A revolutionary idea for a Boston soccer venue

A spiffed-up Harvard Stadium could be perfect home for Revs

BOSTON, we have a soccer problem. We don’t have a home team.

Our club in spirit—the pioneering and resurgent New England Revolution—still reside in the de facto exile of Gillette Stadium. As if playing The Beautiful Game on an artificial pitch tailored for gladiators weren’t indignity enough, the Revs do so in front of roughly 48,000 empty seats per match.

Such meager attendance would be an easier pill to swallow if soccer were still a nascent phenomenon in American pro sports. But it’s not. While the MLS—the league in which the Revolution play—is the youngest major sports league in the US, its popularity is reaching new and well-documented heights. Top teams in the league as measured by ticket sales regularly pull in crowds nearly double that of average MLB, NHL, and NBA games.

The league’s three-year-old belle of the ball, Atlanta United, hosts over 50,000 screaming fans per contest and boasts a $330 million market valuation. Whether you’re a soccer fan or not, the revenue and jobs generated by United’s upstart success are nothing to scoff at.

So, if an expansion franchise from the football-crazed south can post such whopping numbers, why can’t the Revs? The answer is both simple and complicated. It is most succinctly summed up in the triplicate parlance of real estate agents the world over: Location, location, location.

The fact is, urban millennials—the heart and soul of the sport’s surging popularity—want nothing to do with pro soccer in Foxborough. Can we be blamed? The ride down is a bear, the viewing is vastly impersonal, and the sterile megaplex aesthetics of Patriot Place are antithetical to the idiosyncratic atmospherics soccer fans thirst for.

None of this is lost on the Revs’ owners. Leaders of the Kraft Group are dying to build a soccer stadium in Boston and, in turn, deliver the market power of Boston to the Revs.

That the club hasn’t relocated isn’t for lack of trying. So far, the barriers to entry have been too enormous. Prospective neighbors don’t want the traffic. Established sports teams loathe and lobby against new competition. And housing advocates decry the very real threat of squandering space for new residential development.

Arguably, the first two lines of opposition are forms of NIMBYism and entitlement. But in a cramped city with a growing wealth gap, a dearth of affordable housing is a deadly serious problem, one a pro sports team shouldn’t contribute to.

So where could the mighty Revs go?

My outside the penalty box idea: Harvard Stadium.

Revs fans, I know what you’re thinking. Renting Friday night field time like a beleaguered semi-pro lacrosse team is no recipe for success, particularly in an antediluvian arena that opened in 1906 with concrete bench seats. But that antiquated arrangement is not what I’m talking about.

Imagine instead a privately-funded partnership between The Kraft Group and Harvard University to dramatically renovate one of Boston’s grandest, yet most ignored, sporting assets. Harvard Stadium, where the school’s football team plays half a dozen home games each fall, is a vastly underused 30,000-seat stadium that sits just off Soldiers Field Road, a short distance from the Massachusetts Turnpike – and, perhaps most importantly, a short walk across the river from the Harvard stop on the MBTA’s Red Line.

Under a Harvard-Kraft partnership, elegant configurations of glass and steel could rise from the stadium’s handsomely restored neoclassical façade facing the Charles. Concrete bench seating could give way to comfy crimson bucket seats, luxury boxes, and microbrew vending options. A remade Harvard Stadium could bring together modern bells and whistles, infused with a healthy dose of old-world class and a dazzling skyline vista. What’s more, its makeover could yield thousands of new jobs at no cost to taxpayers and with zero impact on housing.

Transactionally speaking, I don’t care how it gets done. The Krafts and Harvard can cut the pie a million ways. A 99-year lease with a first right of refusal, for example. A shared ownership structure that incorporates overt brand integration or, conversely, clever two-track marketing. The possibilities are endless. And I’m sure there are more than a few faculty members and students at Harvard Business School and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design who’d gladly help figure it all out.

There’s a catch, of course. Like most renowned universities and businesses, neither Harvard nor the Krafts have a great track record of sharing. But times are changing. The dawn of stakeholder capitalism invites us to consider new ways of unleashing economic potential through corporate citizenship and unlikely partnerships.

Meet the Author

John Ward

Author/Soccer fanatic, Amir Duran thriller series/English Premier League
The Revs calling a reimagined Harvard coliseum home isn’t merely a bread and circus fantasy. It would be a cultural and commercial innovation all of Boston would benefit from. Plus, wouldn’t it be nice for the City of Champions to also be home to the crown jewel of American soccer infrastructure?  You can bet on this: I wouldn’t be the only one buying season tickets. And who knows, maybe I’d even catch a few Crimson football games every fall.

John Ward is a Boston resident, English Premier League fanatic, and author of the Amir Duran thriller series.