18 August 2009

Wolff backs off 2012 Quakes opening

The Merc's Elliott Almond interviewed Lew Wolff on the state of the Quakes stadium effort, and the news was not good. According to Wolff, the problem is sponsorship revenues.
"You can't do it out of magic," Wolff said. "There's no sense building a stadium unless you have some flow of revenue."

The club, Wolff said, needs about $5 million a year in sponsorship for a 15,000-seat, no-frills stadium. It has secured 20 percent of that so far.

"We're trying to get to the edge of the diving board," he said. "Before jumping into a pool we want to make sure there is water in it."

When Lew and I spoke earlier in the spring, we spent a little time discussing the Quakes project. Unfortunately, he said many of the same things at that point, which makes it dismaying to know that things haven't improved. We are in a recession/depression/what-have-you, so it's difficult to see that light at the end of the tunnel.

The problem doesn't appear to be the naming rights sponsor. It's more of a problem with the smaller sponsors whose ads appear on rotating and fixed signage throughout the stadium. MLS and the Quakes aren't blessed with rich TV and radio deals, so every bit of sponsorship revenue, right down to the jerseys, is important. Wolff mentioned an unusual financing angle that involved partnering with local building trade unions so that they could get their skin in the game on something they were building. That idea went nowhere.

What makes it worse is that some of the teams who would normally provide some competition locally for sponsor revenue aren't even around. The SaberCats aren't playing this year and may not play for a while, if at all. The Stealth indoor lacrosse team bolted for Seattle. A new women's soccer team, FC Gold Pride, sort of competes with the Quakes but also co-exists somewhat symbiotically.

While the six major sports teams (A's, Giants, Raiders, 49ers, Warriors, Sharks) are reasonably healthy despite the state of the economy, an on-again, off-again team like the Quakes will naturally have difficulty attracting sponsors even if they're located in the rich Silicon Valley. Unveiling drawings of the new stadium, which to date have been a closely guarded secret, should help sell the concept. Really, it comes down to the venue. Seattle and Toronto are cited as new success stories, and both are buoyed by pent-up demand while playing in sparkling new facilities. The Quakes play at the jury-rigged albeit cozy Buck Shaw Stadium, convenient but not compelling. It may be that Wolff/Fisher will simply have to place faith in the fans and potential sponsors to come out of the woodwork when a new stadium opens. It's not the most ideal position to be in, that's for certain.