Sports stadiums aren’t always good investments for smaller cities, especially if they’re empty for much of the year. But when they attract the right team, they can be true civic assets. Placing a new stadium for the New England Revolution soccer team in Revere, on the grounds of the now-defunct Wonderland Greyhound Park, might be just that kind of opportunity.
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo is discussing such a possibility with officials of the Revolution, which is owned by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The land is controlled by Suffolk Downs, which is bidding for a casino-gambling license. If it succeeds, Suffolk Downs would have to make payments to Revere and Boston to mitigate the impact of gambling in the area, and Rizzo is eyeing Wonderland as part of the settlement.
Like Somerville, which also has expressed interest in providing a new home for the Revolution, Revere has a large immigrant population which grew up on soccer. These newcomers would provide an instant fan base, and more immigrants and other fans would be able to come in via the Blue Line. In recent years, Massachusetts has seen sharp increases in Hispanic and Asian immigration, with additional influxes from Europe and Africa. Many of those recent arrivals are soccer lovers eager to find a team to root for.
Meanwhile, the Revolution are out of place in 70,000-seat Gillette Stadium, where they draw only 13,000 fans to suburban and predominantly white Foxborough. Most other Major League Soccer teams have found success in 20,000-seat stadiums, while becoming anchors for emerging populations. One team, FC Dallas, goes so far as to provide 17 regulation-sized fields near its stadium for community soccer, festivals, and other civic events.
The world’s most popular sport has long been a hard sell in the United States, but the tide is turning. Average MLS attendance this season has been 18,500, more than for the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. The soccer season covers 34 weekly matches from March to December.
There is no reason why the Revolution can’t build a larger fan base in New England, especially with a stadium closer to fans who gravitate toward the World Cup more than the Super Bowl. A 20,000-seat stadium with adjacent playing fields for youth soccer, located near public transit, should result in both a renewed embrace of soccer and a shot in the arm for working-class cities outside Boston.