MLS Commissioner Don Garber and league officials believe they may finally have a solution to their FC Dallas problem.
The club, which plays in its own stadium – Pizza Hut Park in the suburbs of Dallas – drew a shade over 6,500 people to its match vs. Chivas USA on Sunday afternoon, a 2-0 loss. So far, FCD is 0-2, having scored one goal and conceded five. But even with a respectable gate in the opening 3-1 loss to the Chicago Fire, FCD is averaging just more than 11,000 fans per game, far below 2006 and 2007, when the club drew a decent average around 15,000 fans.
In light of that, and the fact that the club is one of the more pedestrian vessels in the MLS armada, Garber has hatched a copycat plan to that of something currently being done in the NFL. You will remember, of course, that Garber came to Major League Soccer from the NFL, having served as head of NFL International. In the NFL, the Buffalo Bills played a regular-season game last year in Toronto.
As for FC Dallas, the plan is for them is to play two regular-season home games per year in Mexico, at sites yet to be determined. This was hoped to be done this year, but with the schedule and team travel plans already set, it has to wait until at least 2010. In a groundbreaking agreement, FC Dallas would get 50% of the gate from each game, with the hosting Mexican club getting 35% to cover game operations cost, and 15% going to the visiting team to cover their extra travel and such. FC Dallas would also get a small percentage of concessions and other revenue. MLS expects it can draw at least 40,000 fans for each match, depending on the opponent, far greater than the capacity at Pizza Hut Park.
There is no word yet on the opponents. Garber and the league will use the time between now and when the 2010 schedule comes out next winter to talk to all the teams in the league, except Houston and Chivas USA, regarding their interest in playing FC Dallas in Mexico. The same team won’t appear vs. FCD twice in Mexico in one season. Houston is off the board because MLS does not want to take away the local Dynamo-FCD rivalry from both home fans and those would like to travel between the cities for games. The league doesn’t feel Chivas USA is a good choice, because of concern that Mexican fans might see it as a Chivas reserve team, and not show up.
MLS hopes to accomplish multiple goals with the plan:
* Bring the MLS game closer to the Mexican fans and media, drumming up new interest in the league, new marketing possibilities, and to hopefully entice top Mexican talent to join the league.
* Give the league two more “events” for its season calendar. The league is talking with ESPN2 and FSC about televising the games in Saturday night primetime spots. Either network could do this – FSC already shows MLS on Saturday nights, and in the summer, ESPN2 doesn’t typically air Major League Baseball on Saturday nights. ESPN Deportes or FSE would be home to the Spanish broadcast.
* Give FC Dallas a greater identity in the US and Mexico, making it a sort of regional team and a larger profile.
The last point is a key one. Aside from some Open Cup success, FC Dallas hasn‘t accomplished much in 13+ seasons. It is the only founding member of the league still in existence that hasn’t played in an MLS Cup final. It is hoped that by playing two games a year in Mexico, Mexican fans and others will latch on to the club and begin attending games at Pizza Hut Park – a decent enough facility but one where empty seats are far too plentiful.
MLS anticipates one game being held in the late spring, with another in the summer, but the choice of venue and working out scheduling with the Mexican Football League, as well as television, will ultimately decide that.