In theory, Boston has an MLS team.
According to the theory, which I’ll call the “theory of Revolution,” Boston is one of 15 US markets with a Major League Soccer franchise to call its own. The theory posits that Boston, as the 7th biggest media market in the country, and 10th largest metropolitan area, was awarded one of the league’s original 8 franchises when it began in 1996. Theoretically, said franchise hasn’t budged since, and it has enjoyed moderate success, making the MLS Cup four times in its first 17 years. A source no less reputable than Wikipedia presents this theory as scientific fact. The reality is a bit more muddled.
Yes, the New England Revolution exist. I saw them play with my own two eyes—concrete proof of their existence. But I didn’t do so while here in college; I saw the Revs play in my hometown of Rochester when they beat the Rhinos in the US Open Cup this summer. Because the Revolution, though they may claim Boston, are mired in Foxboro.
Foxboro is thirty minutes from Boston by car, and is best known as home to the New England Patriots. You cannot get to Foxboro on the T, and neither I nor any of my friends desires to have a car here in Boston. What I’m saying is, barring exorbitant cab fare, it is nigh impossible for me to see the Revolution play.
Now, there are reasons for the Revs to share their remote home with the Patriots. Reason 1A: Robert Kraft owns them both. Having two teams with names drawn from late-18th century history playing in the same facility must have seemed like a grand idea to him in 1996. Synergy! It is not working in 2013. By all accounts, Gillette Stadium is a fine place to watch an (American) football game. On Sundays, when the Patriots play, the MBTA runs a commuter rail train to Foxboro, but this same advantage is not afforded to the lowly Revs. Over 68,000 people fill the stadium on a weekly basis during the NFL season. During the much longer MLS campaign, an average of ~13,500 people partially fill the lower bowl of an oversize cavern. The Revs are currently 16th of 19 MLS teams in attendance this season. Of the three teams below them, two are the worst teams in their respective conferences, and two are building new stadiums. Neither can be said about the Revs. The only other MLS team to play in an NFL stadium is in Seattle, and their attendance triples that of New England. Their stadium is downtown.
The Revs’ front office, at least on the surface, is making efforts to find the team a more suitable home. But I could have written that same sentence in 2007. It’s a difficult process, because Boston is notoriously stingy with its land; there are only 48.3 square miles within the city limits. Of the 40 most populous cities in the US, only San Francisco has less land than Boston. Boston’s scarcity resulted in the Patriots’ move to Foxboro in the early 1970s. They spent their early years playing at Nickerson and Fenway, the latter of which is only standing today because Red Sox owners could not find land for a replacement in the late 90s.
The Patriots too struggled in Foxboro; they were outsiders in Boston, well behind the Sox, Bruins and Celtics until Robert Kraft took over two decades ago. The were on the verge of moving to St. Louis in It’s entirely possible that the New England Revolution, given enough victories and the continued growth of soccer in America, could mirror the Patriots and thrive in Foxboro. But I wouldn’t be a part of it. To me, it seems infinitely more likely that a new location, even in Somerville or Chelsea, so long as it’s T accessible, would spur success both on and off the field.
Featured image via Flickr