Fans' View

Fans’ view: Take me to the river (if maybe 10 miles more north)

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Union

A few weeks ago I was on the PATH train back from Newark, graciously seated after touring the city with my soon-to-be-Ironbound-resident brother, my thoughts wholly serene with the lingering scent of barbeque. We were on our way back to Jersey City with some usual stops, Harrison followed by Journal Square and finally to Grove Street. As the train crawled into the first stop in Harrison, we were struck by a platform stuffed with unfortunate sky blue jerseys mixed in with a sea of red. The New York derby had just ended, the home team winning 4-0 — a fact I looked up on my phone just to gauge the mood of all the fans stuffing the train. The blues were in better spirits than expected, the reds probably not wanting to brag as much as they should (it was 2-0 within five minutes from kickoff).

It was shortly after I couldn’t move my legs that I was struck with a deep and probably petty insecurity: “Damn, I wish we had this.” I dreamt of jumping on the El over by 46th Street station with my friend Brandon, riding the El over to the Girard Street stop, walking over to Frankford Avenue and crossing Delaware to an 18,500 seater stadium right on the Delaware River, joined by a crowd of other fans, maybe some I meet on the El and make temporary friends with. A stadium packed to the top rows, filled with travelers from around the city and those from within the city who, in the real word, have a hard time getting to Chester.

In the real world, this plot of land is now the Sugarhouse Casino, which was built despite great protest from the residents of Fishtown. I could only imagine how more difficult it would have been to a build a soccer stadium there. Plus, without the investment or ownership of Comcast, building a stadium near South Broad would have been impossible.

Now, I know that historically, the formation of a-Philly area MLS team was first proposed in Trenton, NJ, and later in Glassboro, NJ, and that what is now Talen Energy Stadium was constructed in part with taxpayer money from both Delaware County and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but I think the major tactical error of this franchise was not doing everything possible to build a stadium in the city. This might be an unfair or harsh criticism of the ownership and investors. I certainly do not know what roadblocks they ran into assessing a site within Philadelphia, but I also think there may have been an underestimation of what an urban location would do for the fans of the city.

According to attendance figures from the MLS website, the Philadelphia union were 19th in total home attendance during the 2017 season. Average attendance last season was 16,812. Now, some context: the Union have the smallest stadium capacity in the Eastern Conference at 18,500, and if every team in the East sold out all 17 home games, we would always have the smallest attendance. Still, the Union only outdid Columbus Crew for attendance in the East. Some further context: these statistics do not differentiate paid attendance from physical attendance at the games. As you may see from being at Talen or from television, there are definitely not 16,812 people at most Union home games, there are scores of empty rows dotted with clusters of friends and family, with plenty space to stretch and lean on empty seats.

I can only daydream of a packed, urban stadium with crowded pubs outside the ground, but I would also be imagining an almost completely different team from what we have now. The Union would have needed investors and owners with deeper pockets to get a stadium built in Philadelphia, which would also mean a greater investment in talent on the field, with perhaps more than 2 playoff appearances and maybe we would have won one of those Open Cup finals. We could have had a passionate fan base outside of paying Sons of Ben members, an urban fan base riding the El or Broad Street Line to and from a rowdy home fortress.

As it stands now, we have a tepid stadium without a shopping center, a stadium which houses a mediocre team with flashes of competence (at time of writing we have won 2 games in a row), but also houses concerts and other sporting events for Delaware County residents to enjoy. The Union have also developed their training facility and two practice fields right outside the stadium, which probably could not be said for my hypothetical Fishtown Union.

Ultimately, an urban stadium verses a suburban stadium is a fun and petty thought exercise, and while I do think an urban stadium would have been better attended, the low attendance now is not only the fault of a stadium in Chester.

Fans will make the journey for a team which is competitive, a team in a playoff spot, a team in cup finals. I would rather see a Philadelphia Union fighting for trophies than fighting for its own relevance.


  1. The Truth says:

    If the team was in the city it would have stolen the hearts of many more Philadelphians when the rest of the sports teams sucked. That is a plain fact and will haunt the organization forever. This club is doomed in Chester. Chester isn’t Philly and it never will be. The only hope is that we get a club in Philly and the Union become the Chester Union. That’s the sort of rivalry I’d love.

    • “The only hope is that we get a club in Philly and the Union become the Chester Union. ”

      Lol that would never happen. More likely Union buy out the lease and move into PHilly.

  2. Kevin1813 says:

    I recently attended a game in Cincinnati and I had the exact thought, “I wish we had this”. The two supporters groups each have a bar that they go to before the match for several hours. They meet at the corner of a street filled with restaurants and bars due to their closeness to the University of Cincinnati. Combined, they march half a mile down the middle of a residential street to the stadium, small tifos flying with clouds of orange and blue smoke everywhere. People look out the windows of their houses, watching the spectacle. They meet at a statue outside the stadium and try out new chants for 15 min. After the game the stadium empties back out to the bars and restaurants where fans spend hours talking about the game, the sport, their club regardless of wins or losses. People interact, see new friends, and make new ones.
    Meanwhile, despite having one of the finest public transit systems in the country, we drive down to the stadium. We tailgate in the concrete parking lots staying near our car or in the SoB lot. At a certain point near game time we all head in. After a normally frustrating 2 hours, we head straight back to our cars, only interacting with other Union fans with a head nod or honking our horn when cut off. While Cincinnati fans build their community, we sit in our cars waiting to get out of Lot B while exhaust floats into the air. Finally we escape back to the city or our suburb of choice, unlikely to bump into each other (other than our close friends) except by some freak chance.
    Say what you will about wins and losses or the garbage quality of the Union. What little community exists around this team has happened in spite of the organization, not because of it. Thanks to every one of you who try to build this community, it’s a testament to all of you that we are have any community at all.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    Devil’s Advocate.
    Allianz Arena is upwards of 20 minutes from downtown Munich… one could argue they are doing fine with a stadium on the ‘outskirts’ of town.
    Here’s an idea, lets stop using the stadium location as an excuse.
    You, me and every other footy fan in filadelphia wishes the damn stadium was on the south end of Penn’s Landing…
    ….but its not. as I recall, the place was electric before The Blight settled in.

    • philsoc8 says:

      Couldn’t agree more. If the team was consistently strong, so would the attendance.

      Anyways, if the stadium wasn’t built in Chester, it wouldn’t have been built. The more interesting question is how would the Union have fared at the Linc?

    • They have a subway station at the stadium in Munich. If we had that in Chester (and no, an hourly regional rail train doesn’t count), then we could talk.
      Examining the teams at the bottom of the attendance list…
      #23 – DC United – no real home games yet
      #22 – Columbus – they have their own issues
      #21 – Dallas, #20 – New England, #19 – Colorado, #18 – Chicago, #17 – Philadelphia, #16 – Salt Lake – all suburban stadiums. Also, #14 – NYRB and #12 – SKC.
      The only suburban team in the top 11 has Zlatan playing for them and is the most decorated team in MLS history. So yes, maybe we should be at least partially blaming the stadium location.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Double Devil’s Advocate

      “…the low attendance now is not only the fault of a stadium in Chester.”

      Just. Read. Better.

    • Wouldn’t exactly say its the same thing.

      Yes it is outside of downtown Munich, but it has its own stop on U-Bahn (like Septa but way better). You can get on at Marienplatz or anywhere else in the region and train with a few thousand fans right to the stadium. Plus after the game, there is an after party in the stadium (which serves beer post match) with live music so everyone doesn’t rush to the trains.

      Also – it’s FC Bayern – not exactly the same as MLS.

    • Kevin1813 says:

      As everyone else has said, if there was a subway station right outside the stadium that could get everyone to the stadium from City Hall in under 30 minutes that would change everything.

  4. santo bevacqua says:

    built it and they will come……all the dreaming of a city location is no guarantee of good attendance. We need a better product. Stadium is right at 95 with plenty of parking and things have improved since the first year, talen stadium can be expanded if need be.

  5. As a fan who lives in Delaware I love that it’s not in the city and a PITA to get to. If it was in the city I would had stoped purchasing season tickets by now. It’s enough to deal with the performances of the team. No way I could add that kinda traffic to the list. So to each their own

    • Kevin1813 says:

      Maybe you would have stopped getting tickets, but maybe you would have had so much more fun on game day that the drive would have been worth it.
      And this isn’t meant to insult our fans from DE, but for every DE fan the Union would have lost, 5 from the city would take their place.

  6. I was a full-season ticket holder from the beginning til 2015.I live in NE Philly. I originally took the regional rail and shuttle bus to the games. I loved taking the train there. Coming home was the problem. Since the regional only ran about once an hour, i was usually waiting at Chester Station about 45 minutes for a train to Center City,and by the time i got to 10th and Market,a lot of the regional trains to NE Philly already made their last run into the NE.Did the Fado shuttle bus a few times,not sure if Fado still runs it.It was very fun.Has anyone did the Union shuttle buses from Center City this year? Would like to know details on how it went.

  7. Section 114 (Former) says:

    If the team didn’t suck the place would be full. Yes, it would be more Delco/Chester/NJ residents than people who live in Center City. So what? People from Center City who want to go to the game could do so.
    The Phils sold out when they were good (and to explain this year, when people expected them to be good). After a period of suckitude, it takes a few years to rebuild the momentum.
    But the problem isn’t the stadium or the location. It’s that a full house of fans were turned off by mediocre activity by ownership. Again and again. And again. And again.

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