When Robert Kraft bought the New England Patriots in 1994, the team played their games in a virtually worthless facility called Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium. By 1998 when Kraft nearly moved the franchise to Hartford, Connecticut, no less than thirteen other NFL teams had just built — or were about to build — brand-new, modern football stadiums. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Mr. Kraft set out to construct a new Patriots home to keep pace with the competition. Sixteen years later, Gillette Stadium — which opened in 2002 — is still among the top venues in the NFL.
Of course, we know Gillette as home to the Revolution and, in that regard, it’s ranked as one of the worst soccer facilities in MLS. Fans have been clamoring for a soccer-specific stadium (SSS) near downtown Boston for years. However, all we hear are patronizing statements from the front office, especially during season-ticket renewal time, and rumors from supporters. Here’s the latest unfounded entry from the rumor mill:
#THREAD: A real estate company in Boston, who has worked on other stadium projects in the past and has been previously affiliated with KSG, bought a whole bunch of land in North Cambridge. 77.8 million dollar purchase. #NERevs #MLS https://t.co/WFeSDX2XhY— Tom Quinlan (@TommyQuinlan_IV) August 23, 2018
Nonetheless, might this issue begin to see a turn in the near future? Another MLS original, DC United, just opened Audi Field near the District in July, making New England the last of the charter clubs to not have a SSS. In fact, apart from Seattle and NYCFC, every other MLS franchise has one. [Note: Sounders FC, which shares CenturyLink Field with the NFL’s Seahawks, generally draws nearly as many fans to its matches as the football team gets for its games. Additionally, the venue is located near downtown, making it easily accessible to supporters. As a result, Sounders FC really has no desire to build a SSS.]
What’s more troubling to Revs’ fans who support what many pundits call a MLS 1.0 franchise: nearly every new club coming into MLS in the next few years already has fairly concrete plans for building their own SSS. FC Cincinnati, Miami FC and Nashville SC might actually begin play in these new venues. Even Austin FC, which will likely become the reincarnation of Columbus Crew SC in a year or so, already has city council approval for a new stadium.
At the USL level, fledgling club Birmingham Legion FC — which just hired former Revs’ assistant Tom Soehn to be its first coach — has partnered with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to finance massive improvements to UAB’s soccer stadium. The shared facility will feature real grass and provide seating for 6,000, ideal for a lower division side potentially hosting a US Open Cup match.
Just as these clubs have made great strides toward establishing serviceable venues, the Revs have fallen short in their quest for a SSS. There have been indications over the years that the Krafts were closing in on a particular site until a road block quashed their effort. We heard rumblings about Roxbury in 2006, Revere's Wonderland Greyhound Park and Somerville's Assembly Square in 2012, South Boston near Widett Circle in 2014, and Dorchester's Bayside Expo Center in 2016. A few weeks ago, Miami FC seemed to think we were building near Boston Garden. We saw stadium renderings from architectural firms like Populous. We learned that the Krafts had visited and studied recently-completed venues such as Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium. We read that the Kraft Sports Group was in contact with Goldman Sachs about financing.
To what have all of these teasers amounted? No land acquisition (as far as we know), no city council vote, no scheduled ground-breaking, no planned opening date, nothing but words of assurance that seem as empty as the rounds fired by the Minutemen after a goal. After all, we've been told numerous times Boston is a tough real estate market, especially for a large building project.
New England is still playing in a 16-year old building designed primarily for American football. Robert Kraft saw the need back then for a Gillette Stadium to ensure the Patriots competed in a first-class venue. He saw the handwriting. Does he see the volumes that have been written on the MLS wall? Will the currents of change in MLS propel the Kraft Sports Group to accelerate the process of finally building a SSS for the Revolution?