By Matt Dillane
With a new MLS season about to begin on Mar. 6th, Revolution fans across New England are gearing up for another year of soccer at Gillette Stadium. However, could the team’s days in Foxboro be numbered? Fans may be justifiably skeptical of the team ever moving to the state’s capital, yet the chances of a change taking place have never been more favorable.
Two years removed from reaching a MLS record fifth cup appearance, the Revolution have been a relatively successful team in the league as of late. With the acquisition of U.S. national team midfielder Jermaine Jones and the emergence of key players such as Lee Nguyen, Chris Tierney, and Diego Fagundez, the Revolution have become a formidable force in the eastern conference. Despite the club’s inability to capture a MLS Cup title since the league’s formation, the Revolution have become a top competitor since former player Jay Heaps took over the head coaching job in 2011.
So why the sudden optimism for a Boston-based home to actually come to fruition for the club? Mayor Marty Walsh has taken a very different tone when it comes to soccer in the city than his predecessor. Walsh has already hosted viewing parties for both the men’s and women’s national teams during their respective World Cup runs. This is something the late Tom Menino had never done during his lengthy tenure as mayor. In a 2014 interview with WBUR, Patriots and Revolution owner Robert Kraft’s son, Jonathan, revealed there had been talks of building a stadium in Boston since 2002. Once the elder Kraft took over as owner in 1994, Menino blocked bids from the Patriots to move to the Seaport District and to South Boston, keeping the team in Foxboro. Menino also opposed a new stadium for the Red Sox that was to be built on the water, keeping historical Fenway Park open past the century mark.
While other major U.S. cities have been spending money on newer stadiums for their teams, Menino seemed to always go against this trend. The more progressive Mayor Walsh has taken a different stance on bringing entertainment to the city. With Faneuil Hall undertaking a massive overhaul and the Bruins constructing a practice facility at Boston Landing, the city is currently undergoing some big changes. As urban areas are typically more fertile for soccer fanbases, a new stadium in Boston makes a lot of sense in a mutually beneficial move for both the club and for the city.
The average MLS attendance per game has risen from 13,756 in 2000 to 21,574 in 2015. This is a 64% increase over the course of 15 years. With the recent success of both the men’s and women’s national teams, the world’s most popular sport is gaining popularity among Americans. I have reason to believe the widespread success of the FIFA video game franchise from EA Sports has also contributed to the game’s growth among younger generations. With the declining health of baseball, soccer is progressing at a perfect time. With easy access via the beloved “T,” I have no doubts that Bostonians would be able to consistently fill a soccer-specific stadium.
The only major roadblock lies in financing the project. Last year, The Boston Globe reported the Krafts wanted the city to pay for the stadium, with the Krafts later paying off the debt by using a ticket sale tax. However, city officials are not too keen on the idea of having public funds used for a sports venue. This stance was seen all too clearly in the city’s 2024 Olympic bid collapse. However, last August the Krafts enlisted the help of investment banking giant Goldman Sachs to finance the stadium. The company has financed numerous sports venue projects in recent years, including a stadium deal in New York for the Yankees as well as contracts with NBA and European soccer teams.
The actual location of a proposed stadium remains unclear as well. In late 2014, The Boston Globe reported the Krafts were looking at a location on Frontage Road off Interstate 93. The city owns this land where it is currently used for towed cars and for public works operations. This location would be an ideal fit for the Revolution, offering easy access from major highways as well as a nearby location from the MBTA’s Red Line.
With the Revolution preparing for another season with hopes of the team obtaining its first MLS Cup, fans should be rooting for the Rev’s owner as well to make a long overdue deal happen. A move to the unofficial capital of New England would be a tremendous boost to both the team and to the city. With the build up of a new stadium, businesses around the area will flourish from waves of people arriving for each home game, from stadium tours, and from corporate events. For the Revolution players, it will be nice playing in front of a passionate crowd that isn’t dwarfed by Gillette Stadium’s massive seating capacity.