It will be tougher than making a penalty kick, but the push for a soccer stadium in Downtown Albuquerque for the new darling of local sports, New Mexico United, clearly has momentum. As it should.
The team, playing in its first season, drew almost 13,000 fans for each home game as it managed to eke out a playoff spot in the United States Soccer League, roughly the equivalent of Triple A baseball. It had strong on-field performance – nice touch that local star and Eldorado High School graduate Devon Sandoval scored the team’s first goal – and brilliant marketing that sparked an energetic fanbase.
Without question, professional soccer has arrived in the Duke City. Albuquerque voters just approved $3.5 million for a multi-field practice facility United could share with other users like the New Mexico Activities Association.
Now, the team wants the taxpayers to write a check for a soccer-specific stadium.
The state will likely be asked to ante up at least $40 million in capital money – although cost estimates for the complex have ranged as high as $100 million.
Team owner and president Peter Trevisani told lawmakers the team succeeded in bringing together people from around the state and even sold its Meow Wolf-sponsored jerseys as far away as Germany. He said the current arrangement with the USL requires United to have a soccer-specific stadium for the 2021 season. It currently plays at Isotopes Stadium.
If things were to work out right, the new facility could help United jump up to the MLS level – the sport’s top rung and the soccer equivalent of the NBA or Major League Baseball.
Talk about putting Albuquerque on the map.
And there is already some support in the Roundhouse. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, says “hopefully we can harness the political will to build such a stadium because in other cities (such projects) have had tremendous impact.”
Trevisani said the hope would be for the stadium to be an anchor tenant. Shops and restaurants would spring up in a walkable area – perhaps at long last providing the spark that would help lift Downtown out of its malaise.
But the debate also needs a dose of reality, and questions abound. How much taxpayer money should subsidize a private, profit-making sports team? Can an arrangement be worked out where the city or state own the facility and the team pays rent, as the Isotopes do to the city, to pay off bonds issued to finance construction? Can that be a percentage of ticket sales? Concessions?
The anti-donation clause of the state Constitution would prohibit the public from simply paying for a private stadium.
While United officials like to talk about strong attendance, they don’t talk much about the fact their season tickets are pretty cheap – especially compared to other pro sports teams. And if a portion is going to help pay for the stadium, this really matters. The Isotopes’ season tickets range from nearly $700 to $1,600 while United’s season tickets range from $200 to $600. (Of course the Isotopes play about three times as many games – but the key here is season revenue, not per-ticket price.)
And despite Maestas’ enthusiasm, it’s unlikely that rural lawmakers will be eager to spend statewide capital money on an Albuquerque soccer stadium. Understandable, considering their own needs and the memory of the Rail Runner price tag.
But Trevisani is correct when he says this stadium and the team could “represent the revitalization of Albuquerque.”
Yes, there are lots of devils in the details, and due diligence is required. But this could be a game-changing opportunity too good to pass up, and it deserves serious consideration.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.