The Revolution soccer club is back in the MLS playoffs, has been drawing some of the biggest crowds in its 19-year history, and finally has a high-profile star in US national team member Jermaine Jones.
So how about that new stadium?
Eight years after the Revs declared their intent to move out of cavernous Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and build a soccer-specific arena in an urban location, the project is not much closer to reality than it was in 2006, despite the current momentum of the team, league, and sport. That means one of Major League Soccer’s founding franchises is now one of the last without a tailor-made stadium.
With the team scheduled to kick off its postseason Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, and play the first of as many as three playoff games in its oversized home Nov. 9, Revolution president Brian Bilello said this week he has “no specific update” on the planning process, which has not advanced beyond preliminary discussions with public officials in Boston, Somerville, and Revere — the three cities the team has said are potential stadium sites.
On the plus side, Boston, seemingly the club’s preferred destination, now has a mayor in Martin J. Walsh who said in June he is at least “interested” in a soccer stadium. That’s a more positive vibe than the one Jonathan Kraft, president of the Revolution’s parent company, has said he got from the previous administration.
Kraft was unavailable for an interview Friday.
Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville called his city “a prime location” for a stadium, but said there have been no recent talks with the team. Mayor Dan Rizzo of Revere declined an interview request, but told the Boston Business Journal in June that he had not spoken with the Krafts in a year.
Bilello said the Revs’ commitment to build a stadium has not wavered and added the delay is largely due to the club’s “high bar” for the right location. The team is determined to put an 18,000- to 22,000-person arena near an MBTA subway stop. It’s hard to find a tract of land that fits the bill.
Money is a factor, too. While the atmosphere of Gillette at one-quarter capacity is uninspiring, the economics are not so bad.
The Krafts own the team and the building — as well as the Patriots — so they don’t have to share ticket and concession revenues with a landlord.
Clubs like Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire were motivated to build their own stadiums — and willing to accept locations on the outskirts of their cities — partly because they were renters at their previous fields.
“The Krafts are already getting all the revenue streams, which is certainly why it’s been less urgent,” said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross and former MLS referee. “They need a substantially better location than they have now to make it worthwhile.”
After privately financing Gillette Stadium, the Krafts have not pledged to do the same for a soccer stadium that probably would cost more than $100 million. At the same time, none of the three prospective cities has committed to spending public dollars on the project.
Whatever the financial arrangement, current trends suggest the Revolution could pack a new house regularly. Average attendance at home games has increased in each of the last four seasons, punctuated by a whopping 32,766 at this year’s regular-season finale.
On top of that, the sport’s popularity in the United States is at an all-time high. This summer’s World Cup smashed television ratings records for soccer. More Americans — 26.5 million — watched the final between Germany and Argentina than watched Game 7 of the World Series this week.
MLS in May signed an eight-year, $720 million broadcast rights agreement with ESPN, Fox, and Univision -- a five-fold increase over its previous deal.
Still, Bilello said he knows some fans wonder if their dreams of raucous, intimate confines will ever come true.
“To those people, there’s really nothing I can say until we build the building,” he said. “I’m confident it’s going to happen.”
Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.