The Daily Wave: How To Build A Fortress

Bart Young

First ever designated player in club history? Check. First ever jersey sponsor in club history? Check. What's next on the Front Office's to-do list? Building Riverrun.

Last Saturday marked a historic day for the Colorado Rapids. Midweek, many would have thought any history made during the Rapids match-up against the LA Galaxy would have been about Edson Buddle or Landon Donovan improving their goal scoring tallies to significant milestones (100 career goals for Buddle, the all-time goal-scoring record for Donovan), but neither were on the score-sheet. What was historic, however, was the Rapids debuting their first ever jersey sponsorship with Ciao Telecom. Their next historic accomplishment could have Dick's Sporting Goods Park rival the atmosphere of Sporting Park.

The jersey sponsorship had been a long term goal for the Rapids' front office, as Rapids President, Tim Hinchey, often called it his number one goal. The sponsorship is just the latest in a number of long term promises the new front office has finally delivered. Now, fans and journalists alike are asking one simple question, "What's next?"

Unlike obtaining a jersey sponsor, "building a fortress" out of Dick's Sporting Goods Park is a much more complicated task to accomplish with a far more vague endpoint. After all, in many ways DSGP is already somewhat of a fortress for the Rapids. Altitude alone provides the Burgundy Boys with a unique home field advantage, and in 2011 DSGP was ranked the sixth toughest place to play in all of MLS.

To the average MLS fan, though, chances are DSGP isn't one of the top ten stadiums they consider to be a "fortress." Once the crown jewel of MLS, a meteoric rise in soccer-specific stadiums throughout the country has left DSGP somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of atmosphere. Less than 10 years old, DSGP is still a fantastic facility, but it's a far cry from the culture and intensity brought at venues in the Northwest and in places like Kansas City.

After all, the way most fans rate the atmosphere of a stadium is by how many empty seats they see on a television broadcast. Is it fair? Not always. But the attendance always has been, and always will, be the deciding factor in determining what stadiums are considered a fortress.

Despite doubling season ticket sales in the last two years, the Rapids still struggle to produce the attendance percentages of "eternal sell-outs" like Providence Park or Century Link Field. Rapids fans will be familiar with the challenges to attendance they face. It can be summed up in one word: location, location, location. Put simply, DSGP is in the middle of nowhere. About 20 minutes outside downtown Denver, the stadium has an alarming lack of retail and restaurant establishments around it, borders a wildlife preserve, and to date has no direct public transportation from downtown. At a time where MLS stadiums are almost exclusively being built in downtown areas, that puts DSGP at a disadvantage.

Hinchey and the rest of Kronke Sports Enterprises feel like they have the solution. The project is called Victory Crossing. Some fans will remember the name, either from when the project was first announced (then known as Prairie Gateway) over half a decade ago, or from those big signs that have been greeting visitors for years as they turn into DSGP. According the the project's website, Victory Crossing will be "where the energy of world-class sport, entertainment and commerce meet." Here's the link to that website.

In short, the project plans on adding over 1 million square feet of retail, hotel, and corporate office space, and additional civic use and sporting development. Basically, if the stadium sits outside the city then KSE is going to bring the city to the stadium. The plan also addresses transportation needs, as shuttle services will be provided to and from the RTD Light Rail line that will extend all the way to Denver International Airport. As exciting as all this looks on paper, will that be enough? While that question can only be answered in time, a study of another MLS club's stadium journey points at good things to come.

When Kansas City were still known as the Wizards, attendance was a major concern for a team that also struggled to succeed on the field. In the 18 seasons prior to the current one, Kansas City had the lowest average attendance for 8 of those seasons. That's more than any other club. Today, Sporting Kansas City has 41 consecutive sellout MLS games at Sporting Park and are the defending MLS Cup champions. While the rebranding certainly played a part, much of the success came down to stadium location.

Forbes published this article back in 2012 and talks about how Sporting Park's location next to the Legends Outlet Mall, the Kansas City Speedway, and Community America Ballpark, as well as its application of STAR bonds, are the reasons for the stadium's success. STAR bonds allow SKC to pay off the bonds used to build the stadium with sales tax.

Despite being about 20 minutes outside of downtown (sound familiar?), the rich area around Sporting Park make the stadium a destination for sports fans in Kansas City. The parallels between Sporting Park and Victory Crossing continue financially as pointed out by this article from the Denver Business Journal. KSE will also be able to use sales tax to pay off the bonds used in the development. The two stadiums also share the same architecture firm, the renowned POPULOUS.

You may have noticed the article above states that ground for Victory Crossing would be broken by the first quarter of 2013. The official Victory Crossing brochure says Phase II of the project (retail, sports, hospitality) was to begin between 2013-2014. But if you have been to DSGP lately, you will have noticed the construction around the stadium is scarce... or nonexistent. A rather negative report from Bloomberg News came out in December of 2013 on the delay in development, especially given the October 2014 deadline before Commerce City has the right to sell the land to someone else. Should fans be worried?

Although official updates on the status of the project are difficult to find, the most recent news is hopeful, and it comes from Tim Hinchey himself. In an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit February of this year, Hinchey responded to a question about development around DSGP. He states that Phase I of the project is going well, and an indoor soccer facility will be the first new building. He gives no definite timeline, but it appears Victory Crossing is still very much a go. Given that building a fortress is where Hinchey will be focusing his efforts now, and his history of delivering on goals like a shirt sponsor and a designated player, perhaps in a few years time DSGP will have a crowd that rivals the best in the league.

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