Dear Mr. Kraft,
First of all, let me say that Gillette Stadium is quite an impressive structure. In fact, I was quite literally in awe of its immensity the first time saw it looming up out of the distance as I drove down Route 1. Loss of fan atmosphere and home-field advantage aside, I’m sure it’s a marvelous place in which to watch a New England Patriots game.
However, I have to say… it’s a terrible place to watch a New England Revolution game. Why, you might ask? Because it’s huge. Way too huge to play host to a Major League Soccer team.
The Revolution consider a sellout crowd to be about 22,006. The seating capacity of Gillette is 68,756. Even if I’m in attendance at a sellout Revs match (which is highly unlikely, considering the overall average attendance at Revs matches is 15,844), it still feels like I’m only one of a handful that’s shoved into a corner of a vast behemoth of a stadium. Observe the seating chart for Revs games below (gray areas are closed-off during soccer games):
And that’s only the bottom bowl (and a tiny section of the second). Imagine, if you will, being a player on the Revolution. Perhaps you watched World Cup matches as a kid and dreamed of one day playing before a huge crowd of singing fans who wave their scarves and banners in support and chant your name. With that dream firmly planted in your mind, imagine stepping onto the pitch at Gillette for your first match. Not even half of the lower bowl of the stadium is full. The fans in the Fort (the 3 orange sections) are singing and screaming throughout the game, but the rest of the crowd could be watching golf for all the noise they’re making. Bit of a disappointment, huh?
Now, compare Gillette’s seating chart to that of Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire:
Isn’t that much more reasonable? Doesn’t that make so much more sense? That seating chart is the whole stadium. There aren’t two more bowls looming empty over the fans on game-day. The fans are all right there, as close to the action as FIFA regulations will allow.
In fact, 14 of the 16 current MLS teams have stadiums similar to Toyota Park (or will within a year or two). 11 teams have soccer-specific stadiums that seat 27,000 or less. Two teams (DC United and KC Wizards) are in the process of building soccer-specific stadiums, and one (Houston Dynamo) plays at a university’s football stadium that is at least of manageable size (32,000 seats).
The only other MLS team to play in an NFL stadium is Seattle. The Sounders play at Qwest Field (also home to the Seahawks), which has a similar seating capacity to that of Gillette. However (and that’s a big however, Mr. Kraft), Qwest was designed to be BOTH an NFL stadium and an MLS stadium. For Sounders matches, the people at Qwest adjust things (I’m not entirely sure how, though I’m guessing they close off the upper bowls) to bring the size down to a manageable 27,700 seats that (here’s the kicker) SURROUND the pitch. They don’t shove all their fans into one corner of the lower bowl.
Now, just amuse me for a few seconds and watch this video of Liverpool fans before a Champions League match against Barcelona:
How awesome would it be if Revolution matches were like that? I know, I know… soccer isn’t nearly as big in the States as it is in Europe, or, you know, the rest of the world. But the MLS is expanding pretty rapidly (two more teams will be added in 2011), and some MLS teams (I’m looking at you, Seattle and Philadelphia) have fans that are pretty freaking hardcore and dedicated. The Revolution even has two factions of fans – the Midnight Riders and the Rebellion - that are working hard to expand and strengthen fan support for their beloved Revs.
Wouldn’t it be nice to make the stadium more fan-friendly for them, and more conducive to the sort of electric soccer atmosphere that you witnessed in that Liverpool video? Right now, any noise that those in the Fort make just disappears straight up. Having the fans all the way around the pitch, nice and close to the action, not only makes it easier for those fans to see the game, but it also provides a tighter environment, brings fans together, and brings that Revolution player I mentioned earlier so much closer to living his dream of playing in front of a packed house.
A few years ago, Mr. Kraft, you and the city of Somerville, Massachusetts sat down and talked about possibly building the Revs their very own stadium. You made a good number of fans (myself included) very excited at the prospect of hopping on public transportation and making the short journey to our very own soccer-specific stadium close to the city. No offense to Foxboro, but it’s quite a haul and Route 1 is no fun before or after games. The proposed site in Somerville would be close to the T, right off a bus line, and within walking distance of many in New England’s most densely populated city:
In fact, I know of several Revs fans who say they would gladly purchase season tickets if it didn’t require regular trips down to Foxboro. If you don’t do it for the fans, Mr. Kraft, think of the revenues. Even the two 2011 MLS expansion teams have (or are planning to have) their own soccer-specific stadiums. This is a good bandwagon for New England to hop. You’ve got the location, you’ve got a good amount of support, God knows you’ve got the money. Now can you please get this going?