SBJ/October 18-24, 2010/Franchises

Quakes leader wants to build a perfect storm

In 2002, eight years before being named president of the San Jose Earthquakes, David Kaval — then an MBA student at Stanford — used a class project to write a business plan for an independent baseball league. The project grew into the professional Golden Baseball League, which is now composed of 10 teams spread across Canada, the western United States and Mexico.

Kaval, 34, says the experience he gained running the league will help him with the Earthquakes, where he will spearhead the construction of a soccer-specific stadium, among other projects. He spoke last week with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Fred Dreier.

What experiences do you hope to bring from your time with the Golden Baseball League to the Earthquakes?

Kaval: I have a lot of experience with the trials and tribulations of running a single-entity league, but I sat on the other side of the table for eight years. So I understand how that model works. It’s important that the league is always growing so you can feel the success of the entity.

I also have experience with people saying you’ll never get off the ground. You put a plan in place and tell people what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. You don’t overstretch the plan, and make sure they see the path to what you’re trying to do. They see the trajectory and start believing in what you’re doing, and then they get excited.

Recent metrics point at some room for improvement for the Earthquakes. The team’s attendance is the lowest in MLS.

Kaval: That has a lot to do with the stadium. We can only fit 12,000 in [Buck Shaw Stadium], and we need a big facility to get 18,000 or 19,000 people. That has been the biggest challenge for us, because we have to turn people away on some nights. The one positive is that the packed stadium creates a fun environment that fans feel they are really part of.

But we have to put on a game-day experience where the fans have fun. We have to find ways to give them the “wow” factor. With [the baseball league] we wanted people to leave the stadium having experienced three or four “A-ha” moments where their adrenaline got pumping or they get goose bumps. That can be a great double play or a fly-over from an F-16.

How far are you with the new stadium plans?

Kaval: We have the land and the entitlement forms from the city, and now we are working with [Devcon Construction] to determine the cost estimate. That has changed a lot over the last three years because of the economy. We had to basically reprice the whole thing. What’s it going to cost? How are we going to finance it? We’re in the middle of that process right now. I can say the ownership is committed to [the project] right now. But it’s all part of the process of rebuilding. We built a training facility and got a designated player. You can’t just build a new facility and move into it and just suck. That doesn’t work. You want it all to come together so you can build a perfect storm and then build electricity for the fans.

What is your big-picture vision for the club?

Kaval: I want to make [the new stadium] the place for Silicon Valley’s community. We have the potential to have a venue and a team that can bring all of these people together around an international sport like soccer — and this is a very international community — and have a connection. Being a fan [of the Earthquakes] is part of what it means to live here. I think it could be exciting for the business community to have as a beacon. If you can get the people and make this Silicon Valley’s place, then local sponsors become the key. Then you can reinvest in the on-field product and the team can start winning again.
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