Commentary

The missed opportunity in hosting Swansea City

Photo by Paul Rudderow

We all know what summer friendlies are. They’re not about prestige or testing the team or establishing Philadelphia on the world stage. They’re about making money, and honestly that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Given the choice between making money and not making money, fans and accountants can both agree that making money is the better choice. So there’s no reason to complain that the Union are playing a meaningless friendly in the middle of the season. The whole league does it, and any team worth its salt from anywhere in the world has friendlies at some point during their year. So the idea of a friendly is nothing to get upset about, even if not everyone gets excited about it.

There are fringe benefits too. Bringing in a “famous” foreign team can draw new fans to the stadium, showing them a game day experience they might not have considered if the big name team hadn’t come to town. That’s an opportunity to convert new fans, get them to come out for games that actually matter, and ideally become fans of their local team. That’s money for the future, which is almost as important as money for now.

But Swansea isn’t “famous”. Granted they are (still) a Premier League team, but they aren’t exactly known for their loyal American fanbase. While you’ll find the colors of Arsenal, Bayern Munich, or Barcelona in many pubs on a Saturday morning during the European season, Swansea’s white rarely makes an appearance. Maybe it’s due to their being caught in the promotion/relegation tumbler. Maybe it’s a result of not many Americans having been to Swansea. Maybe it’s simply because not many exciting players ever wind up in Wales. Whatever the reason, they simply don’t register on most American’s radars.

So if the purpose of a friendly is to make money, why are the Union not going after the most money possible? Big European teams draw big crowds, and big crowds mean more tickets sold, more concessions consumed, and more money being made. Real Salt Lake understands this. Despite being in one of the smallest media markets in professional sports they host Manchester United a few days after the Swans come to Chester. And they don’t even have the same pool to draw from that Philadelphia does. While less than 1% of the US population lives within 15o miles of Rio Tinto Stadium, over 12% lives within the same radius of Talen Energy Stadium. That’s a huge pool of fans they could draw from, but instead of going for a big payday the Union seem to have settled for just making enough to keep the lights on.

It doesn’t even have to be a European team to really go for the money. Many Liga MX teams are in pre-season right now, and the friendly between Club América and Puebla appeared to be well attended. Why not bring in Chivas de Guadalajara, or Monterrey? They’re big name teams with a fanbase whose money will spend just as well as the Europeans.

Maybe this team was brought in during the unfortunately short tenure of Bob Bradley. In a world where he was given the time and resources to succeed, the buzz around the Swans could have been about a team on the rise lead by an American coach. It would be an interesting slice of the growth of the United States as a soccer nation, and hitching the Union’s wagon to that rising star couldn’t hurt. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and Bradley was shown the door after just eighty five days. Granted there were three months between him losing the position and the announcement of the friendly, but presumably the work to schedule the friendly started well before the announcement. And anyway coaches don’t draw fans the way players do. Few fans are going to the MLS All Star Game excited to see Zidane. They’re there for Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and (ironically Welsh) Gareth Bale.

So there’s no reason to get mad at the Union for hosting a friendly. It’s good business, and good business helps teams succeed. But it’s hard not to be disappointed at them not making the most of what could have been a much more lucrative opportunity.

20 Comments

  1. Yep. At least if they were playing a Big Four club, I could find someone to give my ticket to.
    .
    I still think a Bimbo Cup would be a better use of the exhibition game — bring in other clubs sponsored by Bimbo in Liga MX or Central America. You’d get a lot more new eyes on the Union than you do playing some Premier League jabroni.

  2. Swansea and the Union. The perfect match. They deserve one another.

  3. The Chivas friendly a few years ago was a great event.. There is a big mexican population in the area and they really showed up for their team. Lots of fun

  4. the episode in which Archer and Lana went to Wales was pretty good

    • My middle daughter loves Archer! She confirmed its a great episode. I’m of the mind that if you market these friendlies right they can draw good crowds. I’ve been following Bournemouth since they got promoted. Then they played a friendly with the U. Its a money grab for sure! But needs better promotion to generate ticket sales!

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    Union should be playing Club America. Pachuca. Cruz Azul. Chivas. etc.
    .
    These clubs draw enormous crowds and as a secondary benefit prepare the team for CCL games which would all be part of my greater Vision. Philosophy. Plan. Winning that tournament over any MLS Trophy.
    .
    Really… who gives a rip about Swansea? Crystal Palace?
    .

    • Agree.

      I wonder how popular Serie A teams would be. Saw recently that Italian is still the second most spoken and written language in New Jersey after English. Juventus would obviously draw, but Roma, Lazio, Napoli and Milan might be interesting, too.

  6. Jon Conibeer says:

    The Big teams are never going to come and play at Talen energy stadium with only a capacity of 18,500. If they do come to philly it would be at the linc. and then it would be out priced for most families for a decent ticket. For Manchester United’s game in DC is over $100 (more expensive than any at Old Trafford) for a nothing game where they will change all the players at half time.

  7. pragmatist says:

    You have to remember that the other team has to say yes. So we could ask MU/CFC/AFC/Barca/Real/etc., but they need a reason to say yes.
    .
    Don’t forget that MLS pulls many strings. If Don and his minions don’t think we deserve a big club, we don’t get a big club.
    .
    Personally, I don’t get excited about a Liga MX team playing, but that’s mostly because it’s a friendly. You could resurrect the 1970’s Cosmos and I’m not sure how excited I’d get for it. If it was preseason, yeah. But in the middle of the season, it’s irrelevant.

  8. Phil in Wilmington says:

    “Maybe this team was brought in during the unfortunately short tenure of Bob Bradley.”

    THIS. I’m willing to bet the deal was sealed back then and after his firing it was more difficult to undo than do. Given the size of the front office staff and the logistics involved, securing such a fixture at an early date allowed the club ample time to get the logistics sorted. Besides, a summer friendly with a successful in the Premiership Coach Bradley might have been a draw for folks who geek out about US soccer development or have ties to his days at Princeton or MLS, especially if along the way he had brought in an american prospect or three… *sigh* what might have been.

    Chalk this up as yet another reason to want to piss in the beer of Swansea ownership. they sacked Bob and stole our summer friendly.

  9. There’s a reason you forgot to mention.

    Swansea is co-owned by Jason Levine, who owns D.C. United. And Crystal Palace (who we played last summer) is owned by Joshua Harris who owns the 76rs.

    While I agree that Bob Bradley might have been a part of it, I think it has to do more with local Sport Team owners helping each other.

  10. Benjaminho says:

    My fav summer Union friendly memory: 2013 Stoke City; Matt Kassel leaving his feet on a terribly timed tackle, injuring Brek Shea forcing Shea out of the match and effectively out of Stoke City plans for the Prem season, due to the MCL injury. Kassel booed by his own fans for injuring the GWG scorer for the USMNT in the recently completed 2013 Gold Cup. Comments post game from Stoke manager…lolz.

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