Voters, soccer fans can make Mission Valley fun again

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Let’s begin with a public service announcement regarding the potential futility of this exercise.

Ask anyone with a modicum of knowledge who is not affiliated with one of the two measures, and you won’t find too much optimism that either SoccerCity or SDSU West will reach the required threshold for victory in November.

The winning initiative would be the one receiving more votes — provided it also gets more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

What then, if neither wins?

The Mission Valley property on which the stadium sits would go to a public bid process. And SDSU would need to find a partner to run SDCCU Stadium for a few years longer than it already will have to should the city go through with its plans to wipe its hands of the money-sucking edifice at the end of 2018.

SoccerCity says its poll numbers continue to show it can prevail in November. San Diego State supporters, of course, express confidence.

But mutually assured destruction is what almost every neutral party expects to happen over the next 10 months.

And a poll conducted this week by Survey USA for the Union-Tribune and Channel 10 (which will be released in full Sunday) indicates that outcome would be fine with a good number of people.

The greatest number (26 percent) of the 700 people surveyed said the site should be left as is. Next were those in favor of SoccerCity (22 percent), followed by those favoring SDSU West (20 percent).

This appears ominous to those wanting progress of some sort.

However, I would suggest SoccerCity’s plan satisfies the desires of a significant segment. Combine those that say they want soccer with those interested in an SDSU stadium and campus expansion and those most wanting the opportunity for the NFL to return. SoccerCity is the plan that provides the most realistic possibility for all those. (Please don’t hold your breath for the NFL; this is just to say SoccerCity provides that option in Mission Valley far more realistically than SDSU West.)

In the lead-up to November, even more certain than the suspicion that neither measure will prevail is that if SoccerCity is to win, it will be because young voters were mobilized.

SoccerCity just might happen — if the under-35 set decides it wants some fun.

SoccerCity is the fun initiative, make no mistake.

It establishes a potential gathering place for hundreds of days each year, including more than 20 soccer games and a half-dozen Aztecs football games. The SDSU West plan offers one-eighth of the retail space that SoccerCity does and won’t be funding the building of a park that SoccerCity promises to build (or pay the city to do so).

Look, there are positives to SDSU West. Its underwhelming stadium isn’t entirely awful and would serve the university’s purpose (albeit for more than double the money taxpayers and donors would have paid had SDSU partnered with SoccerCity on a 33,500-seat stadium).

But SDSU West’s surrounding retail is not only minuscule in scope, it is intended to primarily serve the would-be residents of the area. A stadium not built amid an entertainment district? How 1966 of us.

And speaking primarily as one concerned with sports in this town, a major difference is that SDSU’s stadium wouldn’t be home to Major League Soccer.

OK, sure, MLS could someday come here without SoccerCity. But probably, almost certainly, there is no chance it will.

To have confidence the league is not tied to SoccerCity is to not understand how intimate some of SoccerCity’s principles are with MLS. That familiarity and sway is also why MLS will come to San Diego if the SoccerCity initiative passes. For opponents to suggest otherwise is ludicrous.

And the importance of MLS in the sports landscape can no longer be devalued.

Many NFL loyalists and the European soccer snobs who scoff at the little league are misguided.

MLS is growing. Attendance records have been set four straight years — rising to 22,106 in 2017. And more people are watching the league’s games on TV.

Is it the NFL, the NBA or MLB in terms of TV draw? Not even close.

But it takes time for a league to become established. MLS is 22 years old. (It wasn’t 40 years ago that some NBA playoff games were shown on tape delay.)

And now comes further evidence that the soccer explosion is on the verge of mattering.

A Gallup poll taken last month showed soccer’s popularity continues a steady rise in the United States, having tripled over the past decade.

Among all adults, soccer is the fourth-most popular spectator sport in the U.S., two percentage points behind baseball.

More crucially, soccer is tied for second with basketball among those ages 18-34 and is third among those 35-54.

Yes, that includes those Americans who rabidly consume European soccer. It may even be greatly due to that consumption. But that doesn’t diminish the fact MLS’ numbers are up in every way.

Anecdotally, I have spoken to several young people locally who are increasingly engaged with MLS. I’ve also spoken with second-generation Americans who say their esteem for MLS is growing and that their U.S.-born children are more interested in MLS than the foreign game.

My research might not be scientific, but neither does it contradict the idea MLS is a factor.

And the MLS stadium that would be built here as part of SoccerCity is just that — part of the potential fun.

And sooner and better (not to mention more beneficial to the taxpayer) than what SDSU West would deliver (without soccer).

If anything is going to happen in Mission Valley, it is soccer fans who might make the difference.

kevin.acee@sduniontribune.com



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