COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (Wednesday, July 18, 2007) -- With the owners of Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics stepping up to the plate, Major League Soccer will return to San Jose, Calif., after a two-year absence.
Lew Wolff and John Fisher hit a homerun as far as San Jose soccer fans are concerned, bringing a team back to where an original MLS franchise resided from 1996 to 2005. For the first four years, the team was called the Clash and then became the Earthquakes, a nickname that will be used by the new franchise.
"The day after we left (San Jose) in December 2005, we began working on a plan to return to the market," MLS commissioner Don Garber in a press conference here today. "The A's are a fantastic sports group operator. They understand the market. They understand pro sports. They have fallen in love with the sport of soccer."
Garber said the league was approached by Wolff and Fisher about 30 days ago to see if it would be feasible to bring the MLS back to San Jose in 2008.
The amount of the franchise fee was not announced, but when the league added Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA in 2005, the entrance cost for each team was reported to be $10 million. When Toronto FC was added this season, the fee was reported to be slightly more than that.
The Earthquakes will become MLS's 14th team and solve the scheduling nightmare the league faced this season with an odd number of teams. That's unless other teams are added. Commissioner Don Garber has talked about expanding the league to 16 clubs by 2010.
Michael Keston, a California real estate developer with ties to Larry Weinberg, former owner of the National Basketball Association's Portland Trail Blazers owner Larry Weinberg, has exclusive negotiating rights to bring a team to either Portland or Seattle. MLS has also had talks with groups from Atlanta, Cleveland, Miami, Fla., Philadelphia and St. Louis about expansion.
The San Jose deal was announced by Garber here at Dick's Sporting Goods Park today, the site of tomorrow's MLS All-Star Game which pits the league's best players against Celtic, the Scottish Premier League champion.
Despite great success on the field, including MLS Cup championships in 2001 and 2003, insurmountable problems with Spartan Stadium were the main reason Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owner-operator, moved the team to Houston following the 2005 season. It remains the only franchise move in league history.
Still, MLS apparently waived its requirement that a new ownership group have a viable stadium plan before being granted a team. The plan is to build a privately-financed, $80-million soccer stadium, seating as many as 20,000, near Mineta San Jose International Airport, but it would be on city land and require reaching an accommodation with the San Jose government. Before departing, AEG had tortured negotiations with the San Jose City Council and came close to an agreement to build a new stadium, mostly with public financing, but the negotiations eventually broke down
Wolff's group maintains exclusive rights to negotiate with the city of San Jose on the airport site, land currently owned by the city. Design studies are already underway and those studies could translate to another property if the airport-area deal doesn't work out. Should negotiations fall through, Wolff said he at least two alternate sites in mind.
"We have some options we can look at if something doesn't materialize," Wolff said in the press conference. "We should know by September or October if the direction toward a new venue where we'd like to have it in San Jose is possible. If not, we're still going to go ahead with the new venue, but it may not be at that location."
In the two years until a new facility is completed, plans call for the Earthquakes to play at several venues. Big games, such as when David Beckham and the Los ANgeles Galaxy visit, and as much as half the schedule would be played at McAfee Coliseum, home of the baseball A's and National Football League Raiders, which has sold out its 50,000 seats for soccer before. Stanford Satdium, which also has a 50,000 capacity, might also be used, while smaller venues such as San Francisco's 9,000-seat Kexar stadium and Aggies Stadium (15,000 capacity) at University of California-Davis, 100 miles northeast of San Jose, might be used for games expected to draw lesser crowds.
That would fall in with Wolff's plan to make the Earthquakes "Northern California's team," whereas studies indicated the team previously had little support outside the San Jose, mainly because the club wasn't marketed beyond Silicon Valley.
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