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Major League Soccer

Earthquakes move to Houston, name stays in San Jose.

Don Garber
Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement that the San Jose Earthquakes were moving to Houston.
-- Major League Soccer web site photo --
NEW YORK (Thursday, December 15, 2005) -- Houston is the new home of the San Jose Earthquakes, Major League Soccer announced this afternoon.

All players and members of the coaching staff under contract will transfer to the ethnically-diverse Houston, which is the fourth largest city in the United States, according to MLS. However, San Jose might not be without an MLS team for long.

"Houston is a proven soccer market with a passionate, knowledgeable and diverse fan base," MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a league press release. "With positive discussions for a new, soccer-specific stadium, along with talks with potential investors, the market provides the team, and its owner AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group), the opportunity for success both on and off the field."

The city of San Jose and MLS have signed a letter of intent which could provide San Jose with an expansion team as early as 2007, should a local investor be found, a financing plan for a new stadium be presented and other conditions be met. The Earthquakes name, colors and competition records have been retained by MLS for a possible expansion team.

The San Jose city council must vote on the letter of intent.

"It is our intention to bring Major League Soccer back to the Bay Area with a new expansion team as early as 2007," Garber said in the release. "MLS is committed to working with local business leaders and city officials to continue these efforts. With the support of the city of San Jose, a local ownership group and a soccer-specific stadium, professional soccer can be very successful in northern California."

Anschutz Entertainment Group, which reduced its MLS ownership stake to four teams when it sold D.C. United in July, has been trying to sell the Earthquakes -- or at least find a partner -- since last year. It is expected AEG will still try to divest itself of the team, even with relocation to Houston, leaving it with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire and MetroStars.

"It is with great regret that we were unable to find a solution to our facility issues in San Jose," Timothy J. Leiweke, AEG president and chief executive officer, said in the MLS release. "It was not for lack of effort and financial investment made by AEG, providing a life-line to this team for three years, to turn around a difficult situation. Unfortunately, despite efforts by the city of San Jose, there was never a solution to the facility issue. We thank the fans for their support and are hopeful that a team will be back in this marketplace in the near future."

A majority of MLS's 12 teams play in soccer-specific stadiums or have venues being built. The Columbus Crew, Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA and FC Dallas presently play in their own stadiums, while the Chicago Fire (2006), Colorado Rapids (2007), MetroStars (2007) and Real Salt Lake (2008) are waiting for their new buildings to open. Most of these stadiums have been financed through public-private partnerships.

The San Jose Clash was an original member of MLS, which commenced play in 1996. The team was owned and operated by the league.

In November 1998, the Kraft family, which owns and operates the New England Revolution, became the investor-operator of the club, renaming it the Earthquakes in October 1999. In early 2001, Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment became the operator of the Earthquakes under contract with the league. SVS&E partnered with AEG to become the investor-operators of the team in March 2002.

AEG became the sole investor-operator of the Quakes in 2003 and, since then, has tried hard to sell the team to a local group of investors and find financing for a new stadium. For 10 years, the franchise has played on the San Jose State campus in decrepit Spartan Stadium, which not only was old, but not in the proper configuration to fit a proper-sized soccer field.

MLS said that AEG had invested more than $20 million in the Earthquakes and suffered significant losses during that period, partially because of an unfavorable split of revenue from parking and concessions with Spartan Stadium.

The Earthquakes won the MLS Cup championship in 2001 and 2003 and, in the past season, became the first team not to lose at home, going 9-0-7. The club captured the 2005 MLS Supporters Shield, which goes to the team with the league's best record, 18-4-10, its 64 points the second highest in league history.

While the Earthquakes are moving, the Kansas City Wizards will stay put, at least for 2006. Lamar Hunt, whose Hunt Sports Group has been trying to sell the team for more than a year, said in a Tuesday phone conference, that he had rejected offers for the club and will continue to operate it at the Arrowhead Stadium.

"Within the past week we've gotten a substantial offer to purchase the team," Hunt said. "We were not able to accept that offer because there were some conditions we didn't find acceptable. The group interested in purchasing the team wanted to be sure there was a soccer-specific stadium here before they closed the deal."

Hunt, whose group also owns and operates the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas, did not identify who bid on the Wizards.

Last year, voters in both Missouri and Kansas rejected a tax plan that would have funded improvements at Arrowhead Stadium. The Wizards share Arrowhead with the National Football League's Kansas City Chiefs, who Hunt owns.

Tuesday's announcement clears the way for the Wizards to begin selling season tickets, a process that had been suspended in October.

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