San Jose Earthquakes, jolted by stadium delays, come back to Santa Clara for another year

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Santa Clara and the San Jose Earthquakes are back together again, and at least the city sees nothing but an upside.

It’s no secret that the Earthquakes are eager to leave 10,500-seat Buck Shaw Stadium, their home since 2009, for greener pastures – an 18,000-seat, luxury suite-rich stadium under construction near San Jose International Airport. At the groundbreaking, the Major League Soccer team set a Guinness World Record for fan participation, with more than 6,200 shovels plowed into the dirt. The 17 suites, as well as all club seats, were sold in anticipation of the venue being ready for the 2014 season, according to a team official.

But construction of the $60 million, privately-financed stadium has been interrupted several times, pushing back the opening date. The Earthquakes recently announced that issues with soil and rock at the construction site will force them to play elsewhere until 2015.

Old Buck Shaw Stadium, on the Santa Clara University campus, was available, and city leaders were eager to welcome the team back.

In a vote that took a matter of seconds, the City Council unanimously approved a one-year lease agreement on Sept. 24. In interviews after the vote, Santa Clara officials said the benefits of having a professional sports team play in the city outweigh the cost of providing additional police and traffic control on game days. Lt. Kurt Clarke, of the city Police Department, said the Earthquakes pick up a share of the police costs and coordinate parking with businesses near the stadium.

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“The police department loves to have them here,” council member Pat Kolstad said. “They don’t have very many problems and it brings a lot of attention” to the university. Having the Earthquakes in town also is viewed as good preparation for the much larger crowds that will descend on Santa Clara for 49ers’ games starting next season. The National Football League team’s 68,500-seat Levi’s Stadium, being built next to the Great America theme park, is set to debut this summer and will host the Super Bowl in 2016.

Because Santa Clara University is privately owned, as are the Earthquakes, the financial terms of the Buck Shaw Stadium lease were not disclosed. In the winter of 2008, the Earthquakes added almost 4,000 seats and upgraded the bathrooms to comply with MLS regulations, turning a college field into a home for a professional franchise.

Still, the return to Santa Clara for one more season is not only frustrating to the Earthquakes but also costly. Even at its expanded size, Buck Shaw can hold roughly half as many fans as many other MLS stadiums. The most expensive ticket is $155 for a VIP NetSuite, while tickets in the “Supporters Section” go for as low as $22. The new stadium in San Jose, by comparison, offers far more seats in the high-end price range, including the 576 sold-out club seats that were priced between $90 and $125 apiece for season tickets.

“I think everyone was disappointed that it’s taken so long to actually get the [San Jose] stadium completed.” said David Kaval, the team’s president. “We’re building such a great community asset … people are understanding of the situation, a little frustrated, as are we, but we feel since we are building this great venue, that it’s going to be worth the wait.”

Other MLS teams on the West Coast charge more than the Earthquakes do at Buck Shaw and can also seat many more fans. The Portland Timbers play out of Jeld-Wen Field, which seats 22,000 and charges $225 for a top-of-the-line ticket and $25 for the cheapest. The Earthquakes’ rival, the LA Galaxy, plays at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., with 27,000 seats and prices as high as $216 for a “Fieldside” ticket.

The Earthquakes have been selling tickets for the upcoming season at their new stadium, so team officials have scrambled to come up with creative options to keep fans happy. The option for fans include full reimbursement, the ability to roll the seats over to Buck Shaw Stadium, or to hold their deposit for the new stadium.

“We want to make sure that the actual stadium experience both now, and the new stadium, fits their needs.” Kaval said.

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