Kraft family looks to build soccer stadium in Boston
Site off I-93 considered as new home for Revolution
Planning is quietly underway for construction of a soccer stadium in Boston, one that would bring the resurgent New England Revolution closer to their urban fan base, according to people familiar with the Kraft family’s search for a site.
Among the sites under consideration is a strip of city-owned land off Interstate 93 on Frontage Road, where Boston has a large yard for towed cars and public works. The South Boston property offers easy access from major highways and is near the MBTA’s Red Line as well as rail lines at nearby South Station.
Numerous sources said the Kraft family has been meeting with state and city officials to discuss the stadium and possible locations over the past several months, with the team focusing on Frontage Road. It was not known Monday what additional sites the Krafts were considering.
Through a spokesman, the Krafts on Monday said: “We are currently developing concepts for how a soccer stadium for the Revolution can benefit the greater Boston area. Once we have more developed plans, we will comment further.”
The Krafts, owners of the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution, have tried several times to build a stadium in Boston, first for the Patriots in the mid-1990s and again more recently for the Revolution.
The Revolution have acknowledged that playing in the cavernous Gillette Stadium, located well outside of Boston’s urban core, is not an ideal setting for soccer. In October, the Revolution’s president told the Globe that a preferred size for a new soccer stadium would seat 18,000 to 22,000 fans.
The Frontage Road location is adjacent to an industrial area that the group organizing Boston’s efforts to host the 2024 Summer Olympics had identified as a potential location for the main Olympics stadium. Kraft is also a member of the Olympics group.
Although some people familiar with the discussions said the Kraft proposal could conflict with the Olympic group’s efforts for the bigger stadium, others said there is enough room in the area to accommodate both facilities. The Olympic committee is focusing on a site on Widett Circle, just to the south of the city property, that hosts a collection of food wholesalers.
Kraft’s timing differs from the Boston Olympics group’s. One source said the sports mogul is pushing to have the soccer stadium in place within five years.
The city yard is also a candidate for a new homeless shelter to replace a facility on Long Island that was abruptly shuttered last month after the harbor bridge was condemned.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh would only say that any proposal for the city-owned site would be subject to a bidding process and reviews by public agencies.
Though the Krafts have previously explored building a soccer stadium in Somerville or Revere, the new push comes as soccer is enjoying renewed popularity locally and throughout the United States.
The Revolution spent $4.3 million earlier this season to sign Jermaine Jones, a star of the US men’s national team that advanced to the Round of 16 at the World Cup this summer in Brazil. The global soccer event drew record TV ratings in the United States, while Major League Soccer in May signed an eight-year, $720 million broadcast rights agreement with ESPN, Fox, and Univision, a fivefold increase over its previous deal.
Since signing Jones, the Revs have torn up the league, advancing deep into the playoffs; the team will play the New York Red Bulls this weekend in the semifinals.
The Revolution are among the few MLS teams not playing in a soccer-specific stadium. Many of the other stadiums are relatively small, intimate venues; the Revs, by comparison, are unable to fill a massive football stadium, despite logging their highest attendance this season in six years: 16,681 on average.
“I’ve been to other teams’ stadiums, and it just doesn’t compare,” said Michael Johnson, 43, a 15-year Revs season ticketholder from Milford. “I look at a place like Portland and I almost cry every time I see the support they get.”
Club officials have acknowledged the emptiness can be a put-off for fans, because being part of a rousing crowd in a packed house is one of the appeals of live sporting events.
In an interview with the Globe in October, Revolution president Brian Bilello said a smaller stadium would also allow the team to sell high-priced premium seats. Club sections at Gillette are so removed that they are not appealing, he said.
A city stadium would also bring the Revolution closer to the young urban fans who are driving the league’s growth. Four in 10 MLS fans are 34 or younger, according to Nielsen Media Research, compared with 24 percent of Major League Baseball fans.
“You’re targeting young professionals — the ones who grew up playing soccer and now want to watch, drink beer, and sing songs,” said Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross and a former MLS referee. “Those are the passionate fans you want.”
Kraft’s last major attempt to build a stadium in Boston fell apart amid heavy opposition from neighborhood residents and some of the city’s most powerful politicians, the fallout creating hard feelings on both sides.
The most recent talks date back to at least the past summer and have involved the possibility of adding light rail service to the site from South Station, said a source who was briefed on those plans.
Many details would need to be worked out before the project could go forward. Because the site is publicly owned, it would be subject to a bidding process as well as lengthy reviews by city and state regulators.
At this stage, it is unclear how the stadium would be financed and whether any public funding would be needed to support the project or its infrastructure.
After privately financing Gillette Stadium, the Krafts so far have not pledged to do the same for a soccer stadium, which probably would cost more than $100 million.
As for the Olympics, Boston was named one of four finalists by the United States Olympic Committee in June for a possible bid for the 2024 Games, along with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
The USOC is expected to decide in the next few months if it will submit a bid, and, if so, which US city it will advance into the global competition for the Games. The International Olympic Committee in 2017 will choose the host of the 2024 Olympics.