At a carefully coordinated ‘town hall,’ M.L.S. pitches a Queens stadium to a ‘new America’
Major League Soccer wants to build a 25,000-seat stadium in the middle of Flushing Meadows Corona Park and on Tuesday night, the league made an explicit bid for what it clearly believes is its natural constituency: the borough's soccer-loving Hispanic population.
Shortly after 7 p.m.—by which point the audience had already partaken of M.L.S.-provided beef and chicken empanadas, collected "Let's bring pro soccer to Queens" T-Shirts," and listened to Spanish-language pop music blaring from the speakers—Univision's star sportscaster Fernando Fiore burst onto the Queens Theatre stage blowing a vuvuzela.
The Argentine native wore a 1994 World Cup tie and moved seamlessly between Spanish and English.
His call to the audience to "raise your hand if you want a professional soccer team in Queens" was met with many raised hands and loud cheers.
Most of the seats in the theater were filled by groups the league had invited to the event, like Queens High School Soccer, Big Apple Youth Soccer, the Borough Boys, the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York, Allfut, Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Critics have argued that the long-neglected Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the largest in Queens and one that is already home to the United States Tennis Association and Citi Field, is an inappropriate place for yet another stadium, especially considering the U.S.T.A.'s expansion plans and the city's intention to build an enormous mall on parkland west of Citi Field.
Others worry about where, exactly, the league will locate up to 13 new acres of parkland to replace that which its stadium will displace.
And while the league has promised to invest millions in refurbishing the seven heavily used soccer fields that surround the site of the future stadium before work on that stadium even begins, others worry that, like the U.S.T.A. and Citi Field, Major League Soccer won't have to share any of its revenues with the park on an ongoing basis.
Despite the fact that the league and city have yet to answer these criticisms, few of those concerns were in evidence Tuesday evening, at what seemed more like a rally than a town hall.
About 15 minutes in, Don Garber, the slender, balding commissioner of Major League Soccer, took to the stage.
He talked about how he, too, comes from a family of immigrants that settled in Queens, and about how soccer is the sport of immigrants.
"You represent the community that we hope will embrace the beautiful game here in your hometown," he said.
"We believe that our country's changing, that we live in a new America, an America that looks different, speaks different and feels different from just about every other time in our history," Garber went on. "And this sport is the sport that can connect with that new America, because we're young, we're diverse and we're global."
"Hopefully you have all of that," he said, turning to his Spanish-language translator.
"We have 64 nationalities represented on our player rosters," Garber continued. "More than the N.B.A., more than Major League Baseball, obviously more than the N.F.L. and the other pro sports league. This sport represents the diverse culture in our country, and nowhere is that diverse culture represented more so than in the borough of Queens."
Soccer, he said, "is the favorite sport among Latinos."