Fans' View

Fan’s View: What motivates your Union ticket purchase?

Photo: Earl Gardner

Philadelphia Union have fallen on hard times.

Earlier this year, I wrote about team chemistry and wondered when it would all come together. A horrible, disenchanting stretch of results has now left most of us convinced that it’s just not happening this year. DOOP has been replaced by WSSM, and we’re left analyzing where it all went wrong and what can be done to turn things around.

One common refrain these days on Facebook, Twitter, or any other medium that allows fan comments is some variation on either “I’m done with season tickets next year” or “do something Union, or you’ll be playing in front of empty seats this summer.” While some of these comments are surely fans just venting their frustrations, it would be naïve to think that the trajectory of this 2014 season won’t hurt ticket sales this year and beyond.

So what matters to you when making that decision to renew season tickets or simply purchase tickets for a game?

Game day experience

PPL Park is a beautiful stadium, with great views, a well-kept field, excellent site lines, and not a bad seat in the house. I still enjoy the atmosphere — there’s a palpable energy in the stadium on game days. The Sons of Ben are a tremendous supporters’ group, mixing traditional soccer chants, tifo, and the occasional surprise (Bohemian Rhapsody) to keep the energy up and make the soccer experience so unique as compared to the other major sports. We’re fortunate to have an excellent tailgating scene in our free parking lots, plus plenty of inflatable fun for the kids in the Pavilion area.

The game day experience still feels pretty organic too – not overrun with artificial chants, excessive music, or noise meters prompting us when to cheer louder. Union fans are an educated, passionate bunch, who know when to turn up the volume, when to creatively heckle an opponent, or when to justifiably express disappointment. At the end of day, we continue to support our team.

Not everything is perfect of course. Getting into the stadium seems to take a bit longer than it should (more ticket card scanners please!), and concourses can get a bit crowded at halftime. There’s a decent variety of concessions, but with the possible exception of Chickie’s and Petes, nothing particularly unique. Adding in some local flavor and perhaps, a few more craft beer options would be nice. Service is generally very friendly, if a tad slow. Strange outages, like not having any hot dogs ready 10 minutes before game time, seem to be a bit more common than you’d ever expect. These little hiccups are more than offset by a great venue and knowledgeable, passionate fans who bring it every game. Being a five-year season ticket holder, I feel like part of the family, like I’m part of something bigger. That’s hard to set aside. Game day experience is a clear positive in my ticket renewal decision.

Club ambition   

Many of you have likely read Grant Wahl’s MLS ambition rankings. Here, we’re talking about Union leadership’s commitment to building a winning program. A top class stadium is in place, though we all know that the team continues to practice in local parks. Not so world class there, although plans were announced to build training facilities next to PPL Park. A commitment to building out a youth academy appears to be a strength, including the introduction of a school for top youth players in the Union’s youth program. The Union also appear to be in good standing with sponsorships, featuring a significant jersey sponsor with a pedigree as a sponsor for top teams in Mexico. While this category is a bit of a mixed bag, I don’t think it makes or breaks ticket renewal or ticket purchasing decisions for me, or most Union fans.

Roster Management

Here’s where it gets a little bit dicey. The Union have drafted relatively well over the years, though this year’s much lauded draft haul hasn’t had any impact on the field thus far. Coming into the season, the Union appeared to do a worthy job addressing the team’s biggest shortcoming in 2013, the midfield. Adding a returning U.S. national in Maurice Edu, a team captain from Ligue 1 in Vincent Nogueira, and a midfielder with creative flair and resume that included time at clubs like Spartak Moscow in the form of Cristian Maidana seemed like an unbelievable haul.

While the increase in talent level raised expectations significantly, the Union have struggled putting it all together cohesively. Stretches of 2013 brilliance from Jack McInerney (since traded) and Conor Casey have not repeated themselves in 2014. The defense has been hampered by injury, continuously shuffling lineups, and error-prone play. And the much heralded, reconstructed midfield appears to have issues with role clarity and redundancy of skill sets.

Some players have not lived up to expectations, while others don’t seem to be placed in roles that best allow them to exceed. Substitutions often have seemed predictable and at times out of synch with what game situations may have dictated.

One of the biggest complaints I have with the roster is this ongoing, sinking feeling that we’ve never really put our best 11 players out there and just let them play for a few games. Roster management is a clear point of frustration for me, though I take some consolation in the fact that there was a good-intentioned effort to address roster weakness this past offseason. Overall, a slight negative, but not enough of an issue to keep me from renewing tickets at this point.

Style of Play

Dan Walsh’s column yesterday addressed this in detail. It was a risky move to change from a counterattacking style to a possession based scheme. I would much rather watch a short passing game where the ball stays on the ground, and creative talent in midfield unlocks the defense with well-timed passes to forwards who can finish them off with an equal amount of flair.

But unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of possession without execution in the final third. Throw in too many hopeful crosses to attacking players who aren’t built for finishing them, and I’m still a bit confused as to what our style is this season. I love the sizzle, but want a solid piece of steak with it. I want to win games. Overall, I admire the effort to play a more attractive style and am frustrated by the commitment to executing it, but I am willing to allow bit more time to get there (with or without Hack).

Results

Clearly, this is where the biggest disappointment lies for me. The way we’ve given up points this year is enough to suck the energy right out of the most eager, dedicated fan. Giving up late goals, mental errors, odd lineup decisions, or a lack of creativity and bite in the final third have all reared their ugly heads. Instead of battling for an expected playoff spot, we’re now in the same strange neighborhood as Montreal and Chivas USA in the league standings.

I’m not advocating a shift to cynical soccer, with 11 guys behind the ball, hoping to scratch out a 1-0 win (we’re not Stoke City) with a fluky goal off of a restart.

But I’d happily trade some possession and slick passing for a few ugly wins right now.

I’m not convinced that the two are mutually exclusive anyway. Just this season, Everton adopted a new system under Roberto Martinez (a pure genius, really), playing some of the most beautiful soccer in England while putting up their best wins total and points total in the Premier League era, while qualifying for European soccer next year. A continued, lifeless collapse, like we saw against L.A. is probably the one thing most likely to make me think long and hard about my season ticket commitment.

Are you in?

Right now, count me in. I love the game too much, enjoy the camaraderie with other fans, and have too much fun with the game day experience to give it up right now. I’m disappointed with the results this year, but haven’t forgotten the feeling I had in the offseason when the team demonstrated a willingness to go out and attempt to address key needs. Here’s hoping that continues in the summer transfer window.

What matters most to you when making the decision to renew season tickets or buy individual game tickets? What do you want to see from the Union over the next few months in order stay in?

37 Comments

  1. I will continue to renew my season tickets as long as there is a team. Because I’m a sucker.

    But I refuse to upgrade my cheap seats for the product they are providing.

  2. I would go to more games if there was better access to public transportation. Getting out there is a pain.
    I wish the stadium is was in the city.

    • one thousand times this. i’ve had season tickets for four years now and this has always been an issue for me. i went to a phillies game the other day and it made me yearn for a soccer stadium in the city even more. it sucks that ppl park is so new because short of a satellite falling on the stadium they probably will not be moving the team into the city any time soon.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      I respectfully disagree. As someone who lives in the suburbs, I find it more convenient to have the stadium out here than in Philly. I rarely go to games in the city partially because of the hassle getting in.

      • Perspective is everything Andy- I’m with you. I hop on rt320, sidle past Swarthmore on a smooth ride – wave hello to Weidner then stop for some Mike & Ike’s at 7’11 – then hop OVER the I95 and bam 5 minutes later I’m pulling in to a parking spot. The ride home is even better. The PPL I visit couldn’t be in a more perfect place.

  3. I’ll keep buying my season tickets as long as going to the games is fun. The quality of the soccer on the field is secondary to the atmosphere and convenience — I live in Media, so getting in and out of Lot A is easy (except after the NE game, when I got in a wreck). At this point the only things that would make me give up my tickets would be a change to a winter schedule, the team actually moving or killing the gameday experience, or the ownership group doing something so heinous that I can’t give them my money anymore (think Donald Sterling).

    • Scott Ellis says:

      cszack – I agree completely. The losing and overall hopeless feeling this year is draining. I probably also fall into Handsome Pete’s category of being a sucker. My family and I enjoy the atmosphere and game day experience too much to give it up completely.

      • this doesn’t make you a sucker. disparaging names are reserved for people who only support a team when they are good

  4. Nova 66-64 says:

    I have been a season ticket holder since the beginning and will not be a full game tickets holder next season. I feel the management has failed this franchise and fan base from the beginning. I will probably go to four or five games each year and will watch on TV all the other games.

    I feel the atmosphere is great at PPL Park because of the fans; I just wish the Front Office and the team manager would just turn over. Please do not ruin a great thing like the Union and it’s fan base.

  5. DarthLos117 says:

    No question, four seats, section 117 for life.
    .
    No matter how bad they are, I’ll be there…and most likely here too.

    • I’m with ya! There is so much more than just the 90 minutes of soccer on the pitch. I’ve made many friends and look forward to Lot A every home game!

  6. OneManWolfpack says:

    As long as I can financially afford to stay in 127 I will. I love the game and I love the team. I’ll be the first to rip them, but overall, my dad and I go to games together, and we both really enjoy it. I have some faith that that club is not taking advantage of people like me… for now. I’m a supporter, but I’m not naive.
    .
    And remember, it’s only year 5…

    • Scott Ellis says:

      Well said. Things have clearly played out to be a disaster, but I think it’s wrong to say the team took advantage of fans or somehow doesn’t care. Just a few months back, there was a tremendous amount of excitement about the new look midfield and our chances of having playoff soccer to watch again. Maybe some incorrect assumptions – that the backline would be as good as last year without Parke, that Jack and Conor would continue to score at the pace they did, that Madaina was a true left winger (not enough pace out there), and that the midfield parts would mesh properly…but the team did make a concerted effort to address the most glaring weakness.

  7. Right now, i am in for next season but only partially so. I know financially i will not be able to afford another full season plan when the time to commit to it comes around, even with monthly pay options. The game day experience (meeting friends, dinner before or after, being in the stadium, etc.) more than outweighs the nightmare i am seeing unfold on the pitch week-after-week but i can’t justify the expense given how the team is performing and most likely will continue to perform for the rest of this season. And there is no guarentee that changes at the top or bottom or in between will make any difference for next season. Changes as big as *I* feel need to be made take more than a few months to cohere. I’ll still go games next season but i no longer feel like i need to go to every home game…

  8. I think the reason why this season and the end of last is hitting us all so hard is because we do care. That’s why we get upset, we boo, we voice our displeasure… it’s because we genuinely care. I’ve been in section 110 for 5 years now and my father and I will continue to re-up as long as we can afford to. It’s been frustrating to the point that I’ve become numb and lowered my expectations for this year’s team, but I love watching the game too much to give it up. Interestingly, I’ve also invested way too much money in Union jackets, scarves, and other apparel to abandon them even if I wanted to.

  9. Former Season Ticket Holder says:

    I hadn’t missed a single game before I gave up my Tix this year. When I started to go to PPL park I had Zero children, now I have Two. I couldn’t justify the expense anymore and the Union’s play on the field made the decision pretty easy. At first I went through some withdraw, I did go to the most recent DC game this year and all I took away from it (besides wssm) was that I had made the right decision. Now I spend my weekends and hard earned cash on my daughters and family….and on a minor note it always bothered me that they never paved the lot I parked in and I don’t like walking through an inch of mud mixed with beer when it rains!

  10. I’ll probably renew mainly based on what you wrote in your last paragraph, and since I enjoy watching good teams that come to town. However, I started initially with 4 season tickets; currently have 3 and will probably reduce it to 2 next year since I am embarrassed to take clients/friends..

  11. Why do I keep coming back? For one, I’ll always come back. Love the U. But I have a deep rooted reason. I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s the years of abuse. Telling me I was less of an athlete for playing soccer. The game sucks. It’ll never catch on. It’s a sport for kids who aren’t good enough to play ‘insert sport here’. People saying it’s not a sport at all. All the insults and negativity from class mates, co-workers, journalists, etc. I’m here to support the growth of our top level of soccer in the US. And I’ll continue to do so until I die or am too old and sick to make the games. I soak up information on all our leagues through the US soccer pyramid and have been to USL Pro, PDL, old A-league games and more. While there are still naysayers, It’s a lot better than it was when I was a young man. The game in the US has reached new heights in acceptance, popularity, profitability and skill. And I want to keep watching it grow. Each time I spend my money on soccer, I give 2 middle fingers up to the douche bags.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      + a lot. Well said

    • +1 really enjoyed this angle – one I obviously didn’t think to include in the original post.

    • UnitedPenn13 says:

      Well said Shag. I have the same feelings including your last sentence. I’m 60 years old, played soccer in HS & College and have been waiting for a professional team since the Atoms folded. I am a founding member with 4 season tickets in section 107 for the past 4 years. The first season we were in 127 but couldn’t handle the heat. So I will probably renew next year because my wife has come to love the game and we bring our grandchildren and friends to matches. But the Union FO and team are making the decision tougher every year.

  12. scottymac says:

    Can we touch on the narrative that the FO “spent a lot” in the offseason? Every club has a cap of $3.1M and the Union were just a tad over that number on 4/10 (http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/thegoalkeeper/Philadelphia-Union-2014-player-salaries-as-of-April-10-2014.html) . Granted, that doesn’t include how much allocation money they used to pay down to get under the cap (all those draft day trades ring a bell?). Maidana is only a DP because of his reported $400K transfer fee. Edu is on loan and his salary is only $287K over the DP number. Which means the Union aren’t pumping the money they purport to into the team. Maybe they break even or even make a small profit, but with the value of TV deals increasing and Forbes ranking of values going up , I’m not sure the FO feels a need to invest. The math says the value of the team is increasing well under the “rising tide lifts all boats” strategem, where exactly is their incentive to buy that forward? Its a pretty sound real estate investment strategy, they’ve got a decent property in the up and coming MLS neighborhood, sure they can slap some paint on it, but the values are going up between TV deals and expansion fees, with just enough income to cover expenses. Same with that “development academy”. They partner with someone who has an on going concern, slap some Snake and Shields all over it, and claim millions were invested.

    They’ve got ambition alright, just not the one Wahl monitors. Nick Sakiewicz may be the single worst thing to happen to this city since the British occupied it in 1777.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Seems as if you are implying this entire team is nothing but a racket. I just don’t see that. I think that’s a bit much.

      • Scottymac says:

        No, it’s not a racket. I’m just saying this is an investment, the franchise. I don’t have any faith in this FO to dramatically improve the team. They are very tight with their resources while taking credit as actual investment what their partners do.

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Edu is expected to come with a transfer fee if the Union close the sale on him. They expected to do so until the league office got in the way, so a chunk of that $2 million ostensibly budgeted by the club for new players was to go toward Edu. Don’t really have much to say about the rest, although I’ll note that the bomb dropped on the MOVE house, the cocaine epidemic, and the Phillies’ 120 years of futility were pretty bad too, you know.

      • Scottymac says:

        I considered MOVE, but I was so far off the hyperbole meter already I thought I’d switch to a more historical reference. You know, for balance.

      • Dan Walsh says:

        Heh heh. Good call.

  13. This is a great post. I grew up in North Jersey and moved to pa in the 8th grade. When we lived in jersey I lived in an Italian city and went to all the Cosmos games. They were my favorite team as a kid. I went to practices and used to dream of being chinaglia or even Rick Davis. I have a book with all their autographs (even Beckenbauer). One of the saddest days in my life was when my father told me and my brother there were no more games. They were playing indoor for one year and my father hated it, then they were gone. I never want ANY child, my own now included, to ever lose their team from the sport I love. I give my money (season tix) so they can exist and my inner child can always have a pro game to go to.

  14. I love the game. I have played (badly) through the age of way too old and should know better, coached, refereed and been a fan of the game since going to Atoms and Fury games. I shared season tickets until it got to be apparent that I couldn’t make the games often enough due to continued kid sports obligations. I likely will go back in on the tickets as soon as I can, since I just cannot get enough of soccer. I bought tickets to almost all of the Champions World series that started with Manchester United playing Barcelona at the first public event at the Linc. Is it frustrating to watch the Union and their inability to finish? Sure, but I have been watching the Phillies through good times and bad too. It is a habit, an obsession almost, and will likely cost me a mint to do this. I think that everybody that takes the time to write on this spot has some degree of fatal attraction to this team, or they wouldn’t put forth the effort to comment on them. I see most fans in that same light. They know when there are problems with what they are watching, and will voice their displeasure, but they will keep coming back for more. I just hope that the team will be able to last financially until they get through this tough stretch. I don’t think that they will get the same eighty plus years of patience from the fans that the Phillies got before getting a championship.

  15. This is our club. I will support them for as long as they exist, and I will be a season ticket holder until I am unable to physically attend the matches. I felt slighted by MLS for the years they ignored Philadelphia. I mean, what is the point in living in an old, dirty, crowded northeastern US city if we don’t get to have a team? So, we have a team now. I’m all in. I know this season is not looking so hot, but in the big, international picture that is world football, we’re much better off than so many people around the world. We have a local club in a league that is improving at an astonishing pace. A league without relegation! We are very fortunate. Now, all of you who haven’t read Phil Ball’s article about Eibar, please do so.

    Done? Good. Feel better?

    • That article was awesome. And man do I miss Phil Ball. Is he still banished from ESPNFC? What a joke. His writing style immersed you in the sights, sounds, cultures, and feel of Spanish futbol. Phil is the man, his stuff made me fall more in love with the game.

  16. Pratfall says:

    This comment is more effective than John Hackworth.

  17. Thanks, I think.

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