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Legitimate struggles of the IllegitimateS

I assume most PSP readers have not received much attention from the IllegitimateS during a game at PPL Park. As you know, I grew up in DC before moving to Philadelphia so I sat in the DC support area, and was welcomed by the IllegitimateS, during last Thursday night’s game.

Sadly, that may have been the last time that DC United’s supporter groups, the Screaming Eagles, Barra Brava, and El Norte, sit across the aisle from the IllegitimateS.

Illegitimate Sons of Ben

The IllegitimateS, short for Illegitimate Sons of Ben, sit in Section 133 next to the area reserved for visiting fans. Rather than singing with the choir in the River End, these public-spirited extroverts chose to extend some Philadelphia hospitality directly to away fans. Their stated objective is to “make PPL as unforgiving to away fans as possible.” It seems appropriate for a sports venue in Philadelphia where visiting fans often support their team at their peril.

I’ve sat in Section 133 during non-United games, and have appreciated their outreach efforts to visiting supporter groups. By leading occasional call-and-replies across the corner gap with the Sons of Ben, the IllegitimateS also spread the supporter organization beyond the endline. They are the Michael Farfan of the Sons of Ben seating formation: offensive in advanced positions on the wing, but often isolated.

The IllegitimateS group is a creative and organic component of a young MLS franchise. I was sorry to learn that the founders could not rally enough support among Section 133 ticketholders to occupy 20 seats at the top of the section.

According to a post on the IllegitimateS website, “As some of you may now there is quite a number of people that sit in front of the away support in 133 that will not be renewing their seats in 133. From our understanding there is also a solid number of people that will not be renewing throughout the section. Some people are not renewing because of prices, some because of their anger at the team and then there are some not renewing in 133 due to our inability to fill a few of the upper rows consolidating the IllegitimateS.”

As a result, the founders have decided to return to their seats in the River End with the legitimate SoBs next season, leaving any remaining IllegitimateS without a connection to the Union Front Office.

Tough times at PPL Park

The poor results in the league during the Union’s first year were an afterthought, Philadelphia was too happy to finally have a team to care. Realistically speaking, making the playoffs in 2011 was as unexpected as it was welcome and the buzz it created resulted in a waiting list for season tickets in 2012. This may have created lofty expectations for the near future, and shifted the primary focus from attending local professional soccer to expecting quality winning soccer.

This year has seen the departure of Faryd Mondragon, the trades of Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Califf, and Danny Mwanga. While the firing of Peter Nowak may have distracted from concerns on the field, the replacement with John Hackworth may only provide a dead cat bounce in results and quality.

That Union fans are angry about these personnel decisions  and league results is understandable (especially in light of side deals Nowak allegedly arranged in connection with player transactions). Fans of any struggling team should demand better management, coaching, and playing. But bad management and declining quality of soccer should not affect season ticketholders’ decisions to renew for 2013.

To renew or not to renew

MLS has never been, and may never be, the best quality soccer available to watch. The fan looking for the best soccer should turn on Manchester United or Barcelona reruns. The fan looking for many of the top US National Team players will also not find what they’re looking for in MLS games. Nor do fans usually decide to support a team based on their ability to influence management (while Seattle gives its fans an important vote, others have argued that fans should not have a role in club management).

Union fans filled PPL Park in its first season for similar reasons that Brazilian, Argentinian, and French fans support their teams of second-rate domestic players: it is local professional soccer (and it doesn’t hurt that PPL is a great stadium). Nothing about that has changed.

As the first MLS champion, DC United may have also suffered from early success. Once it ceased to be a new team and league champion, its attendance declined. Even as United currently fights through a tight playoff race, attendance on the heels of a few subpar seasons remains below the league average. The excitement of immediate success is intoxicating, and it can distract from the simple pleasures of attendance and loyalty to the team. The poorly located, inappropriately designed RFK Stadium probably adds to the problem, but DC still may be working off that hangover.

Even New York, which has recently stocked up on international talent and moved into a smaller, more attractive, more accessible stadium, struggles to fill Red Bull Arena as its hardware drought continues. The plush benches in a winning bandwagon are just more comfortable than the jalopy that losing teams must ride in.

The 2012 season was the first rough season in MLS for Philadelphia. Nowak’s high-handed approach to fan input and personnel decisions was more painful as it followed last year’s heady playoff run. This season was so rough that there may be fewer IllegitimateS to “defend the corner.” I certainly don’t fault the any IllegitimateS’ decision to return to the energetic River End, and hope the group can find the support to continue the welcome wagon in Section 133.

Whether the IllegitimateS can continue as an organized supporters group in Section 133 without the presence of its founders remains to be seen. But if concerns about a rise in ticket prices or anger at the direction of the Union is causing members of a dedicated supporters group to not renew their season tickets, the Union management is right to be concerned about what more casual fans are thinking.

 

11 Comments

  1. Wow, as you say, does not bode well for the rest of the stadium…; hearing of plenty other season ticket holders also not renewing. Could me a pretty empty stadium next year.

  2. I would have been willing to forgive the organization for having a bad season and for making mistakes (as shockingly incompetent as they were) with trades/signings. However, it’s much more difficult for me to forgive the WAY in which this organization has conducted its business this year. The arrogance of the top folks and the disregard for the STHs/players/media makes it tough to renew. This is not acceptable, but it will never change if people just renew.

    • Would you please cite some examples of “the arrogance of the top folks”? As a STH, the Union top brass has never been anything but extremely gracious in our chance encounters.

      Numerous examples of fan outreach by the Union: STH Summit, River Cup, open training sessions, no-charge Reserve League matches, no-charge tickets for US Open Cup semifinal if you bought tickets for quarterfinal vs. Harrisburg, free parking for US Open Cup matches

      Sadly, Peter Nowak destroyed any chance this club had a competing for a playoff place with his maddening personel decisions. We have a very talented core of young players, many of whom are even better people. We’ve renewed our season tickets and my family will proudly wear our Union colors, in good time and in bad times.

      • You cant really believe that it was all due to Nowak can you? I really think he was the scapegoat. I have a hard time believing that the FO or top folks didnt play any part in destroying the club. You think the FO didnt have any say in the Le Toux situation…they knew he was the face of the club and still let him go.

  3. ^ Agree im still on the fence… I’ll probably renew, just holding out as long as possible to try and make a point.

  4. I’m not renewing my seat that I shared with my buddy in 137, but that’s because I have 2 month old baby and I’m just not able to go anymore. I wonder if a lot of people who are in my situation (very young kids, or starting a family) just can’t commit to season tickets. The supporter section relies to a heavy degree on younger fans, maybe single, or married without kids who have the flexibility to go to many if not all matches. But when those fans start having kids, getting older, having more responsibility, are there going to be enough new fans to replace those old ones? I mean I may get back in once my son gets old enough so I can take him to matches but that won’t be until he’s like 5. That consideration, combined with the sheen coming off the new team and poor results is going to pose a big problem for the Union in a town that has a large and passionate big 4 fanbase.

    • Jeff I will never tell another parent what to do, but i will say my wife and i have a little guy who was born days before the first playoff game last year. We renewed with the expectations that we would take him to a lot of games(foolish first time parent). While a lot of the games were late this year so we either gave the tix to a friend or traded turns going to games with friends or got a babysitter. We didnt go to as many games as we would have liked i dont regret renewing. I love that i got to go to games with him even if he wont remember them. And the one thing i’ve learned from living all over this world is that you dont depend on another generation to show up and replace you, you raise the next generation to be there with you. Please dont take this as critisism, just letting you know it is a lot more work than before having my son but it can be done and in my eyes i wouldnt have it any other way

  5. This article missed pretty much the central problem of the IllegitimateS.. Sitting v. Standing.

    • p.s. I think almost ALL of us are renewing.. most of us are just moving to the River End, because we dont want to have to fight for our right to stand every match… and pay $100 per seat more than our SoB counterparts for the priviledge.

      • Nate Emeritz says:

        I understand that the group wants to stand, but can’t stand if it can’t consolidate enough people at the top of 133. The statement on the IllegitimateS website identifies the problems as prices, anger, and “inability to fill a few of the upper rows consolidating the IllegitimateS.” These problems(prices, frustration, and lack of interest) are also common to more casual fans’ decisions whether to attend/renew season tickets. Although different fans have different priorities (the IllegitimateS want to stand, other fans want good soccer, others want winning, etc), this group shares many of the same underlying problems as the rest of the Union fan base.

        I’m glad to hear almost all of you have decided to renew. As I said in the post, I can’t fault your decision to move to the River End, and I hope a group can consolidate to stand in 133 again in the future.

  6. Me I would love to have season tickets but like most folks out there I have other needs that have to come first. I was there for opening day brought my 12 year she loved it it was her first major sports event. We sat in section 124 great seats. I love the SOB @ the River End wish the section was larger for SOB and if one or two of my buddie were as much a soccer nuts as me. I would be @ the river end standing and cheering all game long. I watch every game I can fine and have even tried to catch a game on the radio while working or tried match tracker online I love the UNION and making it too two or three home games is great for me because I know I can make them. To MLS and the UNION are the best because their OURS. YOU BOYS IN UNION BLUE PLAY HARD AND BE TRUE TO THAT CREST ON YOUR CHEST

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