I arrived in the City of Brotherly Love at 11am yesterday. I grabbed the SEPTA into town from the airport, deposited my bags at the hotel and left my room on foot to explore. I wondered past the Liberty Bell, past the Independence Center. Stopped for a beer at a Craft Beer joint. Had a cheese steak.
I hung out in the Apple store for a solid hour trying to not spend money.
I sat around and people watched.
I went back to the Apple store and spent an hour spending money.
I had more craft beer.
Finally, 8 hours, 10 miles, 5000 calories, and $1200 later I turned for home. I plodded wearily down 11st street and passed a bar filled with fans watching Monday Night Football. One side of the bar was jammed with Packers fans. There were a few Chiefs shirts on the other side, and then I saw the Sporting Kansas City logo on a shirt and smiled. An MLS shirt!
I guess soccer does exist in Philadelphia after all.
The Sons of Ben Supporters Group campaigned long and hard for an MLS franchise in this City. They were finally rewarded in 2008. The Union's brightest point my well have been that inception, and the opening of PPL Park in 2010. Since then all the potential of the organization seems to have slowly ebbed away. In a Sports market loaded with high visibility major league sports ‘Major League Soccer’ didn’t have far to fall to be come an afterthought.
Underfunded and struggling for form, cultural relevancy seems a million miles away for the boys from Chester. If they win the US Open Cup Final tomorrow it feels like almost nobody would notice. I haven’t seen a single Union shirt, scarf, or commercial since I got to town. In real terms, tomorrow night's big event is a non-event.
It is clear the Union need new ownership, or at least ownership with capitol to invest. Owners that are not tone deaf. Beyond the money they need an injection of fresh ideas, a fresh direction … if they find it these things, there is potential here.
In terms of management, the Philadelphia Union are analogous with the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
It is a day before the final and US Soccer and ESPN only just worked out a deal to get the game on national TV a day or two ago. The national profile for the game outside of the North American soccer community is negligible at best. Without any prior marketing, without any television exposure of prior rounds, there is no reason that they should. The US Open Cup exists within the national landscape of American Sport somewhere on par with the presence of the Union in Philly.
This is a shame given the distinctly American leaning playoff format, the history behind the competition and the potential for it to be a highlight on the soccer calendar. It isn't. We want it to be but it isn't.
With the game unlikely to sell out in a Metropolitan area housing over 6 million people, at some point you have to wonder if it is all worth it. At least with the Union's struggles you can see a way out, we have seen the impact fresh leadership can make on an organization here in Kansas City. The fans here, while a massive minority are passionate and will show up if the Union only meet them half way.
What do you do with the USSF though? US Soccer's big idea for the tournament this year was regionalizing the format so that the biggest match-ups in the nation got done before there was a hint of buzz, launching a new Twitter account, and putting the draws live on YouTube. Like everything the Union front office do, USSF's efforts here are not nearly enough.
How do you encourage them to care about their own property enough to invest in it? Moreover if their governance of the only domestic professional competition in their control is poor how do we let them know?
Something needs to change.