Aftershock alert! (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2007 3:17PM; Updated: Tuesday July 17, 2007 5:11PM
Barring a major disagreement with the city of San Jose, Wolff will build his $80 million soccer stadium on a city-owned plot of land next to San Jose International Airport. The San Jose City Council unanimously approved a measure to work with Wolff on developing the land -- if enough progress is made by October, the stadium could be complete by 2010, and the naming rights will almost definitely go to another prominent Silicon Valley tech firm. (And no, promises Wolff, the team will never be called "Google Earthquakes," as one report stated.)
But even if it falls through, Wolff has other options. He's not saying what they are, but sources tell me almost all involve sites in and around the San Jose area. (Wolff does say, however, that folding the project into his baseball development is not an option -- he wants to keep his teams separate.)
Here's the most interesting part of the plan: Until the Quakes have a permanent home, they'll be barnstormers. Wolff says his team will play in different venues around Northern California, varying in size depending on the opponent.
In other words, when David Beckham and the Galaxy roll into town, the game could be at Oakland's McAfee Coliseum (where as many as 50,000 have turned up for soccer games) or Stanford Stadium. When, say, the Columbus Crew come to the Bay, the match might be at 9,000-seat Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, or perhaps the brand new, 15,000-capacity Aggie Stadium at UC Davis, 100 miles northeast of San Jose.
Of all Wolff's schemes for his new team, this is the one I think is the smartest. A study by Soccer Silicon Valley -- a 30,000-fan strong booster group that has been instrumental in expediting the return of a team -- showed that the old Quakes had little support beyond San Jose because the team wasn't being marketed beyond Silicon Valley.
By contrast, Wolff wants his club to be Northern California's team. What better way to grow the fan base than by bringing the team to every community from Palo Alto to Sacramento?
So what does all this mean? For the more than half-dozen cities that are pursuing expansion teams of their own, Wolff & Co. are now the blueprint. Yes, they've had a leg up because of an existing fan base. But they've also shown they have a solid sporting and marketing infrastructure; experience in negotiating stadium deals, especially without public money; and perhaps most importantly, vision in terms of how they want their team to grow and what they want it to mean to the community.
MLS wants to add two more teams by the 2010 season, which would mean another franchise in each conference. If the league's preference of a guy like Wolff is any indicator, that would put two movements in the driver's seat:
One by the owners of the New York Mets, who obviously have the cash and the infrastructure to add a second team in the Big Apple. The New York Times reported that Fred Wilpon and his staff are exploring the idea, and league sources tell me they're taking this one very seriously.
One in the Pacific Northwest. The league sold the regional rights to Michael Keston, another L.A.-based real estate developer with a similar pedigree to Wolff. He's expected to choose this summer between Seattle or Portland, Ore., as a viable place to build a team. (Or MLS could live dangerously and go with an intriguing consortium in Las Vegas and its proposal for a $500 million roofed stadium in Sin City.)
Whatever the case, the Earthquakes are coming back to the Bay. The league is happy, Wolff is happy and the fans are happy. Beckham and the Galaxy might be creating the buzz this summer, but returning a team to a community that unjustly lost its own is a far greater sign that MLS is alive and well.