Quick Disclaimer: The majority of this article was constructed following the soccer game at Busch Stadium on May 23rd. However, having never published it, I figured now was the best time considering the success of the game at the Edward Jones Dome today.
St. Louis has long been known as a baseball town, and this really cannot be disputed based on the support the Cardinals have received on a yearly basis (3+ million in attendance 14 out of the last 15 seasons). However, the city’s reaction towards the two soccer games this summer just might lead to another push for a Major League Soccer expansion team in St. Louis.
Before I am considered blasphemous for even mentioning soccer in the same paragraph as baseball, let me at least explain my case with six defining points:
1. Earlier this summer, on May 23rd, there was a mere friendly (a friendly is basically a pre-season game) between two teams with relatively no connection to St. Louis, and it sold out (42,000+ tickets) in just twenty minutes. I understand that many people from across America made the trip to St. Louis so that they could see Chelsea FC and Manchester City perform on US soil, but with the game occurring on a Thursday evening while a large portion of schools were still in session, one has to believe that the vast majority were St. Louis fans. Oh and by the way, a record 48,263 fans ended up packing Busch Stadium for the game itself.
2. Nearly 11,000 fans showed up May 22nd to watch Chelsea have a practice session. This was not a free practice session, but rather, one had to pay $20 admission. To put this in perspective, the MLS is averaging just over 18,000 fans per game across the league so far this season. If St. Louis was able to get 11,000 fans to show up for a team’s practice session, the sky is the limit as to how much support a hometown MLS team would get on a game-by-game basis.
3. Today (August 10th), there was another soccer friendly in St. Louis. This time, the game was between the legendary Real Madrid and Inter Milan. One of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, put his skill on display for 54,184 fans. He did not disappoint–scoring a brilliant goal in the 38th minute. To put this in perspective, there was a game between Chelsea and Inter Milan at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, just a week or so ago that drew only 41,983 in attendance.
4. St. Louis is a hotbed of high-level soccer talent. High school soccer programs around the area are thriving with good players. There are various club teams and soccer academies that develop players to play at the college level and beyond. There are also various players from the area that are recruited to participate in the US Soccer Development Academy each year. Thus, if the interest is there to play the game at a high level, the interest is likely there to watch the game at a high level as well.
5. The area could nearly supply an entire 11-man starting squad with St. Louis players. Current MLS players with St. Louis ties include Tommy Meyer, Luis Soffner, Will Bruin, Cole Grossman, Brandon Barklage, Matt Pickens, Jack Jewsbury, Chris Schuler, and Brad Davis (I am sure I missed some as well so I apologize). I realize that there is no way the team could be made up of all St. Louis players, but if the team consisted of one or two of them, it would vastly increase support from across the area.
6. Lastly, and most importantly, St. Louis may have an owner and a stadium. There is a very wealthy businessman with local ties that could fill this big hole for St. Louis’s attempt at getting an MLS club. His name is Stan Kroenke. He already has a familiarity with the city (owns the Rams) and has a familiarity with owning a soccer/football club (Arsenal FC of the EPL).
In regards to the stadium, well, for the sake of the St. Louis Rams, let’s have Kroenke figure out what they need to do with the Edward Jones Dome first. However, as shown in the rendering above, a stadium could be built next to Union Station in order to keep it in downtown St. Louis. I am sure other areas, both in the city and outside of the city, would be available as well.
Thus, St. Louis has tried and failed multiple times to get an MLS expansion team in St. Louis. Many minor league teams have tried, and failed, to succeed in St. Louis, but an MLS team would be embraced much differently. The success of the two games this summer should be taken seriously by both city organizers as well as MLS executives.
I realize that many fans simply came to watch the superstars (Cristiano Ronaldo, Petr Cech, etc) play in person. However, there was also a large contingency interested in the game itself. As stated above, St. Louis would not need to supply 48,000+ fans per game in order to be successful. Of the 19 MLS teams, the vast majority (79%) of them draw less than 20,000 fans per game. To go even further, seven of the 19 average less than 15,000 fans per game. In my humble opinion, St. Louis would have no problem filling a 15,000-seat stadium.
There are plenty of steps that must occur before this is made a reality, but I figured I would do my best in supplying you with the reasons why St. Louis deserves an MLS team. I do not have Mr. Kroenke on speed-dial, so for all I know, he may have zero interest in bringing an MLS team to St. Louis. However, he is not the only person able of funding a project like this.
In my opinion, St. Louis and the MLS would benefit from a team on this side of the Show-Me state.
Until next time…
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- Fans and bars excited about soccer match at Edward Jones Dome (fox2now.com)
- Real Madrid Tops Inter Milan in St. Louis Match (stlouis.cbslocal.com)
- International Soccer Game at Busch Thrills Record Crowd (stlsportspage.com)