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Why the Union can’t get past page D6

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

For those of you that missed the kerfuffle one month ago, that’s Union chief business officer Tim McDermott sounding off after the Philadelphia Inquirer buried coverage of the Union’s massive win against Atlanta United to retake first in the East. And it struck a chord with Union fans, who for once directed their dissatisfaction away from themselves and the Union and instead focused on the poor coverage the Union have received.

Granted, selling papers is a challenging business. And television programming no less so. But McDermott and the fans raise a valid point that the non-soccer media in this city has done next to nothing to provide this team with adequate coverage. This isn’t the media saying “we’re just giving people what they want,” because people are saying loudly and clearly that this isn’t what they want. It’s the media saying “we’re going to give the people whatever fits our preconceived notions of what they want.” (The fact that this attitude may be related to the challenges both the newspaper and local television industries face is a discussion for a different column.)

In part, this media blackout could be attributed to the personalities shaping sports coverage in Philadelphia. Kevin Kinkead, a man who’s qualified to speak on both soccer matters and the reality of newsrooms in the Philadelphia area, said on a contemporary episode of It’s Always Soccer in Philadelphia that “The Union could be the best team of all time, the Union could be Chelsea Football Club and they could be 17-0 and guys like Gary Potosky and Pat McLoone at the Inquirer would give a flying f*ck about soccer.” And certainly that’s a part of it. In the grand tradition of guys like that, they know what they want is what everyone wants, reality be damned.

But it would be disingenuous to pretend that isn’t the only reason the Union aren’t getting the coverage we want. A big part of why a whole lot of Philadelphia, media and potential fans alike, aren’t taking the Union seriously is the history that gave us all a sinking feeling Sunday night around 7:30. After the New England Revolution defeated New York City FC, opening the door for a fight for first at Talen the following weekend, the Union conceded a goal (and another) in a game against a team twenty points behind them in the standings.

Sure, it was the third game in eight days. But the Union chose a mid-week game rather than playing through the FIFA international breaks this season, a choice all MLS teams make for themselves.

Sure, it was the final stop on a grueling three-flight road trip. But the Union chose to shovel everyone onto commercial flights rather than paying for a charter to give the team more control over their schedule and more time to recover between games. Would the charter flight have allowed the Union to be more than the tired and disorganized mess we saw against Columbus? Maybe not, but the Revs took a charter for their mid-week game, and they won on Sunday.

So for all this year’s success, and all the promise that a home playoff game holds, is it really shocking that the city hasn’t gone all in on the Union? Because the Union still haven’t proved that this team is fundamentally different from the promising but disappointing teams of the past decade.

Yet.

27 Comments

  1. It really has little to do with the product on the field.
    .
    The team doesn’t culturally resonate in the city, I wish it did.
    .
    There’s little to no advertisement. Since game watches are so sparse the average Philadelphian gets little to no exposure to the team.
    .
    It’s an uphill climb to get respect in an established market. Orlando, Cincinnati, Seattle, Portland, etc benefit from a lack of competition from other teams (think some of those Sonics fans switched over to the Sounders?).
    .
    Even Atlanta United benefited from the Braves fleeing the city with their noses in the air.
    .
    There’s plenty of challenges here, but the team needs to do a lot more than complain incessantly that they aren’t accepted with teams who put in more work and dollars to ensure they resonate in the city.

    • Jim O'Leary says:

      This is a quality comment.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      Tim McDermott….”but I have the conch.”

    • At one of the fan interaction meetings earlier in the season Tim was saying it doesn’t make sense to put serious dollars into advertising until the team was winning. On one level that kinda makes sense, it’s a lot easier to sell a winning product.
      .
      But the more I’ve thought about it that starts to fall apart. Going by that, at least half the teams across the league shouldn’t market themselves heavily.
      .
      This year I’ve certainly seen billboards around town, can’t really tell if there are more than previous seasons, but they are visible.
      .
      I’m not sure I’ve seen ‘more’ advertising overall considering we were in first place for most of the season.

    • “There’s plenty of challenges here, but the team needs to do a lot more than complain incessantly that they aren’t accepted with teams who put in more work and dollars to ensure they resonate in the city.”

      This right here is perfectly stated. This quote should be printed on a poster board and prominently posted in the Union offices for all to see. From the start, those at the top of the Union chain of command have taken the position of “we’re here now, support whatever we give you or you suck”. (Remember Nick what’s-his-name’s response to a question about paving the parking lots? “Do you have a million dollars lying around?” Or the classic “give these people gold and they demand platinum” complaining about Union fans.)

      That’s not how it works. You don’t just show up and demand people follow you or they are bad people. You give them no choice by creating something fun and by demonstrating intent and ambition to build something worth following. Make them feel they are missing out on something if they don’t get on board early and come along for the ride. And yes, that may mean spending a few dollars on operations/facilities/rosters/coaching/front office staff etc, etc WITHOUT a 100%guarantee you’ll get that money back and then some in the end. In other words- {gasp} take a chance. It takes time (and sometimes thankless effort) to build a loyal audience.

      The team has taken some small steps in this direction to be fair. Much better run than under the Nick S. regime (colossal understatement). Hopefully a light bulb has gone off over at least one of the big-wigs that this year’s team is fun, competes hard, and yes is winning, and that has spawned several sell-outs at Talen. They may realize that further investment may make them even more money. McDermott’s whiny tweet is more befitting of the original Union management team.

  2. Another thing to consider:
    .
    The move from NBC Sports Philly to PHL 17 hurts the team as far as visibility. I know the argument at the time was, “people who can’t afford cable can watch the team!”. And there’s something to that.
    .
    But, it also moves awareness of the team outside of the periphery. Back when the team was on cable, you could go to a bar, and there is a good chance the Union game would be on TV, because it was on a cable channel that is always turned on. Outside of the Union, PHL 17 just broadcasts reruns of old sitcoms. It is never on in a bar. The lack of exposure in places where Philly sports fans meet is a problem.

    • Good point.

    • Scott of Nazareth says:

      The problem with NBC Sports Philly is that the games typically got kicked to NBC Sports Philly Plus; aka The Comcast Channel or whatever it was called, due to Phillies games or other live programming.

    • Being Supporter/fan in south Jersey it sucks not being able watch the Union on TV comcast not carrying phill17. I’m not willing to spend more money on MLS Direct Kick.

      • Get a digital tuner, PHL 17 comes in for free. I’m in South Jersey and that’s how I watch all of the games.

  3. It’s a tough chicken v egg argument. Does lack of coverage depress the turnout or does a lack of turnout depress coverage. I think the larger sports media does have a bit of a general bias against the sport. And in newspapers and TV shows, where ratings and circ are a problem, moods are not generous and reporting budgets not plentiful.

    I do think one bit of math that lands me more often than not on the argument that more coverage is deserving: When the Union sell out Talen — and you have nearly 20,000 people making a ruckus over the team — it warrants attention. 20,000 people at any spectacle whatsoever should capture more of the local media’s attention than the Union currently generate.

    • Scott of Nazareth says:

      Fair argument on the 20K, but if we’re being honest, that’s only happened recently this season.
      .
      I stated this in an earlier article, but they need a sustained run of success, peppered hopefully with a couple pieces of hardware, like the Flyers in the 1970’s. THAT will cement a generation of fans and attention will follow.

      • That first Cup changed everything for the Flyers. Philly fans were starved for a winner (the Phillies, Eagles and Sixers all sucked big-time back then). The Flyers delivered a championship, and they sold out the Spectrum for many years to come after that.
        .
        The difference now is the Eagles have come to dominate the Philly sports landscape. They don’t suck, the Sixers don’t suck, the Phillies don’t.., well let’s just say they don’t suck as bad as they did in the early ’70s. I’m not sure even a trophy would make a difference. Too many people don’t see soccer as a “major” sport. They treat the Union like they do the Philadelphia Soul. The Soul has won championships, but still nobody gives a flying flip about them (including me).

  4. Lets admit the media department stinks. The pre-game “show” is a combination of paint drying and grass growing. The production value is awful, how great is Fox NFL Sundays & anything pre-show WWE does. It keeps you tuned in and watching.

    Very rarely is there even post game show. Why?
    I always watch phils post-game live. Its entertaining and having Ricky Bo rag on the team is a big part of the entertainment value.

    How can the big boy channels and shows (ESPN, Sportsnet live, etc.) take you serious if you dont take yourself serious.

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    I think the local media gave the Union their 15 minutes back when the team started in 2010 and then they followed that up with a good year in 2011. To be balanced, the Union pretty much pissed away 2012-2016, when they could have really gained a foothold, instead they were god-awful and no one gave a shit, except the hardcores.
    .
    However in the article, the line, “It’s the media saying “we’re going to give the people whatever fits our preconceived notions of what they want”, is exactly what I think is going on. The weird, murderous hatred of soccer by some people in this town is genuinely bizarre. It’s not enough for the Eagles-only dopes to hate soccer, they feel like they have to make sure everyone else hates it too. This is the demographic the paper appeals to. Football is now 24/7/365 and they need to sell their papers. Like Kinkead basically said – the Union could be Chelsea and they’ll still be on D6, because old curmudgeons decided so.
    .
    Ah well… I like reading PSP MUCH MORE ANYWAY… and I “subscribe” to this page (via Patreon) and not a newspaper… so there! HA!

    • here’s something to consider: i support PSP every month. that’s $$$ more than the Inquirer gets from me. i know Tannenwald produces quality content but it’s hardly promoted by the paper. 6ABC can’t even dedicate content on their website. but, hey this station personality is having a baby! 6 sucks at presenting this as much as the Union do.

      i support those that support my interests.

  6. Scott of Nazareth says:

    You can pretty much write off most of the baby boomer generation as fans, beyond of course those few “pioneers” out there who formed and established a lot of the local clubs, and Boomers for the most part control editorial content in the media, but that is slowly changing.
    .
    Gen Xers depending on where they grew up had access or were at least aware of youth soccer in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and at the very least are the first generation of “Soccer Moms” and “Soccer Dads”.
    .
    Millenials over the next 5-10 years will soon begin to hit the marketing sweet spot of twenty to thirtysomethings with plenty of discretionary income that advertisers crave. These kids grew up where youth soccer participation was just as common as little league or pee wee football. They’ve also grown up with MLS being around and with Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga widely available.
    .
    Probably another 10 years yet before the Boomers are in full retirement mode and out to pasture – and along with them the view that “nobody cares about soccer”.

  7. Raymond L Davis says:

    I have written local Fox channel and they did not even give me a response, so guess what just a lack of respect and careing

  8. Tim Herring says:

    It’s an easy, two-word answer (coined by someone else on these pages last year): infuriating mediocrity.

  9. There’s an overwhelming bias in coverage which needs to change. I cannot believe no one has mentioned the sports radio stations. A lot of it has stemmed from them. They have warped the genuine fan into thinking there are and can only be 4 Philly teams. It absolutely blows me away that the Union don’t get mentioned. And I don’t even mean them talking about or taking a call on the Union. I know there’s not enough of an audience for them to go that far, I get it. All I want them to do is mention the Union during their sports updates (which they do every 20 minutes!!!). It takes 5 seconds, simple…”the Union host NYC this Sunday in their regular season finale”. That’s it, no more. I guarantee you there will be one or two who will look into the team just based on hearing that. I can’t help but think it’s deliberate by these stations to ignore them. It’s totally ignorant. The Union need to call them on this. The Union are a “Philadelphia” team playing in a professional league….And please don’t compare the Union to the Soul. MLS has 24 going on 28-30 teams. The Arena football league has 6. Enough said.

    • I think WIP does mention Union scores during their updates? I know KYW does.

      .

      Either way, you’re right.

    • UnionGoalU says:

      To carry your point further, sports radio caters to fans. Organize a call in by Sons of Ben ( oops-my autocorrect wants to use the un-pc phrase for once!) , get people calling and they won’t ignore.
      Often radio stations share buildings and personalities with local tv–it will pick up from there.
      Also social media helps—similar to radio, organize tweetathons, and jump on those media sports personalities—many jumped on the uswnt bandwagon over the summer, showing there is interest. If their fans want it, they’ll post more.
      UnionGoal

  10. The owner has razor wire in his pockets. The only silverware they own is at their dinner table. They succeed at failing to qualify each rare time they’ve had a chance to snatch a CCL qualification. The fans do more Union advertising with our scarves and shirts than they do. When critically needed they couldn’t score in a whorehouse or provide more coverage than Straight Talk.
    .
    If they squander their chance yet again this Saturday against NYCFC for getting at least 2nd seed and a great shot at the CCL, they deserve to be relegated to the business ad section for ticket sales. Like casinos and lotto tickets, people don’t expect to win big prizes most times, but at least occasionally there must be a sweet and satisfying payoff for getting and keeping public interest. Winning beats losing…rocket science as it is in Philly sports and a foreign language so far in the Union organization.

  11. In Tanner We Trust says:

    Minds are changing, but it’s gradual. During last year’s world cup, just about all of my friends believed this is a football town that doesn’t need a soccer team and that soccer is for flopping wimps and all those stereotypes. Fast forward one year, and several have embraced the sport. I still have friends who are stubborn, but I have a brotherhood with a few now. It’s nice not watching games alone anymore, so I’m happy.

  12. No one has mentioned the elephant in the room. Stadium is in Chester. Nowhere to go and nothing to do before or after the game. Nightmare to get on and off 95 at that exit. Nightmare to exit parking lots. No realistic public transportation options.

    The other 4 major sports are in Philadelphia with a bevy of entertainment options pre and post game, multiple ways to access the stadiums via public transportation or car. Notice I said “other” because I consider MLS a major sports league and the Union on par with the other 4 major pro sports teams in Philadelphia. But until the stadium location issue is solved, Union will always be on the periphery for the vast majority of the population. And since that is the case, they get far less media coverage than the other teams. Doesn’t matter if they win.

    • Bonus for media–all coaches, managers, players from 4 sports in one spot, makes it easy and cost-effective to cover.
      There does appear to be more local coverage when soccer played at the Linc.
      Good point, Mike.
      UnionGoal

    • Tim Herring says:

      Mike you are absolutely correct. This has been one of many mistakes the Union ownership has made and continues to make. Why on earth would this team not play at least 3 or 4 matches per season at the Linc? Why was that big match against Atlanta not played at the Linc? Answer: the ownership has no creative thinking and yet is continuosly rewarded with ticket sales. That’s why I did not renew my season tix last year.

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