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Volume 24 No. 117
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Dynamo Prep For First MLS Game At New BBVA Compass Stadium

The MLS Dynamo will officially open BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday when they host DC United, but the venue will host its first soccer game tonight. The Dynamo are using a match between its youth academy team and the U-17 U. S. National Team as a dress rehearsal for the grand opening. Season-ticket holders were invited and the club expects a crowd of about 10,000. Dynamo President of Business Operations Chris Canetti spoke about the franchise’s big week.

Q: How long has this moment been in the making -- not from when you first got a shovel in the ground, but when you first sought to get a new stadium?
Canetti: The team re-located from San Jose to Houston in January of 2006 and played its first game two months later. The club moved here because it was at a standstill with its stadium situation in San Jose. We felt Houston was a strong soccer market and there was a ripe opportunity to get a stadium done. It took six years, which is probably a bit longer than we anticipated. But at the end of the day, we got the right result.

Q: Are you sold out for the opener on Saturday?
Canetti: We sold out the game more than eight weeks ago, without even going to a public sale. We went to all of our season-ticket accounts and gave them the opportunity to buy additional seats to the opener. They bought even more than we expected and sold the place out. We’ll have a capacity crowd of 22,000.

Q: Have you started to see advantages of being part of a downtown district with Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center?
Canetti: To have your own stadium adjacent to the other major league clubs and near the major highway is really helpful. We’re a young club in a growing league and we’re trying to establish ourselves as a major brand.

Q: What was the final cost on the stadium and how was it paid for?
Canetti: It’s an $80 million stadium. The land, valued at $15 million, was provided by the city and the county. We built the stadium with private funds and have the rights to manage the building for the next 30 years as part of a lease agreement with the Houston/Harris County Sports Authority.

Q: Your attendance in Houston has always been strong, even when sharing Robertson Stadium with Univ. of Houston. Are you seeing an even bigger surge now that you have your own state-of-the-art place?
Canetti: We built a solid foundation over the last few years, averaging around 17,000 fans per game. We had a good number of sellouts in the college stadium, which for us held around 30,000. So we knew we had a sound market here to build on. The success of the team at the turnstile and on the field at Robertson was critical to getting the new stadium built. It convinced the people in positions of power to believe in what soccer in Houston could become.

Q: What about corporate sales?
Canetti: We didn’t have suites in Robertson Stadium. There are 36 in BVAA Compass. We held two for ourselves and will sell three on an event-by-event basis. There were 31 for sale and we got the signature on our 31st on Monday. All are on three-year agreements from about $50,000-60,000 a year, based on location. We’ve always done well with advertising, even at the college venue. We’ve consistently been in the top five in MLS in sponsorship revenue and we’ve seen a 100% increase with the new stadium.

Q: Anything special planned this weekend with your stadium naming rights holder, BBVA Compass?
Canetti: The biggest thing we’re doing with them is a civic campaign called, “Building A Better Houston.” When we unveiled them as our naming-rights partner, it was important to them to do more than put their name on the building. So together, we created this program dedicated to helping the part of town called the East End where the stadium was built. We did a campaign that brought in 1.5 tons in recycled goods. We’ve painted, remodeled and refurbished some old houses. We’ve done some reading programs with the elementary schools in the area and we did a 5K road race that raised funds and promoted healthy living. We thought that was the best way to lead into the grand opening.

Q: Were you influenced by other cities, like Philadelphia, which has the Flyers, 76ers, Phillies and Eagles playing next door to each other?
Canetti: Not necessarily. There were some opportunities to build in the suburbs, and those might have gotten built more quickly and with more public money, but we felt to achieve our goals that we needed to be downtown.

Q: Sometimes, when teams open new facilities, there are some challenges for fans like traffic or parking hassles. Are there any? Are you prepared?
Canetti: We recognize there are always going to be bumps in the road or unexpected challenges. We don’t expect any parking problems because, as a general rule, we will never play when the Astros do. They have a 45,000-seat building with plenty of parking infrastructure to service fans. We share their parking, so there will be plenty for Dynamo fans. But we’re prepared for anything in the stadium. We have the staff in place to make sure we’re in front of any problems so every fan has a great experience.