Fans' View

Fans’ View: If you spend it, more will come

Photo: Earl Gardner

Orlando City was recently awarded an MLS franchise, and hey, the more the merrier, right? My “good for them” attitude was very quickly dashed when the “Well, Tim, they’re already talking about going out to get Kaka” talk started. Some of this was probably due to bottled up frustration, some of it to a kind of “Hey, we could really use that guy here” envy. Soon enough, my thoughts went to the “aw shucks” part of  “Maybe we really ARE a small market?”

Then I stopped thinking that. NO.

I’ve read the articles, and they’ve been great articles on how maybe we’re not as big time as we think we are. NO.

Looking at some numbers — and I’m not going to bang you all over the head with stats — but in 2013 the Union ranked in the top ten in MLS in attendance, averaging 17,867 (down from 18,053 in 2012) which isn’t anything to sneeze at.

Consider, after all, the Flyers do about 19,600 and that’s a team with a fan base and history that goes all the way back to 1967. So an almost 5-year-old team and a team with almost 47 years of history (and a few Stanley Cups) are pretty close in attendance and the Flyers are considered a big market, ranking fifth in attendance last season in the NHL.

The Sixers averaged 13,689 last season, and they are also considered a major market team with a storied history.

Looking at how our gear sells, I wasn’t able to get a figure on 2013 just yet, but in 2012, Forbes did a list of top 25 selling jerseys in MLS. No. 1 of course was Beckham, and No. 2 Thierry Henry, but of the top 25 top selling MLS jerseys in 2012, our Union made two appearances on it at #19 with Roger Torres and #20 with Freddy Adu. Those Bethlehem FC-inspired kits had to be big sellers in 2013 if only because its impossible to find one to buy these days.

So here we are, the fifth most populated city in the country, with big jersey sales, very good attendance numbers, and a dedicated fan base after just 4 years worth of footie. What will get us to the next level? The talent, the brag-worthy players, the big wins — now we need our front office to grab their checkbooks and get busy in the offseason. Getting some exciting playmakers in here will make the already very loyal fans even more excited. It’ll also get the team more press which, in turn, will get new fans into the seats.

We already have the stadium. We have the River End hooting and hollering, We have the fans, we have all of the core pieces.

Now it’s just up to the front office: If you spend it, more will come.

To my fellow Union fans near and far, please, hold your head high. Puff out your chest and strut a little. You’re team is in a major market. It’s up to the Union front office to buy the pieces that will help propel the team to the level that major market deserves.

21 Comments

  1. “Then I stopped thinking that. NO.”
    .
    Thank you! I hate when any team in Philly gets called a small market. I still want to spit bullets when I think of Ed Wade declaring the Phillies a small-market team all those years ago.
    .
    “Consider, after all, the Flyers do about 19,600 and that’s a team with a fanbase and history that goes all the way back to 1967. So an almost 5-year-old team and a team with almost 47 years of history (and a few Stanley Cups) are pretty close in attendance and the Flyers are considered a big market, ranking fifth in attendance last season in the NHL.”
    .
    I’m not sure this – or the Sixers comparison – is an apples to apples comparison, though. Both the NHL and NBA have far better TV deals, both nationally and locally. Until fairly recently the NHL had no salary cap, so Eddie could just dip into the Comcast billions and buy whatever he wanted, and if it didn’t work he could buy something to fix that. Even comparing ranking in attendance isn’t a fair comparison; the NHL pretty consistently has stadiums in the 19,000 range, same for the NBA. MLS, though, has a more disparate range. Seattle can get up into the 60K range, and regularly pulls 30-40K; NY and LA (Galaxy and Chivas) both have stadiums with higher capacity than the Union. And so on and so on. The better number to look at, if you want to compare attendence figures, is percentage of tickets sold. And I’m too lazy to go look that up.
    .
    Overall, I get your point, though. And I agree with it. The first step to a team being “big time” is to think of themselves that way. When the Phillies thought of themselves as small market, they were; then they went out and signed Jim Thome and changed their own perspective. And when their perspective changed, so did everybody else’s.
    .
    The Union missed a golden opportunity, in my opinion. They had that fantastic run to the playoffs in 2011. The Phillies and Eagles were both on the way down; the Sixers were already down; the Flyers seem to be perpetually stuck in neutral lately. The city was there for the taking. And then we got Nowaked. So instead of building on 2011 and sucking in an even larger pecentage of the Philly fan base (which means better local TV money, getting talked about on 94 and 97.5, better coverage in the papers, more merchandise sales, etc) we spent two years digging out of a hole. Is it too late? Did the Union miss that golden opportunity to grab the city when all those things came together in their favor? Probably. The Eagles are on the way up and exciting the watch. The Sixers are better than anybody thought they’d be, and they’re fun to watch and only going to get better. The Phillies are still on a downswing in my opinion, which does aid the Union since both teams play at the same time. But Nowak *killed* the best chance the U had to quickly become a fixture in this city.
    .
    Not thinking small market from here on out will help them, now that they’re out of the hole. Whether they do so or not, we’ll see.

    • ” And then we got Nowaked. ”

      I’m still not on board the Oswaldian theory Nowak acted alone. There are rumors that Sugarman tried to sell the team (and even had his Hamptons estate on the market) in the middle of the economy crashing. His stock cratered from the $50s to under $10. I think Nowak was directed to sell assets, or his budget was cut to the bone and his hand was forced. Hence the out-of-left-field attempt to sell SLT to Bolton, the salary dump of Mwanga, dealing the higher priced Califf for a spare part in Lahoud, the let Mondy retire at home thing. All in what, a 5 month span? A Nowackian savings of $1M+. Smells more like those Florida Marlin deconstructions when the money was gone. More promising for the Union is the economy is coming back, and with it rising real estate. Just think, with the next bubble we’ll be buying Van Persie…

      • I’m not so sure. All those players were on the salary budget, which is paid by MLS. Sugarman&Co didn’t have to pay a dime for the salaries of SLT, Mwanga, Califf, or Mondragon.
        .
        While I like the sound of the “Nowak was ordered to do it and then became the fall guy” theory – because who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory – I just don’t think the actual facts match up to what occurred.
        .
        In the case of Mondragon, you had a 40 year old player who wanted to go home. If the Union knew that sooner, they could’ve left him unprotected in the expansion draft, actually, and maybe then kept Justin “My left foot is better than your left foot” Mapp.
        .
        In the case of Le Toux, selling him to Bolton makes sense *if* the player wants to go to Europe. The problem was that he didn’t want to go, and in the process showed up Nowak.
        .
        In the case of Califf, he also showed up Nowak.
        .
        In the case of Mwanga… well, frankly, I think Nowak did the righr thing here. Mwanga is, effectively, a bust. I mean, I know we got Jorge Perlaza in return, so you can’t call the trade a rousing success. But I don’t find it difficult at all to say the decision to move Mwanga was a good one.
        .
        So yeah, Sugarman saying “Cut!” is a possibility, and one we’ll never know for sure. But I still think Nowak’s ego is the more likely culprit, sprinkled in with a bit of financial voodoo if the reports of Nowak skimming $$$ from South American signings are at all true.

  2. I believe the sixers have twice as many home games. So just looking at the average attendance isn’t enough, you need to multiply that times the games. Not sure with hockey how many games.

    ALso the TV deals account for what percentage of the NBA revenue?

  3. 1) People need to stop comparing attendance figures between sports. How is it that the Union’s average attendance is on par with a storied hockey franchise like the Flyers, yet their considered a big market team and we’re not? Simple. They Flyers charge far more for their tickets, they likely have a bigger television audience, and their merchandise is on more store shelves. They also fill their stadium 26 more times during the regular season than the Union do. I consider myself a fan of both teams, yet I go to every Union game each season and maybe 1 Flyers game every other year. The term isn’t “big attendance team”; it’s “big market team”. That means dollar value, not population. Teams that are able to squeeze the most money out of their market are the big market teams.

    2) Not sure where you got it from, but the attendance stats I looked up have the Union at 11th, not in the top ten. Even if they were in the top 10, that’s not saying much in a 19-team league. If you’re going to split teams into big, middle and small attendance groups, you have to be in the top 6 to be considered big.

    3) The Sixers are not a major-market basketball team. They may play in a major sports market, but the basketball appeal simply is not there.

    4) I love PPL Park, enough to drive over an hour there and back every game from the NE Phila airport area, but we have to accept the fact that the distance from the city will be a big factor affecting how well the soccer market grows in Philadelphia. I understand that it may have been the best offer we could get: a publicly-funded stadium (I hate when billionaire sports owners steal taxpayer money for their own business, but I’ll hold off my judgment for a start-up team) that could be built in a quick period of time. Still, the casual sports fan isn’t going to say, “Hey, you guys want to drive down to Chester and see what this soccer thing is all about?” I know that people will say that we don’t need so-called “casual” fans because we’ve got diehards, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to get some merchandise money out of them. More people coming to games drives up the demand, which drives up the money the team can make, which then makes them a big market team. If we want a big market team, we need to appeal to a wide fan base.

    • Wow, I couldn’t even write two sentences before hitting a stupid grammar mistake like their/they’re. I’m ashamed at my own lack of proofreading.

    • Not having a stadium in the city is a big difference. So much so that the league won’t ever consider a new franchise that doesn’t have a stadium in city limits.

  4. its a strategy to say the union are small market team so fans lower expectations. thats greed 101

    • Small Market may not be the best term.
      I honestly don’t think the ownership has that much money. Considering the penny pinching in the coaching dept, the fact that we don’t even have a paved parking lot ect. I am not even sure the money is there.

  5. We have Small Market owners, so we have a Small Market team. Our fan base is Big Market, our TV production is Big Market (and the best in MLS, IMO), and our sponsorships are Big Market (although BIMBO is a ridiculous brand). However, it is up to the owners to bring in the over-the-top DP signings, and our owners cannot afford to do so.
    .
    Without a new owner or co-owner to provide a substantial cash injection, the Union will continue to play the salary cap game just like the rest of the Small Market minnows. I hope that they’re able to make smart moves this offseason with the cap space they have. If so, then we’ll have a very competitive team next season. If not, then we’ll be about where we are right now, with less hope for long-term improvement.

  6. John O'Donnell says:

    The Union missed a golden opportunity, in my opinion. They had that fantastic run to the playoffs in 2011. The Phillies and Eagles were both on the way down; the Sixers were already down; the Flyers seem to be perpetually stuck in neutral lately. The city was there for the taking. And then we got Nowaked. So instead of building on 2011 and sucking in an even larger percentage of the Philly fan base (which means better local TV money, getting talked about on 94 and 97.5, better coverage in the papers, more merchandise sales, etc) we spent two years digging out of a hole. Is it too late?

    I believe this point right here, was when the team went down the wrong road. If they could have built on that season, the love fest would still be going on. This season wasn’t much better as the team started jettisoning players and saying one thing and doing another. Rodger Torres had a very good preseason and than couldn’t find the pitch. Players that are quality MLS players are traded and other player are playing out of position. This is the most crucial off season in my opinion as the Union will become a Philadelphia Team or a team that plays soccer in Philadelphia drawing soccer fans. In year five they must make at least one signing that makes it look like they’re trying and not “Ed Wadeing” us, after all we’ve already been Nowaked.

  7. OneManWolfpack says:

    There are enough interested, educated (soccer-wise), money-spending people who root for this team to put a 2nd deck on PPL if this ownership group spends the money for the talent to win MLS Cups. Period.
    .
    It is all about the money that needs to be spent.

  8. Allow me to play devil’s advocate here, this team does not need to spend more, they need to spend wisely. You only have to look at the successes of RSL, SKC, and Portland to realize that managing your salary budget is the key success in a league in which parity rules. Count me as one that is not convinced that a big payroll = success on the pitch in Major League Soccer.
    The technical staff needs to take full advantage of all the wacky rules to aid in player retention (see Okugo, Jack Mac, Williams & MacMath) and in player acquisitions. It would be prudent for ownership to add a salary budget guru to the staff (See Capologists in NFL). Adding a big money DP may create buzz but it’s a crapshoot. If this club gets it wrong like they did with Adu, it’ll set the team back several seasons.
    While it’s not as flashy as big name signings, the Union are smart investing in youth development. We’re still a few years from the academy consistently cranking out starters, but that time is coming.

    • John O'Donnell says:

      Those three teams have five Dp’s between them and they all were acquired with the idea to make the team better. We got a DP to get rid of a problem and than hardly ever used him. It comes off as cheap and I think the fans in Philadelphia don’t want to here small market.

      Nick and Hack said they’re gone to go out and spend some money this year, so let’s see it. If they were smart, they would tie up Zac and MAc for at least another three years.

    • I appreciate that, but it isn’t binary. The choice isn’t academy signings OR big money DPs. The “spend more” option could be just better MLS quality players.
      In 2013 salary, some MLS All Star names under the $368K DP line:
      Mike Magee – $185K
      Will Johnson – $243K
      Camillo Sanvezzo – $210K
      Patrice Bernier – $143K
      DeAndre Yedlin – $50K
      Aurelien Collin – $250K
      Matt Besler – $180K
      Tony Beltran – $166K
      Nick Rimando – $200K
      Corey AShe – $101K

      Here’s some other affordable/non AS names:
      Dilly Duka $140K
      Atiba Harris $165K
      Dillon Powers $46K
      Blas Perez $300K
      Jared Jeffrey $54K
      Bryan Ownby $46K
      Bryan Salazar $46K
      Teal Bunbury $110K
      Dom Dwyer $65K (!!!! Shop and compare Danny Cruz to that)
      CJ Sapong $75K
      Robbie Rogers $90K
      Justin Mapp $125K (hate on My Left Foot all you want, 3X Cruz’ production for same $)
      Andrew Wenger $120K
      Diego Fagundez $99K
      Lee Nguyen $75K
      Kelyn Rowe $90K
      Connor Lade $55K
      Jonny Steele $99K
      Bright Dike $57K

      There’s more, but that is a lot of non-DP talent the Union could get. Why they choose not to says more about their lack of resources. Why they let a combined $620K in more talented MF ride the pine all year in Kleberson and Torres until they were desperate speaks to how poor a manager Hackworth was.

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