With 2015 in the rearview mirror and nothing but the wide-open roads of 2016 ahead, the San Jose Earthquakes look to ride their momentum to their first postseason berth in four seasons. A big part of that effort will be to take advantage of its home field at Avaya Stadium. The newest venue in MLS, and host stadium for this summer's MLS All-Star Game, Avaya is without question a major boon to soccer in the Bay Area. Quakes team president Dave Kaval continues his conversation with us in the concluding segment (Part One and Part Two were published previously) by addressing what is in the works for the new epicenter of soccer in San Jose.
Center Line Soccer: Let's talk about the first year of Avaya Stadium. I know from visiting there recently that there is still some of that new-stadium smell. What were some of the expectations that were met in year one and what are some amenities that fans can expect as we move into year two?
Dave Kaval: "We when sat down five years ago to chart the course for a new stadium in San Jose, we knew we had a huge task in front of us, and to get to this point and see it realized is very rewarding. It's success and the achievements we've had have far exceeded our expectations. Everything from selling out every regular season home game, which was incredible, to reaching 12,000 season tickets, which was 4000 more than we thought possible. Getting a $20 million naming rights deal with Avaya, a great technology partner for us and the stadium, and winning the Stadium Business Award for the most innovative stadium in the world when we were up against all these great stadiums across North America, Europe, and Asia. These all seemed like things that were outside the realm of possibility.
"It's really a credit to all that were involved in the project -- our fan base, our corporate partners, designers HOK -- that we were able to take some risks and put some design elements in the stadium that were different, and those were borne out as very positive things. For me, what I am most happy about is that I see people come to Avaya Stadium and have so much fun. There is so much joy evident on people's faces, like those that sit on the sidelines, four feet from the players, or the many that hang out at the scoreboard bar, or are a part of the all-standing supporters section. All of these unbelievable experiences you can have in a stadium, ones that people had never really had before in soccer, were created right here.
"Those are all super-exciting things with the venue -- that's obviously one of the main reasons it has been a runaway success -- and commercially and financially we've generated more revenue than we originally forecasted. For us, it means we can invest more in the player side, we obviously will continue doing as we have done, and we can continue to push forward towards many more MLS Cups for the Quakes."
CLS: One event in particular, the 2016 MLS All-Star game this summer, will certainly be a marquee event for the region. What kind of planning has already gotten underway in terms of showcasing soccer and San Jose to the rest of the country and the rest of the world?
DK: "We are extremely excited to be hosting, and I think it is perfect to do it in the second year of Avaya Stadium. We are going to go big, closing down parts of San Jose to host festivals, concerts, the main event at the stadium itself. It's going to be happening and an event people will remember for a long time.
"We want to create a critical mass around the game and all the hoopla that surrounds it and really take over this area. It obviously won't reach the level of the upcoming Super Bowl, but it is a level of takeover that we want everyone to be aware that MLS is here, that the Quakes are leading the charge, and it is going to be an incredible experience for everyone who is a part of it.
"It's a celebration. This community has such a great history of soccer, as you know, and this is another in a long line of events -- the World Cup in 1994, the Women's World Cup in 1999, the first MLS game ever in 1996, the opening of Avaya Stadium -- all these events together have created this rich mosaic of soccer history, and adding this piece will be really fantastic, and we're super-excited about it."
CLS: I don't doubt that, and I know plenty of friends and families that are already asking how they are going to get tickets for the All-Star game.
DK: "Yeah, that is the hard part, because I expect it will be the hottest ticket in town!"
CLS: Turning to the business to-do list, and I am sure you are tired of my asking about this, but what progress has been made on securing a jersey sponsorship and the revenue source it would provide?
"It is certainly one of our strategic objectives as an organization. We've been very deliberate about obtaining another partner because of a couple things. One, we've seen the success we've had partnering with Avaya, that if you have a real, truly strategic and integrative partnership with someone who really cares and wants to meet you halfway, you can elevate it beyond just money transferring and really creating an experiential, innovative platform. And I think we can do that with a jersey partner as well, if we have the right partner.
"We've been rigorous about who we have interacted with and the partners we would entertain to make sure we get to that point. In the short term, it might be harder because we don't have one right now, but we want to make sure we are set up for long-term success. Luckily, we have an ownership group that has a long-term view, so we have the luxury to take our time, and that has been a huge part of why we've been patient and been waiting to make sure we do it right, and it's done in a way that all our stakeholders feel that it befits us."
CLS: Thanks again, Dave, for spending time with us and discussing the Earthquakes both on and off the field. 2015 was certainly a year that had its ups and downs, but overall it appears that momentum is in the club's favor.
DK: "You are very welcome. It was a super-exciting season, and it was great sharing it with you and all the fans, all those great moments. I'll never forget this year personally. I think we are in a really good position for the future. We have a great foundation, and now it is onward and upward. I am so excited for 2016 and beyond."
Want to catch up with the first two parts of our conversation with Dave Kaval? You can read about the team's plans for player acquisition in part one, as well as a detailed account of the investment in the Earthquakes Academy in part two.
Have any questions you would like to ask Kaval? Please share your comments below, and we will look to have them addressed in a future interview with the team president.