Fans' View

Fans’ View: The future’s so bright

Photo: Barb Colligon

With the 2013 season coming to a close, at least for the Union, many soccer writers are looking to the future. Whether it’s talking about getting a new centerback or an attacking mid, how to use their high draft picks or piles of allocation cash, or just whether Hack and Sack are the right leaders going forward, discussion of the Union’s future is all over soccer sites and blogs, including this fine establishment. And so, I also want to take a moment to look to the future of the Union. However, I don’t want to look to 2014; I want, instead, to look at 2024. What does my crystal ball show for the Union’s 15th season?

Growing through youth

I see a growing fan base. We can—and do—argue about the decisions made by ownership and the front office. What is difficult to dispute, however, is the way the Union treat their youngest fans. I see it, firsthand and from a distance, every home game. No other professional sporting event in Philadelphia ends like a Union game, with the players strolling around the field applauding the fans, stopping to sign autographs and take pictures. They bust their asses for 90+ minutes and certainly want nothing more than a shower and a chance to sit down. They know that stopping to sign one autograph means signing dozens of autographs. It’s really a spectacle unique to soccer; sure, some athletes in other sports take time to talk to kids and sign for them, but it’s nothing like what the Union players do week in and week out. You can argue whether or not players should be role models, but it’s difficult to argue the closeness the fans feel toward the players.

And it’s this closeness with the fan base, especially the kids, that will keep the Union growing steadily into the future. The Union seem to understand that they need to appeal to two markets. They most certainly need us adults: we’re the ones with disposable income, after all. But they also clearly understand that hooking the kids early is important to their growth as fans. Some day in the future today’s kids will be adults, with their own disposable income to spend. And the team does a terrific job positioning themselves to be the target of that disposable income, whether through ticket sales, merchandise, travel, or whatever.

Junior Supporters Club

It’s more than applause and autographs, though, that have young Union fans hooked. The serve as a ball kid, or help carry the flags during pre-game, or go down on the field post-game and get autographs from players—including having the staff work to ensure your favorite player is among those signing. They bring special experiences to the kids, moments they’ll remember for a long time.

It’s those experiences, plus the generosity of the players during post-game, that make the future bright for the Union. What do I see in the year 2024? I see a full crowd, 27,000 strong, in PPL Park celebrating the Union’s 15th anniversary. I see old heads like me, in my mid-50s by that point; I see young adults like my daughter, who will be 23 come that magical year. And, just like today, I see kids, the Union’s next, and biggest, generation of fans. Because more than anything, that’s how you grow your fan base—one young fan at a time.

4 Comments

  1. I like the article, John, but there is one thing I’d like to add. How many of those kids are going to be staying in the Philly area once they grow up? As an example, I grew up 20 minutes from the Meadowlands and went to two Soccer Bowls there. Now I can see PPL Park from my office window as a write this while my brother took his daughter to her first University of Michigan hockey game a couple of weeks ago. So some of these kids that the Union are being so good to are likely to become seasons ticket holders in their new towns.

    I don’t know what the rest of the league is doing but it would be nice to know that they are implementing similar programs so when a girl from Denver or a boy from Houston grows up, goes to school at Penn or Villanova, and decides to stay in Philly, they already know that they want to go see the local soccer team.

  2. I can actually comment on Houston, since I have a friend who lives there and has a young son. They do a lot of stuff there as well, he tells me. His son has plenty of autographs and has had opportunities to meet players at appearances. I don’t know if they specifically do a Jr Supporter Club, though.

  3. Seeing that PSP chose my kidlet to grace the photo of this story, I thought I’d chime in – As a parent I think the players do a great job of taking care of the kids – whether it is after a game, at an official appearance or in a non-official capacity like Mike Lahoud’s charity bowling event. Everyone on this team has been very gracious to my kids (and their crazy mother). They often take the time to talk to the kids – do you play? what position? who do you play for? My child changed his number based on the relationship he has built with Antoine Hoppenot.

    Great article – we haven’t joined the Jr Supporter’s Club because of cost, but I’m thinking it might make a good birthday present for the little one in the photo above. Hope to meet you John next season in our corner of 109. Come down and say hi – row 109. Look for the cute kids 🙂

  4. I have been going to games from the first season. I have been taking my wife and son.The players have always been great with the kids and have made lifelong fan’s of my family. I hope that in 2024 I will be Doopin next to my mid 20’s son…the wife too! Nice article John!

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