USL - Bethlehem Steel FC

Tim McDermott on Bethlehem Steel FC in the Lehigh Valley

Feature Photo courtesy Philadelphia Union

Working through Union Director of Communications Ryan Schwepfinger, PSP submitted a series of written questions to Union Chief Business Officer Tim McDermott. Mr. McDermott responded with written answers, which we have published here, unedited except for punctuation.

PSP: Does the organization remain committed to Bethlehem Steel FC playing its home games somewhere in Bethlehem, Bethlehem or Allentown, or Bethlehem, Allentown or Easton on a permanent basis in the foreseeable future?

McDermott: Our time in Lehigh was fantastic, and if we could find the right facility that met USL requirements and was good for our fans, we would love to get back to the Lehigh Valley.

Ever since we began play in Lehigh, we have had ongoing conversations with various existing venue operators as well as city and county officials about how we could find or improve a stadium that would provide our fans and team with an incredible venue. Since the USL mandated our move out of Lehigh University (due to the lack of lights) we have been in discussions with several venue operators. We have continued our dialogue with Lehigh University officials about the possibility of lights. We have also spoken to other universities and other stadium operators to see if their venues would meet USL requirements and if they would be willing to serve as our host stadium.

PSP: Is it yet appropriate to ask whether a concrete timeframe for such a permanent return can be envisaged?

McDermott: We have ongoing dialogue with venue operators on a weekly basis. We would like to return as soon as possible but it all depends on finding a suitable stadium.

PSP: Have USL and USLC supported efforts to have two home games played in 2019 somewhere in the Lehigh Valley? Without necessarily naming names, has a potential venue or venues for those two matches been identified?

McDermott: USL officials have supported the idea of playing two games in the Lehigh Valley. We would love to do this and are working diligently to find a stadium. We have identified several games/dates that we would be interested in playing in the Lehigh Valley. But, at this point, it is more about the stadium operators getting comfortable with the idea.

PSP: Again, without naming names, has the potential venue for the permanent return to the valley been narrowed to one candidate?

McDermott: Not necessarily one candidate – we are considering several and continue to talk to representatives from each of those venues.

PSP: To what degree is a soccer-specific natural grass venue being emphasized in the search for the permanent home?

McDermott: There are many elements that factor into the important selection of our next venue. Natural grass as a surface is one of them, since we want to provide the best development experience possible for our players. Other factors are the fan experience, and then, of course, USL-required items such as pitch lighting, capacity, and field lining. But as I mentioned, it is also a question as to if the stadium venue operator desires to host a third party in their stadium.

PSP: What specific necessary field modifications prevented Bethlehem from finding an acceptable Lehigh Valley venue in time for the 2019 season?

McDermott: The primary issue was the lack of lighting at Goodman Stadium. There are several requirements that the USL has in terms of venues: capacity, lighting, field size, no sewn-in turf lines or must be painted over, etc. Each venue that we analyzed upon finding out we could not return to Goodman Stadium was unable to be modified in time for us to play there this season.

PSP: The Steel Soccer Schools worked well in 2018, sufficiently so that an extra one was added towards the end of the season. Will they continue in 2019?

McDermott: We are evaluating these programs.

PSP: How have 2018 Bethlehem season ticket holders responded to the offer free tickets for the 2019 season in Chester?

McDermott: We are optimistic that the former BSFC season ticket members will continue to come to Talen Energy Stadium. We recognize that it is not an ideal situation for those fans but as I have mentioned, we are trying to find our way back to the Lehigh Valley. We are also providing Union season ticket holders with a free Steel season ticket.

PSP: Is it likely that the two home games to be played in the Lehigh Valley in 2019 will occur on dates when the Union and the Steel are scheduled to play at the same time?

McDermott: The USL schedule will undergo modifications as a result of the release of the MLS schedule and building conflicts. Those updates should be announced soon. We are working on setting up some Talen Energy Stadium doubleheaders. We think that will be a really cool way for fans to experience our MLS and our USL club in one sitting, and we’re excited to try it out and see how it works.

PSP: Will the two hoped-for games in the valley this season be associated with charitable fundraising in any way?

McDermott: Our organization is certainly committed to helping the community. Our Union Foundation is currently undergoing a transformation, and if there is a way to integrate Bethlehem Steel FC, we will certainly consider it.

PSP: This season, in the event that Bethlehem playing at Talen soon after a Union game would damage the pitch unacceptably, is an emergency alternative venue in place?

McDermott: The pitch underwent a full replacement over the winter – it’s healthier and stronger now than ever before, and we are confident that it will hold up under both Union and Steel FC games. With that said, it is something we will monitor closely.

PSP: Does Lehigh Valley Health Network remain the primary jersey sponsor?

McDermott: Lehigh Valley Health Network remains a partner of ours in 2019 and they want to support the team long-term. With the team playing in Chester temporarily, they have adjusted their marketing program and will not be on the 2019 jersey. LVHN has been a terrific partner and has also been understanding of the situation. We are working alongside them as we look for a long-term solution in the Lehigh Valley.

PSP: This season, are elements of the team’s front office operations still located physically in Bethlehem?

McDermott: With the team playing in Chester temporarily, the team’s front office operations are also temporarily based out of our Union front office in Chester.

6 Comments

  1. thanks for the update, Tim (Jones).
    curious about the kit sponsor. can’t find anything announcing that or what is (if any) replacing it.

  2. Scott of Nazareth says:

    Ditto on the thanks Tim! Although it may just be lip service, this did raise my level of optimism a touch that BSFC isn’t completely dead and buried.

    I still think a partnership arrangement between BSFC, the casino, Musikfest, Lehigh U, Moravian College & Bethlehem Area School District, could/should create a facility in the Steel Stacks area that would be a benefit to everyone.

    • Bring Steel Back to Bethlehem says:

      “I still think a partnership arrangement between BSFC, the casino, Musikfest, Lehigh U, Moravian College & Bethlehem Area School District, could/should create a facility in the Steel Stacks area that would be a benefit to everyone.”

      Again, respectfully, this is not happening. Things can always change but the odds are probably better that I start in goal for the Union over Blake in the season opener.

      Goodman is still the best option and probably the only option. Yes it’s “on the wrong side of the mountain” but it’s large enough, has natural grass, is a stadium people in the Valley know, it’s got the parking lots to tailgate, it’s relaxed enough that The Forge can do smoke and stuff, and now it will have a brand new press box. The only problem is the f’ing lights. Lehigh is very tight with spending and lights are not in the cards right now.

      Thanks for the article Tim. It’s really going to suck when BSFC starts playing matches in a month and I’m [and others] aren’t there.

      • I have no idea of your life circumstances and the parameters they impose.
        .
        I live in West Chester, it took an hour and twenty minutes one way. On Sunday afternoon it was an easy drive.
        .
        I fully understand that an hour and a half after a night game means a late night.
        .
        I will try to determine the stadium clear-out time after the first home match in some fashion, together with the attendance and make the info public if I can.

      • Scott of Nazareth says:

        Reluctantly I do agree that it’s unlikely to happen, but still think having a place for events like that would be something the casino would want in the area…

      • Scott of Nazareth says:

        Also agree that Goodman is and would be great if they’d ever install lights there.

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