Standing in the middle of the new stadium bowl, on the very spot where the San Jose Earthquakes will kick off the 2015 MLS season, team president Dave Kaval looked more the conductor, orchestrating the construction crews as they assembled the first steel beams that will support the facility’s roof. The heavy-lift crane behind him lowered three large components to the steel workers balanced high above the Quakes’ future pitch, and Kaval couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.
“Seeing the steel go up, this is not something you get to see up close,” said Kaval as he pointed skyward. “They’re doing a triple; that’s big! That’s when they really get things going.”
Kaval’s excitement at watching the construction proceeding is understandable: Building the stadium has been a huge focus for him since he was named team president in 2010. Renderings of the Earthquakes’ new home were unveiled publically two years before, but tangible progress had been lacking. Kaval saw the need to change that and quickly changed the culture of the organization.
“Ever since I started here, I’ve really been into transparency and openness, making sure we communicate with fans in a way that gives them a voice they can feel is valuable.”
As the Quakes reached one milestone after another in the planning stages, Kaval was already looking ahead to when they would break ground on the stadium, and how he could get fans involved in the process. In early 2011, even before the City of San Jose approved the permit for the building, the Earthquakes held a “Demolition Day” event, complete with a wrecking ball, and invited local dignitaries and loyal fans. With permits in hand, the Quakes followed that up with a Guinness World Record 6,256-supporters ground breaking ceremony in October 2012.
“If we didn’t do these things, if we didn’t get the fans involved, we felt it would have been a big miss on our part,” explained Kaval. “It wouldn’t fulfill the promise that we made. And people love it. I have been amazed by the responses from our fans.”
Every participant in the ground breaking ceremony, which included co-owner Lew Wolff and MLS commissioner Don Garber, took home a commemorative blue shovel that day, a token of his or her participation. Many took pride at seeing the seeds of a soccer stadium sowed; some couldn’t hide their emotions and shed tears brought on by more than the dusty air. As Kaval stood on that same dirt plot, a year and a half later, with the stadium’s growing steel frame surrounding him, he too was proud.
“This stadium is a manifestation of what we are as a club. That openness and transparency, the connection with the community, unifying everyone and bringing them together, it is what we want to accomplish with this facility.”
Since the ground-breaking event, the Earthquakes have followed up with a cement pouring ceremony with invited fans to mark the first foundational work. In November of last year, Kaval led an excursion to Schuff Steel in Stockton to give a busload of supporters a firsthand look at the fabrication process for the stadium’s infrastructure. And the events will continue, in March when the last of the steel is erected and later when the fan-zone begins to take shape.
“We are going to do a topping off ceremony where everyone can sign the last beam to be installed. We’ll invite the entire community or that,” shared Kaval. “We also plan to bury a time-capsule in the Epicenter, which I think is very cool. We want to continue to do things to keep the fans connected to the process.”
But the Earthquakes leader won’t stop there. A refreshing aspect of his reign as team president is his openness to supporters of all kinds. Kaval writes a regular blog on the team’s official website, he is active on Twitter and Tumblr, and he personally responds to as many of the countless emails that he receives. His biggest effort to be accessible though is via his weekly office hours. Once confined to his office in the team’s headquarters, Kaval now meets regularly with all comers at the stadium site itself.
“During my office hours alone, I have probably given over 50 tours of the stadium construction site with fans, hard-hats included,” smiled Kaval. “Where else do you have an opportunity to do that? I know our fans appreciate that, and it has given us really good word-of-mouth in the community about what type of organization we are.”
Kaval has always wanted to see the Earthquakes grow as a club, and later this month the organization will unveil a new logo inspired by input from players and fans throughout the 40 year history of the club. But it will ultimately be the new stadium that serves as the monument to soccer’s past, present, and future in San Jose.
“All of these tours and events have really solidified our feeling that this is the community’s stadium and we are the community’s team, that the two go hand-in-hand,” said Kaval. “This is going to be a very special facility.”