Monday, July 10, 2006

Is Toyota Park Stalling at Start?

As more and more MLS teams explore the possibility of building new Soccer Specific Stadiums, league HQ has to be sweating the Chicago Fire's initial revenue woes at Toyota Park.

MLS presently courts new league investors with a blueprint for eventual franchise profitability. A big part of that “profitability equation” is revenue obtained from naming rights, sponsors, and a marked increase in the number of tickets sold to MLS games. But word on the street is that the ten year, $750,000 per year naming rights deal that the Fire and the City of Bridgeview obtained was only about half of what was expected when the stadium budgets were initially put together. I’ve even heard that the dollar amount after commissions and fees is so low that the city of Bridgeview considered buying the naming rights outright, but were convinced otherwise by AEG (since having Toyota on board would help attract other sponsors).

Another concern in Chicago is the lack of “founding partners.” Toyota Park thus far has only half as many as what was budgeted and what is considered successful for the opening of a new stadium. And the biggest disappointment so far has to be ticket sales. To date, the Fire have held five home matches, three of which have barely broken five digits. After the stadium’s opening day attendance of 20,133 (the soft opening prior to that drew 12,941), Toyota Park has drawn 10,914 10,387 (July 4th) and 11,374 for Fire home matches. John Guppy was hired to replace the very popular Peter Wilt because AEG felt he would do a better job of increasing sponsorship and ticket revenue - none of which at this time are up to speed.

So we must now add the Fire’s out-of-the-gate issues in Bridgeview to league concerns regarding a couple of other soccer specific stadiums; Columbus has rarely pushed their attendance towards capacity, and FC Dallas has not increased their attendance from Cotton Bowl days and has yet to have a full capacity sell out at Pizza Hut Park. And let's not even take the conversation toward the “actual butts in seats versus tickets distributed” issue. Hopefully everyone can learn lessons from the Galaxy's success at HDC and build from that.