CBA Negotiations / MLS / Union

MLS strike = disaster for Union?

How soon before we see the Union line up like this in Philly?

If Major League Soccer players strike, it could be a disaster for Philadelphia Union.

An expansion franchise needs momentum from the get-go. Right now, the Union have it. Opening day is a month away. Their stadium in Chester is progressing. Philadelphia’s going to host the final World Cup tune-up for the U.S. National Team. People are excited. Philadelphia soccer is on the way up.

But a strike that delays the MLS season could kill that.

When sabers rattled this weekend over the league’s failure to meet the players’ demands for free agency and guaranteed contracts,  it became very clear that a strike remains possible. The league responded by saying they’ve offered to spend another $60 million on players and pledging to start the season without a new labor contract. (For more on free agency and the other key issues, click here.)

None of this is good for soccer fans in the Delaware Valley.

Philadelphia isn’t Seattle or Toronto, with a stadium accessible by public transit in the heart of an international city. The real models for the Union are the Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas. Like the Union, each has a stadium outside the nearest major city, has major league teams in the big four sports, and isn’t what you’d call an “international city.” For each, the stadium is a singular destination. (Check out my 2007 story for more on the comparison.)

Chicago’s Toyota Park, for example, sits in the middle of an industrial nowhere. You go there, and then you go home. Few dinner options afterward, no walking to the train, one lonely pub on the drive home.  It’s out of the way for most people. It’s a great place to watch a game, but that’s about it.

Sound at all like Chester?

Sure, the most devoted and excited fans, such as the Sons of Ben, will head to Union games whether the season starts in March or August. But the most devoted fans may not be enough to guarantee success in a crowded sports market like Philadelphia, particularly with the club located outside the city without train access. Dallas surely draws its most devoted fans too, but the 9,883 fans per game they drew in 2009 don’t make them a success.

The Union need to sell the fringe fans on their product, and there’s nothing like a work stoppage to sour a fan base. (Ask Major League Baseball and the NHL.) They need to maintain the momentum they have right now, the good will shown toward a franchise that looks like they’re doing a lot of things right on the field. Unfortunately, this labor dispute is outside their control.

In the end, the Union could get toasted by a union – and the management that won’t give in.

What do you think? How do you think the Union would fare if the season starts late? What do you think the prospects of a strike are? Weigh in below.


  1. If there is a strike, I will ask for a re-fund for my full season ticket paymet! I will not be buying anymore season tickets anytime in the future.
    Pass it to the MLS and the Union

  2. Ed Farnsworth says:

    Woke up in a good mood this morning, about to buy tickets for the USA v Turkey match, and then I read this.

    There goes my good day, right down the toilet.

    Its difficult to be optimistic about this after reading the links to SBI and some of the comments there. The $60m figure turns out to be not very much at all when you look at the math. Judging by the comments of some of the Players Union reps a strike seems increasingly likely.

    The whole thing is just very depressing.

  3. I sympathize, FAN. When buying season tickets with two friends, one of them said he wanted to wait until he knew there would be no strike. I told him if we waited that long, we might get no tickets. (I also told him I didn’t think there’d be a work stoppage, and I still don’t, although I’m starting to wonder. The Kevin Hartman situation in KC is really bad.) My other friend is not a soccer fan, but he still went in on season tickets with us. At least one of them is gone with a strike, huh?

  4. Dan, nice piece. I understand the fear and loathing over a work-stoppage. It would come at the worst possible time for the Union and its growing fan base. I hope it doesn’t happen and I suspect it’s just what it usually is- negotiation tactics.
    At the same time, I don’t understand FAN’s response at all. I support the Union because it’s a hell of a lot more fun to root for the local team and I like soccer. I want the MLS to grow and I want to see my home town team play an exhibition match vs chelsea or club america or bayern munich or some team I’d love to embarrass.
    The strike business is just that- business. I really can’t see why a fan who has been waiting for a mls team to root for would cancel their support because the players are trying to get a better deal by playing hard-ball. A work stoppage will immediately hurt advance ticket sales and the fringe fans may remain on the sidelines, but f* em I say. The core audience will remain and the long-term health of the franchise and the mls may actually be strengthened by a stronger players union.

  5. PhillyHotspur says:

    Interesting POV on clubs w/ stadiums outside of their of city…….

    In watching the Rapids game, a lot of empty seats at that stadium for a defending league champ….And did you see that supporters section ? Yikkkkkkes..

    These teams, like the U, clearly have the most to lose w/ a MLS strike…….But, i still think that we are better off then most.

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