The MLS is coming to Minnesota. 

Minnesota United FC is joining the MLS in the 2018 season, but it is contingent on a stadium deal. 

In March, here is how MLS commissioner Don Garber relayed the announcement: 

“The ownership group’s commitment to soccer and the community, the area’s growing millennial population and the region’s rich tradition of supporting soccer at all levels in Minnesota were key indicators that this was the right market. The passionate soccer fans in Minnesota will soon have a world-class, downtown soccer stadium that will serve as the home for the new MLS team and become a destination for marquee international sports events.”

The proposed Stadium would sit where the current Minneapolis Farmers Market is, in the North Loop. 

Not going to lie, as a fan of soccer, and as a believer in the importance of  urban right sized stadiums, I'm somewhat excited about the possibility for this stadium. The stadium will be privately funded, with an ownership group led by Bill McGuire, putting up the 250 million dollars to build the stadium. 

On Friday, my wife Emily and I met our friend Will for drinks at Tattersall distilling in Minneapolis. As a side note, you should really go there. While we were there Will wondered if the Twin Cities metro was large enough to support yet another professional sports team. Will implied that we have too many teams for the size of our city, and the Stadium would sit empty as there would be a struggle to find events to fill the stadium in addition to soccer. 

Emily and I thought that the location of the the stadium (downtown versus suburbs), and the size of the stadium, might be more central to the success of the stadium and to MLS team value than the number of professional teams in the metro area.

So on Saturday, Emily and I got after some tandem regression analysis.  

Key Question(s)

1. What are the factors that can explain Avg. Attendance?

2. What are the factors that explain stadium usage (Attendance Divided By Capacity)?

Implications -

What would be the right size for a stadium in the Twin Cities? 

Ok - So what data did we look at? 

Inputs:

18 MLS teams - Google trend popularity, Metro City Size, Number of Other Major Sports Teams, Avg 2014 Season Attendance, Team Valuation, Stadium Capacity, Stadium Location (Downtown Vs. Suburbs), Avg Attendance Divided By Stadium Capacity, Stadium Capacity Divided By Population.

Let's look at our correlations, where color refers to strength (blue is positive and red is negative) and shading means the p value is lower than .05 (significant by most standards);

Looking at these correlations, let's parse out what is significant -

1. Value is strongly positively correlated with Avg. Attendance, Capacity, and Google Popularity. 

2. Attendance divided by capacity (Stadium usage) is negatively correlated with a higher number of additional professional sports, and a larger metro population (Will is right).

3. A stadium in the Suburbs is positively correlated with a higher number of other sports teams.

Now that we know what is correlated, what are the best predictors of our outcomes?

Outcome 1: Avg. Attendance -

The best model we have of average attendance is  a smaller metro, with a higher number of other major sports teams, a larger stadium and high stadium usage rate. The model describes almost all of the variance in attendance between the teams. This could be Minneapolis in the right circumstances?

 

Outcome 2: Attendance Divided By Capacity (Stadium Usage) -

But what about stadium usage rate, rather than the raw number of avg. attendance? To have a high stadium usage rate the best model is a larger metro area with a smaller number of other professional sports, a smaller stadium, and higher than average attendance. 

Outcome 3: Overall team value -

The best model we have of overall team value is a larger metro and higher average attendance.

What did we learn from these correlations and models? 

If we're defining stadium success based on Stadium Usage - 

The Twin Cities should build a smaller stadium, as it will be only the 12th largest out of 19 MLS markets in 2018 (between Seattle and Montreal). Building a smaller stadium is the only way to ensure that the stadium will have a high usage rate, especially because the Twin Cities has a higher number of major professional sports teams than Seattle or Montreal.

How large should the Twin Cities MLS Stadium Be?

Let's take a look at the other MLS metros, and their Stadium Capacity Relative to Population and Stadium Usage. In the chart below you can see that Salt Lake and Seattle have the highest stadium capacity relative to population.

Salt Lake City is considerably smaller than the Twin Cities, and only has one additional major professional sports team. Seattle is a similar size (closest to the Twin Cities), but has one less sports team. 

Looking at this distribution, and also combining it with what we already know from our correlations and models we might expect a stadium usage rate similar to the Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution, or, at the best case, - the Seattle Sounders. 

Here's how the stadium size shakes out if we look at those 3 markets as benchmarks.

If we have a Seattle Sounders like MLS market (best case scenario), we could support a 40k seat stadium and expect it to sell out every game. 

If we have a Colorado Rapids like MLS market, we could support a 24.5k seat stadium and sell it out 87% of the time.

If we have a New England like MLS market, we could build a 16k seat stadium and sell it out 83% of the time.  

Looking at these estimates, a 16,000 to 20,000 downtown stadium seems like something the Twin Cities could support? Unless we're radically different from the rest of these markets, which we very well could be. It would be safest to build a stadium that's closer to 10 or 12 thousand seats. 

 Minnesota United FC attracted an average of 6,133 in Blaine, MN for the 2014 season. Assuming that the move to the MLS and a new stadium could triple that Avg. Attendance, we should be right on track with the rest of the MLS.

That being said - this analysis does not look into what could be done with the stadium when it is not hosting soccer games, a fair critique of any stadium project. 

Let me know if you want the data or any of the code for the models / correlation analysis!

Attendance and Capacity data comes from here: http://mlsattendance.blogspot.com/2014/10/2014-final-attendance-update.html