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The Issues With the Harlem River Yards Stadium

The proposed South Bronx stadium isn’t as ideal as one might think

MLS: Real Salt Lake at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Since this article entered development, some new revelations that the proposed Harlem River Yards stadium might not be happening at all have surfaced. Regardless, we at Hudson River Blue have decided to put out this article for the purpose of addressing the issues with the planned stadium should it become a reality, despite these reports.

When I saw the article showcasing a plan for New York City FC’s proposed new stadium, I was immediately excited about the design and the fact that the Pigeons are getting closer to having a permanent home. Located at the Harlem River Yards in the South Bronx, the planned stadium seats 26,000 people, sports a cool dome, and includes both a hospital and affordable housing. On the surface, what isn’t there to like about this project? It seemingly has all the keys to be successful; the shiny, new stadium would be located in the Five Boroughs and be — for the most part — accessible by public transportation.

A problem, however, arises when you examine this stadium’s expandability. Expandability measures how difficult would it be to expand the stadium’s maximum capacity in the future. Would they have to tear it down? Are there ready-made plans for such a task should there be a need?

Because this stadium fits into the Harlem River Yards like the last piece in a gigantic puzzle, it may be hard to expand past the proposed 26,000 cap.

Why is this a problem? Well, it is inevitable that the demand will rise. Currently, NYCFC averages about 26,000 fans a match. That is exactly the capacity of what the new stadium would be. In a city with a population of 8.5 million, that is not as big as one would think. With a brand new soccer specific stadium and an ever-growing demand for soccer in the United States, more people will inevitably want to watch than the stadium has room for.

When that happens, NYCFC will be faced with a multitude of issues: be forced to search for a new site to build an even bigger stadium, somehow manage to add seats to the cramped site, or allow ticket prices to rise (the most likely outcome). Prices will increase due to increased demand for limited tickets, making even the cheapest tickets unaffordable for many people. Even if NYCFC keep their prices the same, there will be issues of inflation on the secondary ticket markets. This inflation will take away from the diversity that makes NYCFC so special because the inflation excludes people from attending matches.

In many other sports, the crowd is mostly wealthy. But, the wealth in the stadium is not representative of the population who actually play the game. Many people from all different walks of life play sports. That is part of the beauty of them, especially soccer. All you need is a ball and some friends. And when ticket prices rise — like what has happened in the NFL — people stay home, which takes away from both the diversity of the fans in attendance as well as the overall experience. Luckily, soccer in the US has a chance to be different because of the example set by many European clubs like Everton, who froze ticket prices for their upcoming 2018-19 season. NYCFC should follow that example and strive to keep soccer inclusive by allowing everyone to be able to afford tickets.

Even though this stadium may not end up coming to fruition, any stadium they build in the five boroughs will likely have the same challenges with regard to capacity, ticket prices, and expandability. NYCFC brass will need to keep this in mind because they risk alienating an important segment of their fanbase. This segment includes diehard fans and supporters who use their hard-earned money to attend matches. An important part of being a next-level fan is being able to attend live matches. And if those fans find themselves unable to attend those games, they may not be able to be as devoted to the club. It is crucial that everyone who wants to see the Boys in Blue up close can afford to see their favorite team in living color.

What do you think about the new stadium proposal? How should NYCFC combat inflation in their new home?