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Sakiewicz out as Union CEO

Photo: Earl Gardner

Update: In a letter sent to Union season ticket holders on Friday morning, team primary owner Jay Sugarman said, “We are making a change in the front office and parting ways with Nick Sakiewicz. In the interim, Dave Rowan, current Chief Revenue Officer, will oversee day to day business operations.” Sugarman also said, “We are committed to finding the right person for the Sporting Director position, and we want this person in place as soon as possible, to impact the upcoming player decisions needed to strengthen our roster and to oversee increased integration of all soccer operations. We are working to have this role filled by the end of the year.”

Philadelphia Union chief executive Nick Sakiewicz is out of a job.

Sakiewicz will be formally relieved of his Union duties Friday morning, with majority team owner Jay Sugarman to set to meet with team staffers the same day, according to a report Thursday by CBS and Philly Soccer Page contributor Kevin Kinkead. Sakiewicz effectively confirmed the report in subsequent interviews with The Inquirer and ESPN.

Sakiewicz’s departure brings to an end a controversial tenure as the public face of the Union — and perhaps his career in Major League Soccer itself, although he has been a minority owner of the club since its founding.

The timing of the announcement is significant, coming a day after the Union’s loss in the U.S. Open Cup. However, it seems highly unlikely that Sakiewicz was fired specifically because of the loss and more likely that his departure was delayed until after the cup run ended so as not to provide a distraction from the team’s on-field efforts.

From the Union’s beginnings, two key people on the ownership team saw through the team’s establishment. Sakiewicz was the league insider, the former team president of both the now-defunct Tampa Mutiny and the New York Red Bulls, who had just overseen the latter club’s sale and stadium deal. Sugarman was the wealthy outsider, having gotten rich on the real estate boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s and looking to buy a professional sports team. They settled on Major League Soccer’s largest market without a team, Philadelphia, where the league was looking to establish an expansion club after a potential move to the area by Sporting Kansas City fell through. Sakiewicz oversaw the construction of the team’s stadium and established the team’s front office and management structure.

Check PSP later for more commentary and coverage.

84 Comments

  1. Andy Muenz says:

    This is only good if they find someone with experience to replace him rather than promote Chris Albright. While we all wanted a better on the field product, there were plenty of positives off the field that happened under Sak such as season ticket loyalty points, the establishment of the River Cup, the $10 bus trip/ticket to see the open cup game against NYRB, and free tickets to the early round open cup games for season ticket holders. Let’s hope his replacement keeps up these types of initiatives while improving the quality of play on the field.

    • el pachyderm says:

      This is huge news. I will sit and observe and hope beyond hope Sugarman gets this right. Hard to argue with the first step.
      .
      As for Mr Sakiewicz…thank you for the efforts….

    • But you are right. Someone needs to be brought in that knows how to win, and–more importantly–knows how to sell. Bringing quality players to Chester will require strong selling skills, given the history of the team. What quality player wants a deck chair on a sinking ship?

      This is why ticket sales decrease, and it’s the desired end. Screw Cubs fans. They are losing enablers. Follow and cheer for your club, but don’t support them financially if they’re not providing a quality product.

      I say we keep Curtin. Get a proper GM (nervous about this Zambrano guy), and rebuild faith.

      Losing Sak is a start. The best part is that I don’t have to spell-check his name anymore.

  2. This doesn’t matter. Same absentee owner that won’t spend. Now he gets to conveniently combine the business guy with the technical “soccer operations” guy into one position. Everyone stretched beyond what they should reasonably be expected to do, as per usual.

    • el pachyderm says:

      Things were stale sir as evidenced by dwindling attendance. You first have to recognize there is a problem and I think Mr Sugarman at least deserves that credit.
      .
      That said I am hoping your points are not spot on.

  3. What, are you guys Sack’s cousins or something? He’s a poison, a liar, and a blowhard. There’s a salary cap in MLS. Union spend as much in players as SKC. We need competent leadership, not simply more money spent. No one has advocated Albright being promoted to Sporting Director. Do you really think that free early round open cup games were Sack’s idea or generosity?!! If so, I’ve got a bridge between Camden & NJ to sell you. Those were desperate attempts to get even 10 disenchanted and disenfranchised fans into PPL for the games. We are now hopeful and re-enfranchised.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      So you’re saying that you have information that the Union have someone to replace Sak and aren’t just going to promote from within? Because that would mean Albright would likely be next in line. That’s basically what has happened with the coaching staff for the last 3 years.
      .
      I’m as happy as anyone that Sak is out but I’m also capable of seeing things other than the black and white of “Union didn’t win so Sak is evil”.

      • seems like the only people left in the FO are: (1) former junior levels management promoted up when the higher levels were let go to save money; (2) very recent college grads making less than minimum wage; and (3) unpaid interns. looks like a big broom is coming.

      • One can only hope that this has a POSITIVE effect on the FO which, based on my experience, just seems like a bunch of kids who for the most part have no CLUE as to what they are doing. So many examples to point to, where to begin??

      • I don’t think anyone has said Sak was evil because the Union didn’t win. Sak was evil because he splurged on Mbaddie after already having a decent young goaltender in McMath(not a personal favorite). And after having traded UP in the draft to take Blake(much better option than Mbaddie or McMath). Then he’s had the nerve to repeatedly claim he had nothing to do with it and blamed it on Chris and Jim. Sweet guy that Sak.
        .
        Who do you think is responsible for the fiasco that has been these last six years? It was probably that guy out front named Sak, cause there’s no one else in that FO because you know, that ever present search for a GM has beeen going on for almost two years now…but hey who needs a GM when you have Sak.
        .
        You talk about the coaching staff and the mess it is, who do you think created this mess? Sak maybe? Ahem, SAK. Yeah, it’s definitely Sak.

      • Sak is scumbag liar, who shifts negative personal accountability onto others. You don’t want people like that in your organization. Bye.

  4. el pachyderm says:

    So long. Fair well. Auf wiederschein. Goodbye.

  5. With 4K no shows for the Cup final it may prove to be a year too late.

    • James Lockerbie says:

      with the change of seasons there brings hope and new life like a forest fire refreshes the ground and renews the forest. Fans will return to the park when they see hope on the horizon. Mr. Sugarman please be careful your next move is the most important one.

    • I actually think this was the first time we were able to tell how far attendance had fallen, since season ticket holders had to buy their seats. Given that, attendance numbers were more accurate than they have been.

  6. Winning/contending will put butts in seats. Remember the Phillies pre-2008. Then they sold out every game. Now that they’re back to being terrible, The Bank is half full. Philly fans aren’t Chicago or St. Luis fans. They don’t support effort. They only support winning (The Eagles being the only exception).
    .
    I’m going to give Sugarman the benefit of the doubt here. I’m going to assume he recognized the problem and moved proactively to change the organization and has ideas on how to move forward. I expect a new CEO AND a new General Manager to be named well before the draft. Let’s not doom this to failure before we see the other pieces fall into place.

  7. Ding Dong the witch is dead. The wicked witch. The witch is dead.

  8. … more likely he was let go because he could not sell out a home Cup Final … two years in a row. Even a few weeks ago you could tell it was not going to be a sellout. Also, actual attendance at games dropping markedly. my understanding is that their break even budget to cover costs includes them playing in at least one playoff game each year – suppose the Cup final can count as that but you need to sell it out.

    By comparison, Sugardaddy is acting quicker than the Phillies (not a high standard given their “pristine” management skills, but their owners seem wealthier and may like the tax losses), who dropped over half a million each of the last two years, and probably again this year.

    Maybe the chopper was for a potential new sugardaddy?

    • Yes. What speaks more to an owner than empty seats when that owner doesn’t have a lucrative NFL or MLB TV contract to bail him out.
      .
      The apathetic attendance IS our weapon. The words on this board ARE our weapons. We do not have to sit by and be victims. This is our Union too.
      .
      Onward and upward Mr. Sugarman…let’s get it together. Let’s get it right…as you have seen the consequences.

  9. Before anybody posts on this board a negative comment about the direction we are going or could be going…please … I urge you to take a deep breath and choose positive intention…if just for a few moments this morning.
    .
    I am a firm believer in creating the reality you envision. So as a fan base… let us envision positive outcomes today an doing forward. Mr. Sugarman has my full morale during this tenuous time.

    • (imagine monkish chanting in the background punctuated by the occasional clash of a gong):
      “Today is a new day.”
      “Let 100 flowers bloom!”
      “Coming together is the beginning. Staying together is progress. Working together is success.”
      “Dare to think, dare to act!”
      “Do not let what you can not do interfere with what you can do.”

      • Old Soccer Coach says:

        R3er, sources of quotes, please?

        I know,”Let 100 flowers bloom,” it’s second half is “let 100 schools of thought contend.” [Mao Xedong]

        Are the others from him, are you suggesting we are in the midst of such a “campaign”?

      • 1. generic
        2. Mao/CCP
        3. Henry Ford
        4. Mao/CCP
        5. John Wooden

        I am an old-school, positivist, solicialist, capitalist.

    • I cannot agree more. I don’t get the negativity. The one obstacle to positive change, is now gone. How is this a bad thing?

    • pragmatist says:

      My great hope is that the new hire(s) perform well enough to have us discontinue “WSSM” and “That’s So Union.” I don’t want to be a franchise that expects doom. I want to expect trophies.
      .
      This is a glorious chance for our beloved team. Don’t shank it, Jay.

      • Shank. What a terribly great word. As a golfer I always thought to get a personalized license plate that says: HSLRCKT.
        .
        The dreaded hoselrocket..but in sticking with envisioning positive outcomes I could never bring myself to do it.

    • Agreed with you. Sugarman just made a very difficult decision (not because of merit, but because of consistency)…remember, Sak has run his organization for 8 years. I’ve not been a fan of Jay so far, but let’s see what he comes up with here. He’s putting himself out there, much like John Middleton has with the Phils. I’m a fan of an owner doing that…it promotes accountability throughout the entire organization.

  10. Onward and Upward.
    .
    JUNGITE aut PERITE.

  11. The Chopper says:

    I told you things would like brighter today. The math is easy. The announcement comes less than a day after the announcement that the season ticket renewal deadline would be extended a week. The renewals were going poorly and the seat holders were letting the reps on the phones know their feelings.

    Sugarman had to make his move. Sak earned his ouster. But I doubt the next guy will be willing to take the hits for Sugarman the way Sakiewciz did.

  12. The Chopper says:

    As this move has been known for about a week inside the building, my guess is that Operations VP Dave Rowan will be named team President. He has been upping his social media outreach to fans this week. Expect his first move to be the Zambrano hire.

    • he has been there since 2010 – and is the team marketing expert.

    • Big Lummie says:

      True that Dave has been upping his presence, however, many of his messages have almost been thank you for everything (with a tone of now that I will no longer be here). Will be interesting either way, hopefully whatever occurs will bring the club into a more positive direction moving forward.

      Ad Finem Fidelis

      • The Chopper says:

        You could be right. I looked at those posts as being an outreach and showing that the next guy up was not going to be a blowhard, but someone who appreciated supporters, staffers etc.

  13. Idk how anyone could think this first step is bad. Now it has to only be the first step of many, but nothing was ever going to change here with Sak at the helm. I’m frankly pretty surprised by this in a good way.
    .
    Next step, we MUST have everything in place for the offseason before this season ends.

  14. It will take some serious changes to get me back. We were season ticket holders for 5 years and got fed up spending good money supporting an organization that, to us, appears to care more about the business of being a team. We went to one game this year and left at half time. And they only reason we went was because someone gave us the tickets.

    I like and respect Dave Rowan, and would like to see him take the helm. However, I fear that Sugarman is the real issue here and his white-knuckled grip on the purse strings things mean that things won’t change all that much.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      Sakiewicz has/had an ownership stake, however small. Unless the deal is than he keeps his shares, which would be unconventional but possible, someone, either the other owners as a group, Or a partial group, or one individual already an owner, or a ne owner coming in, … As I say, somebody, had to buy him out.
      .
      That is not likely to have been arranged in a day.

      • Small stake…my guess is that they spread it out among current ownership at the same percentage or brought in a new minority owner. Anyone know what his exact percentage was?

      • his deal to be CEO and have equity most likely included the club’s right to buy back the equity at an agreed upon price or formula if terminated as CEO.

  15. Funny how things go. I remember couple years back when we had a meeting with Sak, the coach at the time, and Le Toux. The talk then was of expanding the stadium and Sak showed us where the stadium could be expanded. That was when the stadium was humming and packed every game. Then the team got worse and worse and attendance and STH renewals dropped year after year.
    .
    I am glad that we fans have shown the FO (and owner) that we want to see a good product on the field. We do not want mediocrity (or something worse), especially since it is a long trek to Chester for many of us.
    .
    My hope is that the whole setup is properly evaluated and that things are put in place to make this team a serious contender, just as was promised to us 5 years ago. Just changing one man out will make this team not much different. Also, maybe Sugerman’s fortune has changed over the last several years and maybe he has a good bunch of money to be able to change things radically.

    • The problem with Sugarman’s wealth is that an inordinate amount of it lies in undeveloped land. I-Star has something like 30% of its assets in this category. Now, while land has stabilized and appreciated slightly since the downturn of ’08-’09-’10, it has rebounded nowhere near the same as revenue producing buildings such as multi-family, office, etc. Look no further than I-Star’s market cap, which is clearly the valuation that Sugarman financed the team with. In late 2006…$6.4B. Presently, $1.1B. Low of like $300M in late 2009. Ouch.

  16. This was a long time coming.
    I can’t think of anyone who has been as toxic to the Union organization as Nik Sak.
    His influence had so much to do with the erosion of trust between the fans and management, the team and Chester PA. and if the rumors are true the team its self and the front office.
    .
    Did he take heat for the decisions of Sugarman and company? Sometimes. But his assholish lack of tact make things worse?
    .
    Did he go off the reservation and meddle and undermine his coaches, players and staff? He did. We know he did. And we all saw the results of that.
    .
    Was there a PR element to his move? Absolutely. Team apathy was at an all time high. The team invested a lot of financial and emotional capital into the Cup match. But removing Sak isn’t like removing a coach it can’t be done overnight or by whim. This has been brewing for a long time. My guess is that Sak would have been fired in the offseason if it wasn’t evident that the fans wanted change NOW.
    .
    People say he was fired as a scapegoat for Sugarman and the ownership group. I don’t know Sugarmans motivations but I think Sak and Sugarman are two commingling but separate problems Nick has done more than enough to be shown the door. Besides at this rate there would have been no one left at PPL Park to protest next year.
    .
    Good Riddance Jerk.

  17. An open post to Mr. Sugarman.
    .
    .
    .
    Vision.
    Philosophy.
    Plan.
    .
    .
    Sincerely,

    —— Hope.

  18. This is THE BEST news I have heard since we got our team, YYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!! With all ‘due respect’ (SARCASTIC) to Saks, now please take your $ and get out of the organization too… UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION !!!!

  19. Checklist for Sugarman:

    1) Find a “Soccer Guy”
    .

    2) Give him all the resources he needs
    .

    3) Get out of the way

  20. What a phenomenal and amazing first step in the hope that this club can be what we all want it to be. Sak failed multiple times at his job, and we all know if we did that, we’d be fired. With him being part-owner, I just never thought it would happen. Everything is not fixed. But this is a start.
    .
    To me, assuming it wasn’t some sort of business decision, it shows that maybe Sugarman cares, and has some drive to be better. That is something that is vitally important. To me, you can fail at hiring the wrong guy or whatever, but if you want to be successful and you care, fans respond to that.
    .
    This could be a “1a” moment – next to only the founding of this club. Time will tell… BUT HEY – it sure as shit helped me get over Wednesday night!

    • +1, especially re: Wednesday night. I finally feel like i am able to read about it without putting my fist through the monitor and in to the cubicle wall behind it… or crying!

  21. There are some good points being made here and some off the wall stuff too. Overall I think this franchise needs to be better. The play on the field is just horrible. We have good players just no consistent formula for winning. Seems to me they would be better off with a coach that taught team work. Strategy tactics. Build up and attack!

    • We still need two hires. And this is the spot that is sticky and makes the next few moves so so important.
      .
      1. Public relations guy with marketing and business acumen and deep deep love of the game.
      .
      2. Sporting director to institute THE club wide Philosophy all the way down through USL to the 18s 16s 14s and 12s to the 9/10s and 8s and to the 6/7 PDP that Mr. Graham and the YSC family are grooming. This is Vital. This is ALL about philosophy and that tap root has to reach to the youngest players has to be sold and be explained in inordinate detail to the coaches across the board.
      .
      This is a massively important piece. If you are going to do this Mr. Sugarman…see it through. ALL the way through. God speed.
      .
      I see the VISION.
      I have a murky belief in the PLAN.
      .
      CLUB WIDE PHILOSOPHY!

  22. When I didn’t re-Doop, I specifically noted Sak was one of the reasons – that I didn’t trust him and, thus, didn’t trust the organization to move forward and create a great team. Can’t believe I was the only one.
    —-
    I am cautiously looking forward with optimism. (and thanking God that this was not a new Facebook hoax being circulated last night…
    —-
    Remember that the team was close to signing Bedoya and that, for once, the deal did not appear to fall apart because of our club. That, to me, is good sign moving forward – the willingness to spend.

  23. Looks like Jim and Chris are safe for next season, otherwise they wouldn’t have been mentioned. I’m on board with Curtin being next year’s coach…give him some depth to work with, a RM and a non-postup striker, and let’s see how he does. If he gets that though, I also want to see a more possession-based philosophy and attacking mindset / formation. Here’s the letter to season ticket holders that Union just sent from Sugarman.
    *
    “I want to share some news with you directly. We are making a change in the front office and parting ways with Nick Sakiewicz. In the interim, Dave Rowan, current Chief Revenue Officer, will oversee day to day business operations. Nick was instrumental in helping bring a team to Philadelphia and building our organization from the ground up, and we thank him for the dedication and perseverance he showed in those efforts and his passion for the club.
    *
    Now it’s time for a new era of progress to begin.
    *
    Last year it was apparent our organizational structure needed to change in order to provide a stronger and more focused sporting direction for the Union. Our plan was to bring aboard a Sporting Director with significant experience to add to the MLS knowledge of Jim Curtin and Chris Albright and help us materially improve our player acquisition processes, player evaluation methods and player development capabilities. In addition, we wanted clear lines of responsibility throughout the organization, with our Youth Academy, USL team, and First Team all reporting up to a strong Sporting Director with a clear plan and a defined competitive strategy to guide recruitment, training, and teaching at all levels.
    *
    Unfortunately, we have not been able to fill this role yet. We are committed to finding the right person for the Sporting Director position, and we want this person in place as soon as possible, to impact the upcoming player decisions needed to strengthen our roster and to oversee increased integration of all soccer operations. We are working to have this role filled by the end of the year.
    *
    In the meantime we have continued to invest in the foundation of the Club. Over the past two years, Ownership has committed over $15 million in capital to areas that we believe are critical to building long-term success. The new training fields, new First Team Training Center, new USL team, and increased Academy commitments are all part of a plan to put in place the infrastructure necessary for success, and set the table for better performance on the field. Now we need to attract a leader and an architect on the sporting side who can build on these investments and develop a strategy that will give us an edge in the league going forward.
    *
    One last, important, thing: I and the other owners want to assure you that we are committed to winning. We can also assure you that we will make mistakes – but we will acknowledge them, learn from them, and correct them until we succeed. Your loyal support as we enter this new era is critical, and we remain deeply grateful for your continued commitment as we make the Philadelphia Union a team we are all proud of.
    *
    My sincere thanks,
    *
    Jay Sugarman
    Chairman”
    *
    Good stuff. I like the verbage, now let’s see who we get to oversee the entire operation. We finally are looking at an upwards trend, at least in the meantime…

    • It seems to me that if Sugarman truly envisions the “Youth Academy, USL team, and First Team all reporting up to a strong Sporting Director”, then he must allow the new hire in that position to determine the status of the head coach.

      • Yes…but not this instant. Keeping the coach I think is important at this point.
        .
        That said I would be perfectly okay with the new SD telling Sugarman..if I say yes…I choose the coach. Then blow IT ALL up.
        .
        Continuity across the spectrum.
        .
        He is saying all the right things (per the letter) which bodes well. I just hope he has the proper pipelines/resources in place to vet and then bring in the right SD.
        .
        I also hope his sample size of STH is on point as well. Not bitching about the food and rain coming through the overhangs. Stay focused people.

    • Mr. Chairman, Thank you for the written up-date & “WELL DONE” on your decision. The change you made speaks volumes to your supporters, esp founding members like myself & son. We wish you all the best & continued support in the next step forward & hope for nothing but the best for the Union. Sincerely, 2 STH fr: Section 127. UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION UNION !!!

  24. From a business stand point, and from reading the quotes above I don’t think a lot of you get this. Any owner as long as they don’t own a majority of shares and they have a position in the company can be fired. It’s written into every single partnership llc agreement in the US. He (Sak)?couldve just been fired and his shares, which I doubt are more than 5% really mean nothing to the business. Also every partnership llc agreement has a clause stating if your fired from your position, how your paid by the company. Some are all up front (extremely rare) and most are spread out over time with payments, and 99% of them say if you are fired you can only sell your shares to the majority owner. Since Sugarman has an MBA and a team of lawyers I can’t imagine he has any less than this in any partnership agreement. So….rejoice all!!!! He’s gone! Ding dong the witch is dead!!!!!

  25. “We can also assure you that we will make mistakes – but we will acknowledge them, learn from them, and correct them until we succeed.”

    So, is letting go of Sak the first acknowledgement of a mistake? Are we indeed about to see a purge? I was trying to be positive above through political, industrial and sports related propaganda slogans, but may have unintentionally described a campaign within the Union ownership? Who will be the next Deng Xiaoping? Alan Mullaly? Jim Harrick?

    • I don’t know what Sugarman meant with that quoted text, but I took it as a signal that it’s a new direction for the club. Sak was absolutely incapable of even acknowledging he made a misstep at any time. Incredibly, he was trying to sell Mbohli was a smart business decision as they were trying to unload him after 9 games played. John Smalllwood said Sak called him after one of his scathing articles to argue he wasn’t as much at fault as Smallwood contended. If you can’t even admit a mistake, you obviously can’t learn anything from it. And passing the buck at the top is lethal to any organization. Sak’s biggest concern was Sak’s ego and public perception. I think Sugarman is spelling out it’s not going to be that way anymore. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

  26. Time to get rid of the whole coaching staff from the 1st team to the youngest academy team and bring in a German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese or Eastern European, coach trainers, that English , Irish, Scottish style of football is high school soccer on steroids

  27. Dan – This is a new one for me, was the Kansas City team originally slated to be moved to Philly rather than a new expansion? I never heard this before.

    • Yeah, it was discussed prior to the current SKC ownership group buying the team and keeping it in KC. It actually may have been discussed after expansion was originally considered, but I don’t recall the timeline.

      If I remember correctly, there was another group looking to buy the team and move it to the region — back when a stadium site in Glassboro was under consideration, I think — but the deal never went through. I forget the chronology/cause, but it may have been connected to the NJ state legislature making moves that killed the prospects for funding/tax breaks for a stadium in Glassboro. Caveat here: It’s been a while and I may not be remembering it correctly, and I’ve done way too much Internet research this week and don’t want to do any more. 😉

      • I’m not a historian, but from what I recall, I think you’re correct about the failed KC move and the Glassboro site. But anyway, does that mean we’d have an MLS title and 2 Open Cups by now?! Haha 🙁

  28. Dear Mr. Sugarman:

    Nice move. Your next one may decide whether there is a team in Philly at all in 3-to-5 years time. No pressure.

    If you’re not doing anything next Wednesday, fire up the chopper and head on down to the Kimmel Center…
    http://www.kimmelcenter.org/events/?id=5389

    Take notes.

    If you happen to see Sir Al, ask him how Rene’s doing and if he knows why Rene hasn’t returned any of your calls. Perhaps share a laugh over that whole Fulham relegation Rene helped with.

  29. the coaching staff are a bunch of amateurs they are the ones responsible with the preparations, tactics and fitness of players, the Union organization cant afford to pay anyone decent, you get what you pay for that’s why there in last place

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