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Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Would Buy an MLL Franchise...

II. Stadium
Now that I have a team, they are going to need a home. The ideal location would have adequate seating, but not be too large. The viewing angles and proximity to the field of play should be optimized for lacrosse. There will need to be ample parking and a full range of concessions - including beer and light alcohol sales.
In the final entry of the Expansion series, I mentioned three potential venues for a Des Moines MLL franchise. Given that pretty much every other option in the metro is a high school stadium and therefore unable to meet the concession requirement, I remain convinced that Drake and Cownie are the best immediate options. Both have positive and negative aspects.
Cownie Stadium is nearly suburban in its location, despite being within city limits. It is only minutes removed from downtown and the I-235 freeway, just off of Southeast 14th street. It is not far from the Highway 5/65 bypass. Basically it is a short drive from Altoona, Indianola, and West Des Moines.
However, the seating capacity is extremely limited to around 2,000, which might not be too bad in the first couple of years as the team builds it fanbase. Still, the venue looks quite amateur and may be worse (in terms of television presentation) than a high school stadium. The train tracks bisecting the entrance are problematic, but the youth soccer fields surrounding the stadium may be beneficial for future growth. Of course the whole floodplain issue cannot be ignored.
Alcohol and beer are not currently available at the stadium - at least not that I am aware of - but as city land, getting an alcohol permit is possible. The fact that the concession stand and restrooms are currently outside of the stadium is a major issue which would require new construction, pathways, or extra security. All of which are less than ideal for what should ultimately be a temporary venue.
So that leaves Drake Stadium. Situated on the north side of campus, Drake Stadium is not too far from I-235 and is pretty close to the literal center of the metro. Parking is fairly accessible and adequate. The seating is traditional and should offer decent viewing angles for lax. However, very little is available as an actual seat. Most of the seating is available as benches. There is a definite overabundance of seating at 14,557.
The large blue track is a concern to me as well; it is very distracting and could take away from the game. The southern portion of the horseshoe style seating could also prove to be problematic as it sits behind the goal. Although the extreme distance should limit spectator injuries from errants shots, it also prevents suitable viewing.
Right now beer and alcohol are not sold at the stadium during Bulldogs' events. This is not uncommon in many areas and can often be rectified for professional athletic tenants. It may require a beer garden or designated consumption area. Although that would not be ideal, having alcohol available somewhere within the stadium seems to be very important with professional athletics.
Build It?
While playing in Drake for the first year or two, I would move forward with construction of a new stadium built specifically for the MLL team. Well, ok, the Des Moines Menace would also be tenants.
My first thought was going forward with the Liberty Bank Stadium designs. But to be honest, I really do not recall very many specifics other than the seating capacities. On opening day, LBS was scheduled to have 6,000 seats - actual seats not bleachers. Eventually the stadium would expand to 17,000 seats over two growth phases. The original design incorporates luxury boxes and the expanded capacity increases them. While 6,000 is not a bad number to start with - and would accommodate the fans in most MLL cities - it is less than quite a few high school football stadiums in the metro. Still, the design seems flexible enough that it should work.
At that size, the stadium would be comparable to Morrison Stadium (pictured) at Creighton in Omaha. Morrison took about a year to open from ground breaking at a cost of about $14 million. LBS would probably cost more than that, but significantly less than the $80 million plus being spent on MLS stadiums and their additional developments. For the sake of argument, LBS would probably be closer to the $28.5 million spent on Columbus Crew Stadium, even after inflation. To keep things level, add another $10 million for the land itself (roughly 15 acres, based on Crew), which will hold the stadium, parking, and practice fields. To keep things simple, we'll say $40 million on the stadium and related costs - or nearly 40 times the cost of the team itself.
But other sources of income can offset the stadium cost. In addition to the aforementioned Menace occupation, the stadium could host concerts, high school and college soccer, football (using temporary lines), youth sports, and other outdoor events. Add in the concession costs and ability to sell alcohol on site. Plus, the team has no overhead in the form of rent. Major League Soccer has found this type of stadium to be one of the keys to achieving profitability and I am convinced the same would be true for a Major League Lacrosse franchise.

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