Sounders Insider

Sounders in San Jose, about to experience MLS’ newest SSS

Avaya Stadium in San Jose, an 18,000-seat soccer-specific stadium. The open end features North America’s largest outdoor bar, and the airport across the street.
Avaya Stadium in San Jose, an 18,000-seat soccer-specific stadium. The open end features North America’s largest outdoor bar, and the airport across the street. Staff writer

I just got about a 20-minute tour of Avaya Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ new soccer-specific stadium. That first impression certainly puts it up among some of the best in the league: SKC’s Sporting Park and Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto.

Avaya is probably most well-know for its bar -- known as the largest outdoor bar in North America. But I also liked its location: a runway from the San Jose Airport is literally just across the street, and I think it will be cool to watch the planes coming and going as the 90 minutes tick up Saturday when the Sounders visit for the first time. There also are ground-level suites, a sort of terrace-like supporters area behind the closed end of the U-shaped seating area, and the sharpest-angled seating rake -- I’m told -- in either MLS or North America: steep, in any case.

I’ll have a lot more on the stadium in my game-preview in the Saturday paper. For now, here’s some more on MLS’ newest soccer-specific stadium:

Sounders coach SIGI SCHMID

On his memories of the Earthquakes’ previous homes: Spartan Stadium was like special for me because I remember the first big game I played in college – at that time San Jose State was ranked No. 1 in the country – was in Spartan Stadium and Crazy George was their cheerleader at the time. That adds some memories. But you remember it being small and cramped; and fans were very abusive (when) I was the Galaxy coach. ... Buck Shaw was a little bit better in terms of its size, at least playing-dimension-wise. I’m happy for their club to have a new stadium. I’m sure they are as well.


On his memories of Buck Shaw Stadium: Only bad ones. I don’t want to bring up names that can’t defend themselves, but James Riley red card. We haven’t had tremendous luck at Buck Shaw. I think one year we clinched a playoff there at Buck Shaw, when Roger Levesque got in on a header. So good and bad.


On learning yet another new MLS stadium since coming over from England: I’ve never been like that. Even as a young player, if I’d be going to Old Trafford or Anfield, I wouldn’t go out and look at it before the game. I’d stay in the locker room and focus on the game and not get carried away with all that kind of stuff. So that’s certainly how I’ve been here. I don’t think there’s once that I’ve been out on a pitch to see what it’s like. I’ll ask them, ‘Do I need my studs? Do I need my molds?’ and that’s about it.

And below, an interview with Quakes president DAVE KAVAL

On the first season in stadium: Fantastic. It has been completely transformative to have the new venue for the Earthquakes. We’ve never really had a permanent home. We’ve always been renting from people, whether it’s San Jose State when we played at Spartan Stadium or Santa Clara University when we played at Buck Shaw. So to finally have your own home ground that is focused 100 percent on soccer and the Quakes is just a breath of air. And the fans have totally got behind it. We’ve sold out every game of the season so far. We have 12,000 season ticket holders. We have a wait list 3,000 long.

The stadium has been very well received. I think the people enjoy the way it’s designed. It’s very intimate. You’re close to the action. It has the steepest rake of any stadium in North America, so even when you’re in row 28 you don’t feel that far away – you’re pretty close to the action. So all those things have really made for a great environment, and it’s made a great home-field advantage. We’ve had a lot of success at the home stadium to date.

On if it’s 18,000 capacity is too small: We move a couple of our games to larger venues. When we played the Sounders last year we had the game at Levi’s Stadium and we had 48,000. We move one of the California Clasicos always to Stanford and we have 50,000. And so for us we have our main stadium – Avaya – where we have the majority of our matches. But we also capture that extra demand with some of these bigger stadium events as well. That’s working well for us as kind of a way to have your cake and eat it too: the intimate stadium with the close access, but you can also do the super game.

On it’s non-downtown location: The location is great. We spent a long time determining the best place for the soccer venue and Avaya Stadium. We wanted somewhere that has access to the major freeways – both the 880 and the 101 – which we have: The stadium is right next to the 880 freeway. And also here in California it’s important that you have access to parking as well, and so the stadium basically has an easement with the property next door to provide 6,000 parking spots. It’s not developed yet, but it’s being developed into commercial real estate, and we’re going to have the ability to park cars there, for people to do tailgating and that kind of stuff. It has transit options, access to Caltrain. Eventually as BART is extended, access to BART, which is the metro system here in the Bay Area. And so we feel that all those things together make for a very, very good location. We have retain, which is right across the street – everything from an In-N-Out Burber to Chipotle, to other places where people can congregate and go. We like the mix, and it’s worked for fans. It’s easy for fans to get in and out of.

On its famous outdoor bar: In the open end of the stadium we have our scoreboard, which is 120 feet long and 30 feet high. And underneath it we have the largest exterior bar in North America: more than 300 linear square feet bar space, all the redwood that clads the bar is from Moffett Hangar, which is an old historic building. The wood is over 1,800 years old – it was reclaimed old-growth redwood. And then we have this beautiful Portuguese terrazzo stone. It’s like from a high-end bar from New York City or San Francisco or San Jose. Incredible location and somewhere where people congregate: thousands of people packed in and around the bar watching the game. When a goal is scored in that end, people go crazy. It’s just one of the great views. When Fox comes or ESPN, they love getting that footage because it’s so authentic and so exciting to see all the people celebrating in a real way. It’s a definite signature item of the stadium.

On being across the street from Mineta Airport: I think people love it. It’s funny because they land in the direction where in the open end of the stadium you see the planes going by. The funny thing is, that’s not really when the planes are very loud, and so it’s almost like out of a silent movie. You’re watching the game and then you see these planes landing. It’s very close. We’re right adjacent to final approach. The planes don’t come over you like in other stadium like in the Mets’ stadium – Shea Stadium back in the day with LaGuardia – they go by you. It’s like of a surreal feeling But you also get the sense that you’re somewhere there’s a happening. There’s stuff going on. There’s the movement, the excitement of the airplanes landing. There have been tours I’ve given where there have been 12-year-old boys and they’ve just sat there and they didn’t want to leave and just watch all the planes land

On helping the franchise with finances and player acquisition: When we brought in Innocent Emeghara, John Doyle our general manager flew to Switzerland and met with him. This is a player who had played in Serie A and the Swiss Super League for Grasshoppers and things like that. And you could show him, hey, here’s the stadium, here’s the training facilities, which are world class. And he sees that and he thinks, ‘That’s somewhere I want to be.’ Before we were at an auxiliary locker room at Buck Shaw Stadium at Santa Clara University. It was just a totally different level. It was really kind of minor league. There were players in the past who would not play here because of the facilities, and that was a challenge. Now we have the ability to showcase the stadium, which is great. This last summer, Manchester United trained here. They spent 10 days. They could have trained anywhere in the world. They chose to train here. We played them here. They also played at Levi’s Stadium against Barcelona. But the fact that they trained here … and they loved the facilities and everything. That gives you an idea of the quality and how it is really a draw for great players.

The other piece is the stadium just unlocks a lot more revenue that we didn’t have in the past: things like naming rights agreements and additional season tickets and sponsorships that allows us to invest more in players. For the first year, we have three designated players on the roster. In the past we had only had like one or maybe kind of one and a half. We’ve elevated our spending level into the top half of the league, and that’s all because the stadium has provided additional revenue for the club. All those things together really usher in a new era for the Earthquakes, both in terms of player acquisition and also in terms of spending that we feel can make us more competitive and compete for more Supporters’ Shields and championships.