The gentrification of PPL Park

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Ever since PSP’s exclusive interview with Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz hit the internet last month, there’s been steady talk about some upgrades to PPL Park in the near future. To many, it’s been recognized as the worst kind of good news.

Among the proposed additions would be a new restaurant located behind the River End and an expansion of club suites into the general seating areas. There was also some vague talk about adding more of that general seating, from 3,000 to 5,000 blue chairs, but only as a distant prospect—once the higher end clientele’s needs were addressed. Naturally, this kind of top-down approach to expansion rankled a few of the proletariat, myself included.

As we know, the stadium’s infrastructure can ultimately accommodate 30,000. We’re not there yet, but there’s a reason it was built that way: so that future generations of fans have somewhere to sit once soccer has taken its rightful place alongside the Big Four. Our Manifest Destiny always seemed to be pointing straight up to that imaginary second level, and not for the icing of club boxes and chophouses, but for the cake of general admission, the bedrock of fandom.

Now, populism is cheap—except when it’s sincere.

The notion that the ownership’s first thought, aside from not being anything related to matters on the pitch, is to better service those with presumably the least interest in the game day experience is an unfortunate sign. It belies a slow but steady departure from that which built the Union out of barroom sweat and bleacher bum gumption, till truly grass roots finally blossomed on cheap Chester real estate.

Nothing against the fans in the suites; for all I know they love the U as much as the most intoxicated River Ender in the throes of his most obscene soliloquy, albeit from their comfortable distance. Nor is there anything wrong with having a sit-down meal before or after the game, though how one could improve on the culinary full-body-massage-with-happy-ending that is a halftime Los Taco is well beyond me.

It’s a matter of priority. More club seats? Sure. Just not at the expense of regular seats that are already there. Maybe the sections they have in mind aren’t occupied by any season ticket holders, but this way they never will be. Allowing general admission space to fall victim to some kind of club box eminent domain is a slippery slope.

A restaurant? Sure. Just not between three-quarters of the stadium and the best view in MLS, and certainly not in a way that seemingly precludes any expansion of the River End, sitting like a dam made of concrete and family friendly atmosphere to cap the swell of what’s apparently a less desirable kind of enthusiasm down in steerage.

Several years ago, fans of nothing—nothing—convinced MLS and Philadelphia that if you build it, they will come. Philly built it, and they came. And while every bit of success inevitably comes with a certain level of loss to the gods of consumer culture, I hope the Union won’t forget that when they came, some of us were already there.


  1. The one thing that seems to escape the writers of all of the recent OP-ED pieces on the expansion of PPL Park is that the real owners of the stadium are the people of Delaware County. Yes the Union’s ownership group has a 30 year lease, but any and all expansion or changes would need to be approved by the voters of Delaware County.

  2. Now… I would love a restaurant right behind the river end, especially if it means an easy-access bar right there for us. But I agree completely that it must NOT compromise the view for everyone else.

    And I understand their reasoning for more club boxes. I take it as a good thing. People are buying up the clubs and not releasing them annually for new clients. Good! The high rollers like the Union and want to hang on to the boxes. That’s awesome.
    I won’t pretend to know how the stadium is meant to expand, but it looks like they could add maybe 6 more boxes on the bench side, 2 more on the bridge side, then fill the corners with seats and add a whole ‘nother tier around the entire stadium on top of that and the club, with gaps at the press boxes and scoreboard.

  3. “It’s a matter of priority. More club seats? Sure. Just not at the expense of regular seats that are already there. ”
    I disagree with this statement. The demand for season ticket holders and general seating has noticeably dropped off since the team has been doing poorly. The Union, much like the Phillies, are not prone to fair weather fandom. Whether the decrease in demand is due to poor results or the novelty of a pro soccer team in Philly wearing off, there is surprisingly an overwhelming demand for club suites.
    It would be foolish for the Union not to pursue expansion of the club seats. With the current situation these businesses most likely will not be willing to stay on an lengthy waiting list. They will likely take their money elsewhere if they cannot be accommodated.
    I do agree with the restaurant being a delicate situation. That view is priceless, and it would be a shame if it was ruined.

  4. If you add 3,000 seats anywhere it means more people will get into the stadium, so GA seats will be added somewhere.Club boxes and suites will actually bring in more money to the team, and I couldn’t care less whether they watch the game or not. I will happily enjoy the game from my endline seats while their money goes straight into NOT improving the team.
    As for the restaurant Nick said it would either be see-through glass or put in a way in which the view isn’t compromised.
    I think the best course of action would be to add those suites & club seats to the already existing ones on the bench side, expand the Stadium Club outward onto the upper concourses on either side of it, and add more seats on either side of the suites on the bridge side. And eventually do something above the River End, because the best part of the stadium looks really small the way it’s constructed now.

  5. Buzzkill_Ed says:

    It’s amazing how all the development around the stadium, and putting a respectable team on the pitch has fallen by the wayside. Oh well. Whatever grabs a quick buck.

  6. It seems like they’re catering to the club box crowd in order to squeeze a bit more revenue out (i.e., “gentrifying”,) but it’s closer to minor league baseball to me. No one said these “boxes” would be particularly costly. They’re trying to imitate the “stadium-as-carnival” strategy that’s worked so well in baseball and other sports. Unfortunately, one of the things that made the Union refreshing was precisely that they DIDN’T do those sorts of silly things — blaring music (well, that ship has sailed), restaurants, jungle gym, dance team, etc. Apparently, the way to get people to go is to have corporations hand them tickets so they can “watch” with their backs to the game and enjoy cold wings. I’d prefer a focus on what makes the experience unique — the sport, the accessibility — but far be it from them to do anything but follow a template. The view won’t be obstructed because you’ll be able to “see through” the Chickie’s & Pete’s, or whatever they’re putting back there? What a joke.

    • “…Unfortunately, one of the things that made the Union refreshing was precisely that they DIDN’T do those sorts of silly things — blaring music, restaurants, jungle gym, dance team, etc.”

      If my memory serves me correctly, the Union had all of those things from day one. Blaring music before and after the match (Bush’s “Machinehead” for kickoff and The Strawbs’ “Part of the Union” at the final whistle), the stadium club “restaurant,” and games for the kiddies in “Toyota Plaza” have all been around since opening day in 2010. The dance team is the only thing they didn’t, and still don’t have, unless you count Major Molly’s Army which is just a group of girls handing out swag and taking pictures/video of people.

      • It’s a matter of degree. The game experience, to date, is still more about watching a soccer match. I’m hoping that doesn’t change. That little stadium club thingy is quite enough. At least it’s relatively unobtrusive.

        And color me a “Machinehead” opponent. Yick.

  7. The Black Hand says:

    Put quality on the pitch, then worry about more seats. If they go ahead with the constructions and the team still struggles; wouldn’t that mean we would have to pay more money for sub-par football?

  8. Why can’t they just put a beer garden on top of the locker rooms for the SOBs :). And no matter how much money this team generates we all know these owners won’t put it back into the product on the field :/

  9. Billy Bhoy says:

    I’m at school so i haven’t been to a games since last summer, but do the parking lots still need to be paved. If so that should come first.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Couldn’t agree more… Lot A has been the same beat up old asphalt crap since Day One in 2010

    • Seriously? This is my absolute last priority. Paving the lots will do ZERO to bring in more revenue for the club. If you’re not coming to a Union game because you prefer asphalt over gravel, you’re probably not a fan that will spend any serious time or money on the team anyway.

  10. As we’ve seen in every other football league in the world, it all comes down to money. The more money a club has, the better the product on the pitch will eventually be. A beautiful view of the river is nice, but it won’t generate more A$$es In Seats (AIS). AIS will increase when American fans get to watch quality football. Currently, they can be much better entertained by the football on TV than at PPL park. That should be priority #1 for the Union. It’s a bit of a chicken or egg argument in the end, but clearly the more revenue that comes in (be it from suites or restaurants) the more cash the club can spend on DPs and coaching staff, which in turn will improve the product on the field and get more AIS. I’d gladly give up my view of the river to see a double-tier, capacity-busting section of SoBs (who technically do not put their AIS, but that’s OK).

    • Good Lord. What a sad state of fandom if we’re “rooting” for revenue.

      That out of the way, I think you’ve got it backwards if you’re doing away with the unique aspects of the gameday experience in a crowded entertainment market in the name of revenue. Winning will create a stituation where they can incrementally expand revenue. Infrastructural improvements can help, but of the less drastic, more fan -friendly variety.

  11. Size wise I like PPL Park as it is. In the future I could see more Box or club seating fill in up to the corners seats. An open Beer Garden at the River End sounds great keep the view. But can we first put AIS. This Saturday’s game will be the first one I’ve missed. But missing a home game is another reason I don’t have season tickets and buy as I can. I give a lot of credit to season holders they are great for the Club. I just hope the Union don’t forget about the average soccer folks because it always make me laugh that sports teams charge and get the price for those club and box seats and then they go unused. How many times this season have I been to a game at PPL and the club midfield seats are empty. Hey some paid a hundred bucks or more of them and failed to show up where are the AIS. Fill the PPL Park first then expanded how getting investors to look into the waterfront area for shops, restaurants, and pubs. Can people even go to the restaurants currently at PPL Park is it like McFadden’s is the Union store open on non-game days. I love the UNION and going to PPL Park for games FO has to keep the price were the average folk can come and cheer on the UNION.

  12. Chris Rudderow says:

    I’ve been wondering since reading that original story if it wasn’t just Nick S playing at being a big bidness man and bloviating to that audience using outdated plans for growth.

  13. John O'Donnell Jr. says:

    I can still remember the night ZOLO was born and Nick saying yes, you cheer me now but in a few years, I’m sure I will hear the Boo’s.

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