”

    I grew up in the county and most of my friends played soccer when they were kids. They were all white. I went to high school in the county and a lot of my friends played soccer. I think there was only one non-white person on the soccer team despite the fact that there were a lot of non-white kids at my school. Call it anecdotal if you want but I can’t imagine MLS has any type of urban African-American presence whatsoever and that is the group which usually sets the trends in this country.

    At the end of the day though, none of this amounts to much. Soccer has been “poised to become the next big sport in the US” since the 70s and it has never happened. It probably won’t move beyond a niche sport in this country in our lifetimes, not as long as premiere US athletes are gravitating towards high paying sports like football & basketball.

    • jhoff1257

      I’m assuming since you’re from the County you refer to the entire City as “Downtown,” that is incorrect. The Downtown neighborhood has a higher percentage of white residents than it does black residents (54% to 37%). And the entire City is only 49% black and 43% white (according to the 2010 census) and the percentage of whites is growing while the percentage of blacks is declining. I’d hardly call that a large majority. And let us not forget about Greater St. Louis as well. 77% white and 18% black. Not that any of these racial components matter anyway.

      Now going back to what many others have already said, the Blues, Cardinals, and Rams don’t really seem to have a problem drawing sizable crowds because their stadiums are downtown. Downtown is central, it’s more diverse (which soccer crowds tend to be), and has fantastic transit access. Way more than you can say about Chesterfield or St. Charles.

      I’d also like to note that I just recently moved back here after spending over 5 years in KC. A smaller market with the same perceived “race” issues you keep mentioning and they pack the house for every single Sporting KC game. Their average attendance in 2012 was over 20,000 people. The Royals average is only 21,000 per game.

      I think you are letting your love for basketball and your obvious disdain for the City and it’s residents cloud your view. If you want people to take you seriously provide actual facts and statistics to prove an MLS team won’t work here. Saying the city is full of black people and soccer is an all white sport isn’t going to accomplish that.

      • Andy

        Personal attacks should be frowned upon on this forum.

        Nice assumptions BTW, in so much that they are all inaccurate with the exception that my love for basketball clouds my view. But it is a vastly superior sport. Soccer is BORING.

        • Alex Ihnen

          I think we get that you think soccer is boring. And, yes, let’s not call one another racist.

          • jhoff1257

            I apologize for that, I edited them out. Still stand behind everything else I said.

  • Wabash

    I’d trade the Rams for an NBA team and an MLS team. I’d rather have 58 combined soccer and basketball home games than 8 football. Plus MLS and NBA games average about 17,000 fans, which would come to about 1,000,000 a season (combined), compared to Rams attendance of 400,000 or the NFL average of 550,000.

    But as J. Hoff said, it’s in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure there are some Rams fans who would disagree with me.

    • LA happens to have two MLS teams and two NBA teams…

  • Dmelsh

    What does any growing city need? Young energetic people who wish to be part of the city. Recent surveys have stated that soccer is the 2nd most populate sport for 12-24 year old behind football. The grow in the game has been amazing. MLS has become profitable. Investors no looker fear losing money but make nice profits. The newest MLS team NYFC just paid $100 mil in expansion fees.

    I see STL getting a MLS team in the next 5 year. Where as NBA is a long way.

    • Matt

      Nice to see you on here Dmelsh! I agree that MLS will at least make a significant move to place a team in STL within 5 years. I think an MLS team would be a draw for people (young adults in particular) to move to the city. Or at the least come down and experience it more often!

  • I would love to see St. Louis get an MLS team. I think the league is sorely lacking on team in the Midwest, and this would create an instant rivalry with the Chicago Fire and possibly Columbus Crew.

    With that said, the MLS sees St. Louis as the 6th best market vying for a team: http://www.mlssoccer.com/news/article/2013/05/23/throw-who-else-has-mls-ambitions-top-10-us-cities-big-dreams.

  • Don

    Jeff Cooper was leading a group to bring an MLS team to St Louis several years ago. I was told at the time by people close to Jeff that MLS demanded every ownership group have a billionaire backer. MLS wants pockets so deep that any franchise can sustain losses year after year without embarrassing the league with a bankruptcy.

    Kroenke certainly fits the bill, but he already owns an MLS team and is the largest shareholder of Premier League football club Arsenal in the UK.

    But even forgetting that Kroenke already owns an MLS team, has Kroenke really shown any interest in owning a sports franchise in St Louis? Just because he bought the Rams doesn’t mean he intends to keep them here.

    • pat

      Sounds like you’re just regurgitating the typical media talk in STL regarding the Rams. The only location to relocate the Rams is LA and that deal is completely dead. Kevin Demoff has repeatedly stated the intention of the Rams is to stay in the STL area.

      And Kroenke technically no longer owns the Rapids. I believe his wife or son does. You cannot be an NFL owner and have a sports franchise in another city. All of this was brought up when he bought the Rams.

      • Don

        I’ve never believed the Rams to LA was a viable move.

        However, I’ll believe Kroenke is committed to the NFL remaining in StL when he makes a long term lease commitment.

        Public money to build the Rams a second new facility is never going to materialize. Never. Ever. When this reality becomes clear, we will see what Mr. Kroenke has in mind.

        • Justin Striebel

          There’s been a lot of silly comments on this article, and I won’t take the time to respond to all of them, but you asked a pretty simple question with a pretty simple answer, Don.

          “Has Kroenke really shown any interest in owning a sports franchise in St Louis?”

          Yes. In 1995, when he agreed to buy 40% of the then-LA Rams under the condition that they move to St. Louis for the coming season.

          In that agreement, he negotiated the right of first refusal should the remaining 60% of the St. Louis Rams ever be put up for sale. An option he obviously used about two years ago.

          I’m not presenting that as proof that Kroenke intends to keep the Rams in St. Louis now (although I believe he does), but merely answering your question of whether Stan has ever had interest in owning a St. Louis sports franchise. Clearly he has.

          • Don

            Stan Kroenke has shown an interest in owning an NFL team and is presently exercising his rights under the Rams lease to terminate that lease before the lease term ends.

            As of right now, Kroenke has refused to make a long term commitment to keep the Rams in Saint Louis — something he could have easily done by now. And I’m not aware of any interest expressed by Kroenke to own any other sports teams in Saint Louis. In fact, his ownership interests are clearly elsewhere.

            I admire your optimism, but until such time as Kroenke enters into a long term lease for the Rams in Saint Louis, you are just speculating on his intentions.

            And I will bet you a beer Justin, that Kroenke never makes a long term commitment to keep the Rams in Saint Louis; but rather negotiates short term deals for concessions from the Rams lessor until such time as a new stadium is built (a second taxpayer funded stadium for the Rams will never happen) or the current lease expires in 2025 at which time he will see what options the Rams might have outside of Saint Louis and if there are none, he will keeps the Rams in Saint Louis year to year.

          • Justin Striebel

            Don,

            I agree it’s only speculation on Kroenke’s current intentions with the Rams and St. Louis.

            But your original question wondered if Kroenke has ever shown an interest in owning a sports franchise in St. Louis. The events with the Rams in 1995 present a definitive yes to that answer.

            Go back just a few years prior when he was the primary backer of a St. Louis NFL expansion bid, and the answer only becomes clearer.

            Yes, Stan Kroenke has shown a desire to own a sports franchise in St. Louis.

            That’s a different question than “will Stan Kroenke commit long-term to keeping the Rams in St. Louis in the here and now?” A completely different question.

            I don’t think your theory on what will happen is outside the realm of possibility. It’s not my theory, but it’s reasonable.

            I believe that Kroenke and St. Louis will do little for the next 12 or so months. Then, as the 2015 “year-to-year” deadline approaches, I suspect true negotiations will commence. The pace is hard to predict, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rams exercise one of those single years before any agreement is struck.

            But I think by 2016 the Rams and St. Louis will have come to an agreement on a private/public compromise on a new building. I think the taxpayers will foot about 20% of the bill. Kroenke will foot about 60% of the bill up front. And the NFL will match the taxpayers commitment of 20% with a loan to the Rams through the G4 fund. (Which the Rams are then able to pay off over time with revenue.) This is the new formula for stadiums in America, and I suspect it will be followed here.

            Under that plan, I anticipate Kroenke would own the stadium, but I would also expect some sort of agreement that the Rams will remain in St. Louis for at least another 20 years from the first season played in the new building.

            I think that’s the best guess at how it goes down, but I won’t deny that’s with an optimistic outlook. There still remain plenty of outcomes.

  • Tom

    Can Stan Kroenke own two MLS teams? It seems like that would be a conflict of interest.

  • Mike

    Anyone who likes to invest in sports franchises, like our good friend Stan, certainly took notice of how much money was spent at the ticket office, in the stadium, and around the city leading up to game time. This was a fabulous night not just for Busch and the soccer community in St. Louis, but for businesses in and around downtown. They could have sold out a second night of soccer if they wanted.

  • Andy

    I think the biggest problem with trying to advocate for an MLS team downtown is the fact that pro soccer is a very niche sport in the US, a fact that likely won’t change anytime soon. You touched on that when you mentioned that any prospective owner would need to be prepared to carry losses. Despite the success of last night’s event I can’t see there being a consistent big push for soccer in the area. That brings me to another issue; in the US soccer is a very white sport with a very white fanbase; to me that does not reflect the makeup of downtown. IF there were to be an MLS team in the region then it would be better suited for Chesterfield/St. Charles/O’Fallon (either one.)

    Personally, I would much rather see STL try and attract an NBA team.

    • Hasan

      Why would a fanbase need to “reflect the makeup of downtown?” Thats like saying Busch stadium would be better located in Chesterfield. Sports facilities are regional assets.

      And you can’t be serious about an NBA franchise. They’re at least 5x’s more expensive. Or are you saying that an NBA team better “reflects the makeup of downtown”?

      • Andy

        I am totally serious about an NBA franchise. But I am a huge NBA fan and I hate that I have to go out of town to see my favorite sport.

        That being said, a soccer team downtown would do nothing to help the city. It would be more of the same; people drive in from the burbs and drive out as soon as the game is over.

        Plus, soccer is terrible and boring. Never forget that.

        • Mike

          Soccer is terrible and boring? The 48,000+ from last night would like to disagree, as would all the bars and restaurants downtown.

          A soccer team downtown would do nothing to help the city because it would just bring in people from out of town to spend their money in the city? Ask those same bars and restaurants if the Cardinals, Rams, and Blues should leave then too because they just attract those rich white people from the burbs to spend their money and leave.

          • Andy

            If you think 48k hipsters and soccer moms are going to show up to MLS games downtown on a consistent basis then I have some beautiful Arizona beachfront property you’d be interested in.

            Look, any investment in the city is a good thing but there are plenty of entertainment options that would be much less obnoxious than soccer. Let’s focus on them first and keep soccer in the same perspective as it is for any American athlete…a last resort.

          • Matt

            I don’t think anyone would argue that 48K would show up regularly, but it’s very unlikely that an MLS stadium in STL would be that large. As mentioned above, it would probably be at or just under 20K (roughly the size of Scottrade). St. Louis has a huge (by American standards) soccer fan base. I’m not a fan of the game myself, but I can see this doing quite well and adding to the allure of downtown.

          • jhoff1257

            Hmm. I’m not a hipster or a soccer mom and I enjoyed myself immensely last night. For the record I used to have the same closed minded, misinformed thoughts about soccer that you do. Not anymore. I’d take an MLS team over an NBA team any day.

            And for the record, your attitude about soccer is the same attitude many St. Louisans have about basketball. Nobody cares.

          • Andy

            An NBA game is by far the most fun sporting event one can attend. I have never been to a soccer game but I can’t imagine it would be fun, especially if there are no goals scored which happens a lot.

          • jhoff1257

            Wrong. Entertainment is in the eye of the beholder. Just because you like it doesn’t mean everyone else does.

            And I wouldn’t go around knocking soccer, it’s fan base or supporters considering you’ve never been to a game. Very rude and borderline offensive.

          • Rocko

            If I want to see five guys sweat on each other I’ll just go to a ‘Hometown Buffet’ thanks. The NBA is arguably the most dull and laughable portrayal of sport known to man – Run up court, dunk, run down court, dunk, run up court, dunk, run down court, dunk.. WAIT! SOMEONE ACTUALLY BLOCKED A SHOT!!!! Run up court, dunk.

          • john w.

            “An NBA game is by far the most fun sporting event one can attend.”

            Subjective much? You plainly have little clue as to how to make and defend your argumentative position.

        • dmbstl

          It will be eons before St. Louis ever gets a NBA team. Not with the Sprint Center sitting empty in Kansas City and Seattle just dying to get a team back.

          • John R

            I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think KC is really that interested in an NBA team anymore. They’ve found Sprint Center is doing quite well with other events and may actually be coming out ahead. But an NBA team here really is a fantasy.

          • dmbstl

            The NBA to St. Louis ship sailed long ago when the Laurie’s left town after nearly killing the Blues.

          • Andy

            Sadly, I think you are right. If the Blues ever were to leave STL (as has almost happened twice I think) then maybe we could get an NBA squad.

          • john w.

            yeah… maybe we can get the Hawks back!

        • SB

          Don’t forget that St. Louis is home to more than 60,000 Bosnians (and many more immigrants from soccer loving countries). So, I think they can draw plenty from the city before we have to start recruiting the white suburbians.

        • mark

          St. Louis is a soccer town. PERIOD. Andy, get out and stay out of St. Louis city. We don’t need people like you.

          • Andy

            St. Louis is such a huge soccer town that the sport gets coverage almost never. It truly is a great time to be alive.

          • mark

            doesn’t need to be covered to be a popular sport. the most popular sport kids play in STL is soccer. hands down. don’t know where you live.

          • john w.

            That’s because you’re not looking in the right places, you (insert ad hominem attack adjective here). The suffocatingly ignorant mindset that sees only American football, basketball, baseball, or hockey as valid is too excruciating to bear. One can file that alongside the attitudes about urban land development and architecture as well. We can’t get past ourselves because of this suffocating ignorance as displayed by Andy.

        • john w.

          “Plus, soccer is terrible and boring. Never forget that.”

          You’ve just flushed any argumentative credibility you would have otherwise had, right down the toilet.

    • Don

      St Louis is simply not a large enough market to support both a NHL franchise and an NBA franchise along with an NFL team and our Cardinals.

      In any city, the sports dollars are finite, and there is not enough corporate sports dollars in this city to support the high end boxes and seats necessary for the financial health of every major sports franchise.

      This has been talked to death over the years, and unless someone with hundreds of millions of dollars to burn wants nothing more in life than to locate an NBA team in StL, it’s never going to happen, or at least not in the next 20 or 30 years.

    • dmbstl

      …”very white sport with a very white fanbase”? Generalize much?

      If you want to keep painting with broad white strokes:
      -The Blues play downtown and draw great. You can’t get any whiter than hockey.
      -I don’t believe the Cardinals have an African American on the squad and baseball is a very white fanbase. Yet the Cardinals also play downtown and are one of the best attended teams in baseball.

      • Andy

        Are you going to try and tell me that in the US, the vast majority of people that play/follow soccer are not white?

        As far as the Cards and Blues go, they have been around for a long time. We’re talking about plopping something new which doesn’t have any kind of relevancy to an urban non-white population in an urban, non-white environment. And that makes sense because…reasons?

        • mark

          What about all us immigrants who live in the city! You are a racist if you think that soccer is a white sport. Immigrants in St. Louis largely play soccer.

          • mark

            And no, not all immigrants are white.

        • Kyle Steffen

          Something new? You obviously know nothing about the history of soccer in St. Louis. Al Trost, Ty Keough, Slobo Ilijevski, Pat McBride, Dragan Popovic, Preki…all world-reknowned and always came home to STL. The first event at Kiel Center was a professional soccer game, NOT hockey. The Arena belonged to the Steamers, the Stars played at Busch. This idea that St.Louis is a baseball town was manufactured by Anheuser-Busch and the rednecks followed. Now we have a PBR bar going in downtown.

          • Andy

            “Now we have a PBR bar going in downtown”

            Holy crap, that is hysterical. Please extoll the virtues of “ironic” thick frame glasses and single gear bikes. I am beside myself with excitement.

          • Alex Ihnen

            C’mon now, if you’re going to try to continue to make fun of a sport and people who like different things from you, at least know the difference between cheap beer and Professional Bull Riders.

      • john w.

        Maikel Cleto, Jon Jay and Adron Chambers are clearly of African descent. While it is true that the Cardinals happen to have a remarkably melanin-free roster compared to the rest of MLB, I believe you’ll easily find the league to be very Benetton-like.

    • ealfotd

      The average MLS match draws about 1,000 more people than the average NBA or NHL game. Must be a pretty big niche! Also, if you believe that having sporting events downtown does nothing for downtown businesses, I invite you to come downtown during a sporting event and stop by a business sometime. I think your opinion would be changed.

      • Andy

        I didn’t know that MLS played an 82 game season like the NHL and NBA do. Neat-o

        • ealfotd

          I believe it’s closer to 36, but the NFL only plays 16, so what’s your point? If anything a shorter season means that more people are likely to attend each game.

    • mark

      “Soccer is a white sport” Um excuse me? It’s an immigrant sport as well. Hello. What about all the immigrants in this city that play soccer? Do you think all immigrants are white? The stadium would be better suited in the city where immigrants play soccer. Forget Chesterfield!

    • samizdat

      I live just several houses from Marquette Park here in Dutchtown. During the summer and fall, games or practices for soccer teams are held there almost every day (On a pretty crappy field, I might add; maybe the 250,000USD or so they spent on Meramec ‘streetscape’ should have been spent on the field?). Who constitutes most of the players/fans? Latinos. And after that, their are the black men whom I assume are African immigrants, knowing as I do that the surrounding neighborhoods are home to Kenyans, Nigerians, Somalis (once worked with a very nice man from the nabe named Hussein, who was a carpenter, both here and in Somalia, pre-civil war), and others. And there’s the real interesting group: Black girls playing soccer. That is something I’ve not seen until the past two years. But there they are again this spring.

      I think the more appropriate and accurate tack would have been to note that it is mostly the white fan base which can afford the tickets to a pro soccer match. And considering that the game sold out online within twenty minutes, and since much of our lower income populations have little to no access to computers (I don’t include smart phones), it may have been almost impossible for many of them to buy tickets. I would reckon that the marketing for this match was only in English, and on the usual media outlets, too.

      Having said all that, I didn’t downvote you:). It would have been undeserved.

      • samizdat

        I read the rest of your posts, Andy…that last statement in my post? I take that back.

        • Roger Wilco

          I just read them too. Clearly, Andy is just another soccer-hater. I bet he’s never even watched a pro game.

    • Roger Wilco

      You forget also that south city and county have a very large Bosnian population that is gung-ho for the beautiful game. I realize that they are also white, but I don’t think there’s a need to factor race into the equation. Chesterfield and all the cities lining I-70 in St. Chuck are suburbs of St. Louis. Not only that, but St. Chuck still has a lot of good ol’ boys that still think soccer is a commie sport. Not sure that they are the “fanbase” you’re talking about.

      A downtown location makes the most sense because it is central to everyone in the area.