I’ll preface with this: By no means is the SoccerCity SD group required to make any concessions on this deal. It’s strong enough by to stand up to political scrutiny and gain widespread support on its own merits. That being said, this is an attempt (however feeble it may be) to grease some wheels.
SDSU has been frustratingly vague with their concerns over the SoccerCity initiative. But it seems their main point of contention is stadium size. Here’s the passage in question:
“The Specific Plan approves the removal of the existing stadium and redevelopment of the River Park and Mixed Use Site with a Sports Stadium of up to approximately 32,000 seats, which may
be expanded to 40,000 seats pursuant to subsequent approvals. Any expansion beyond 32,000 seats is not covered within the maximum development intensity allowed under this Specific Plan and would require separate environmental review and permitting.” [3.1.1]
SDSU claims to need 40,000 seats in order to pursue a spot in a Power 5 conference to raise their national profile in college football. It’s safe to say that most people in San Diego would support that. But they’ll need help to get there.
San Diego State’s Athletic Director JD Wicker said that to start, 30,000-32,000 seats would be fine. The problem is that SDSU would have a difficult time coming up with the estimated $100M in additional funds to increase the stadium capacity.
We cannot let a couple thousand seats derail this plan.
In order to ensure that SDSU can get to 40,000 seats, FS Investors could commit to funding half of the costs incurred by expanding from the initial 32,000 seats. In return, FS can recoup the $50M investment towards future expansion by deducting $50M from the $100M gift. SDSU didn’t seem too enthused about that part anyways.
With an additional 8,000 seats to be accounted for, the logical assumption would be to put 4,000 retractable seats on each sideline. This gives you flexibility to play in front of 32,000, 36,000, or 40,000 depending on the expected attendance of any individual game. I’m no engineer, so I don’t know how realistic that solution would be anyways.
But it’s worth looking into.
For SDSU, this would seem to satisfy their demands. If the Aztecs were to be invited into a Power 5 conference, they’d have the 40,000 seats to accommodate that. But with the flexible capacity, the Aztecs wouldn’t be biting off more than they can chew if they wound up stuck in the Mountain West for the foreseeable future.
You may be asking, “Why would FS Investors do that? SDSU hardly has any leverage. Why negotiate against yourself?” Well, there’s benefit in this for FS Investors too. First, if SDSU can get on board immediately with this offer, that’s worth it in itself. Before this project can even get up and running, FS Investors need to conquer the obstructionists. While SoccerCity could potentially survive without SDSU’s blessing, that fight gets much easier when you have the Aztecs in your corner; not throwing jabs at you.
FS Investors would have to be ambitious, tactful and ultimately successful to make sure 32,000-40,000 MLS fans are showing up to each game. While challenging, it’s certainly not impossible. MLS has a way of marketing their new expansion teams with great success. The model would be Toronto, Portland, Atlanta, and Orlando.
Tickets are a hot commodity and some markets even have waitlists to purchase season tickets in the future. It’s completely realistic to think that a soccer-centric market like San Diego would be able to sell at least 25,000-27,000 season tickets out of the gates.
Meanwhile, on the horizon is the 2026 World Cup; this is the real money opportunity.
If the United States/Mexico/Canada joint bid is successful, imagine how wonderful it would be to have a 40,000 seat soccer stadium in the heart of San Diego. The World Cup will be expanding to 48 teams for the 2026 World Cup, which means more games to be spread around more venues. With a flexible stadium ranging between 32,000-40,000 seats, San Diego becomes a much more lucrative host city for the world’s grandest stage.
Looking north to Los Angeles, our stadium size should be strategic to give San Diego advantages. Up the 5, there will be a 27,000 seat stadium in Carson, a 22,000 seat stadium in Downtown Los Angeles, and a 90,000 seat stadium in Inglewood. South of us, Estadio Caliente is currently expanding to a total of 33,333 seats. 40,000 seats give San Diego a unique venue that stands out for its accommodating, yet modest capacity.
In addition to potentially hosting the World Cup in 2026, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL are in advanced discussions to make the Copa America a regular tournament in the US. That’s more opportunities for San Diego to attract international attention to our city and drive tourism revenue.
A flexible stadium that can range from 32,000 – 40,000 is the solution if the architects and engineers can get creative. Again, I’m not sure how realistic this idea is in the first place. But we’ve all seen high school gyms slide their stands in to form a flat surface, so I assume it’s possible (although on a much smaller scale).
Long term, this solution means higher profile games in the 2026 World Cup and every other international tournament played in the United States moving forward. That means much more money getting pumped into the surrounding development entirely.
Short term, it greatly increases the chances of surviving the initial scrutiny. San Diego is incredibly complex when it comes to this kind of thing and this discussion may be necessary. After all, this entire discussion is useless if this plan is rejected outright. So cooperation and constructive discussion is a critical aspect towards realizing our dreams in San Diego.
In return for their synergies, San Diegans will respond by selling out every Aztec and MLS game played in this stadium!
PS: Can we talk about some modified version of PSL’s to help fund an expansion should the need be warranted?