Analysis / Feature / Union

A bigger Subaru Park? Temper your expectations

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

News last week from the Philadelphia Business Journal that the Philadelphia Union is working with its design firm Gensler on options to expand Subaru Park reignited a favorite pastime of Union fans since Subaru Park (then PPL Park) hosted its first game on June 27, 2010 — how and when would the Union make Subaru Park bigger?

Less than a year after that first game, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jeff Gammage interviewed then-Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz about a proposed expansion plan. Sakiewicz described an initial plan to expand the stadium from 18,500 seats to 20,000, and later phases to push the stadium to 27,000 and eventually 30,000 seats.

Sakiewicz noted several factors that could prevent that plan from coming to fruition, most notably the economy. But as the nation’s economy continued a steady rebound from the Great Recession and interest rates sat near zero percent for much of the decade following that story, no effort to expand the stadium took place.

How Subaru Park compares to other MLS stadiums

At a normal game capacity of 18,500, Subaru Park is the fourth-smallest stadium in the MLS. It ranks ahead of only Sporting Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Park (18,467), the Colorado Rapids Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (18,061), and San Jose Earthquake’s PayPal Park (18,000). Inter Miami’s Chase Stadium sat 18,000 but the arrival of Lionel Messi saw temporary stands constructed to expand capacity to 21,550, and the team is constructing a new venue, Freedom Park, with a reported capacity of 25,000.

Subaru Park’s 18,500 can be pushed as the club has set new attendance records each of the last three years above that mark: 18,575 against Nashville SC in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semi-finals, 19,222 against Toronto FC in the final 2022 regular season home game, and 19,535 against Inter Miami in the 2023 Leagues Cup semi-final. Those instances required special circumstances, and overages are often a reflection of standing-room-only ticket sales.

Reality of expansion

What would the Union need to do to bring Subaru Park up to merely the average MLS stadium size in 2024? The average capacity of a soccer-specific* stadium is 22,320, which would necessitate about a 4,000-seat increase in seating at Subaru Park. That might not sound like much, but it’s the equivalent of the entire seating capacity of the scoreboard end of the stadium currently.

Any expansion of that size (or greater) could be addressed by the construction of a second deck, but Subaru Park’s location along the Delaware River, and its proximity to the Commodore Barry Bridge limit the ability to add a true second deck to the stadium. The River End of the stadium sits only 140 feet from the river and at its nearest point, the stands closest to the bridge, sit 90 feet away. The average ground length of a section in Subaru Park is about 70 feet, and anyone who tried to drive 495 past Wilmington from 2014-15 should know what putting too much weight next to a bridge can do.

The scoreboard end of the stadium presents its own unique challenges: The scoreboard would have to be removed and placed elsewhere, and the Stadium Club could continue to exist with stands extending above, but those stands would be above the height of the existing roof along the sidelines. Any support structure behind those stands would also encroach on Seaport Drive, which can’t be moved due to its proximity to the site’s rail tracks.

The plaza side of the stadium presents the best opportunity for a true second deck. Plenty of room exists around the plaza for a support structure, and the plaza itself could shift back toward the new fields the Union have built if the club wants to keep it. Changes would need to be made to the roof structure of the stadium and the challenge of the press box above the suites also exists, but there’s at least room to build.

This sort of asymmetrical design isn’t common in the United States, but St. James’ Park where Premier League Newcastle United FC play has an elevated stand along one sideline and end line. Mendoza Stadium in Argentina is a bowl design but also features an asymmetrical design with more seats along one sideline than the other. Given the redesign of the press box, suites, and roof structure along that side of the field, this too seems like an unlikely solution to adding capacity.

Subaru Park’s expansion option 

Ultimately, the best way for the Union to add the seats needed to reach the average size of a soccer-specific stadium in the MLS will be several smaller changes throughout the stadium and one big change on The River End.

At present, The River End isn’t connected to either sideline and the stadium is essentially a horseshoe with a cap on the end in the Sons of Ben’s River End section. Closing these connections to bridge the gaps between sections 140 and 101 and 133 and 134 would complete the bowl and add an opportunity for more seating. Connecting The River End to the rest of the stadium would require a complete overhaul of that end stand as the pitch of sections in The River End is different from those of the stadium and the gaps aren’t large enough for a full section to naturally slide in without creating view obstruction.

A reconstruction of The River End would create a wide range of new seating opportunities for the club, and allow for modernization and expansion of the facilities that currently exist under those stands — the home and visiting locker rooms, equipment maintenance and uniform rooms, press conference facilities, and Tunnel Club.

Anyone who has sat in The River End also knows those stands are significantly elevated. Although the Union could keep an elevated stand and open the lower walls for sunken premium field seating like we’ve seen added to NFL stadiums such as AT&T Stadium. Though, as a photojournalist who spends half a game there, these suites are the bane of our existence and the last thing I’d like to see any team do.

The River End also has the most room to build up and maintain a support level that’s equal to the rest of the stadium without extending too far toward the river. While a true second elevation would be a challenge, simply extending The River End seating to the same height over the existing footprint of the locker room and Tunnel Club could double the seating capacity in that area.

Outside The River End of the stadium, additional seats can be gained in the stadium corners.

Above sections 114 and 113 and sections 120 and 121, largely unused portions of the upper stadium concourse could support additional seating that could add about 300 seats on each side of the scoreboard end of the stadium without an obstructed view. Similar corner expansions could be made with a connection from the main concourse to The River End.

If those corner additions add about 1,200 seats in total, connecting The River End to the main stadium an additional 500 seats, and capacity in The River End increases from about 2,300 to 4,000, then the Union can reach a 22,000-seat capacity efficiently. With additional upgrades to suites and field seating areas, the further 300 seats to reach the league average is well within reach.

According to the aforementioned Philadelphia Business Journal article, the club is evaluating nine different plans for expansion. Undoubtedly, some of those plans will come with a price tag the club balks at but reaching a capacity that puts the club more in line with the other soccer-specific stadiums in the league doesn’t require tearing down and starting over — or overhauling the qualities that make Subaru Park unique. The club would benefit immensely from an even denser supporters section (which looks small compared to more modern stadiums like BMO Field or CityPark) and can create more revenue opportunities from a complete wraparound concourse.

While none of the plans Gensler has been asked to produce would be acted on before 2025, the economic conditions for construction couldn’t be more different than they were the last time expansion received serious consideration. It’s fun to dream about a bigger and louder stadium that’s already one of the hardest, if not the hardest, for visiting teams to play in. We’ve been down this road before, so it might be best to temper expectations.

*For this analysis, football-first stadiums — Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Bank of America Field, Lumen Field, Soldier Field, Gillette Stadium, and BC Place — were excluded because they reduce their capacity for soccer games but can increase to dramatically larger capacities at will. Toronto’s BMO Field was included despite hosting CFL games because its MLS capacity is larger than its football capacity. Yankee Stadium was excluded because playing in a baseball stadium remains laughable.


  1. If you’ve been to any of the newer MLS stadia (eg LAFC, Nashville, Columbus, Cincinnati) you’ll know that it’s not just the size but the quality of those stadia that leaves Subaru Park in the dust. They all have wider concourses, better food and beverage options, higher quality suites and clubs and – most importantly – real roofs that amplify crowd noise.

    Hard to see any of that being accomplished in Chester.

    • “They all have wider concourses, better food and beverage options, higher quality suites and clubs….”

      Better food and beverage options is something the Union could accomplish… it’s an issue of desire and will. And imagination (of what could be). All of which is severely lacking.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Went to Columbus last year for the Union away game there. That stadium is incredible. Didn’t wait in a line except for the one bathroom one time. There are bars/food outlets every 10 steps. They’re everywhere. It was a very nice place to see a game.

    • Eric Boyle says:

      Went to see the away game at FCC last year. The stadium was great and has everything you mentioned plus a parking deck next to it. (Skyline chili dogs – yum!) Not that you need to use it because there is a free downtown shuttle that drops you off in the park where fans gather pregame.

      Most of our parking is unpaved and turns into a morass if it rains – like this Saturday! I would hope improved parking would come with any expansion, but my feeling is both are a pipedream absent a new investor.

    • how many of those stadia are in ugly post industrial inner ring suburb hell holes that nobody wants to spend a single second in?

      cause that’s the real problem

      the union playing in chester is embarrassing

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    I was also at the Final in 2022 we shall not speak of in LA. That stadium is also awesome. Similar to Columbus/Cincinnati, it has a quasi-roof on it and it just echoes the sound so well. It was MLS Cup but it was SO LOUD. Other than the result, a great place to see a game too.

  3. I would be pleasantly surprised (shocked) if Keystone Sports expands The River End. When Nick S spoke of PPL Park Expanding nearly 15 years ago, the main thing he highlighted was adding premium seating (suites).
    That’s an area that Subaru park is lagging behind the newer stadia in MLS. With the need for all of the stanchions at the concession stands, the concourse is painfully too narrow now.
    You highlighted a ton of great points!
    IMO, if they could move the stadium club to the side facing the bridge, and put suites below it and the Media deck above it that would open up a good space to add seats where the club now sits (plus additional suites), and would eliminate some of the obstructed view seats. Then put the scoreboard above that section as it is now.
    As for The River End. I would like to see them modify it a bit, with a steeper rake and install safe standing railing with fold down seats like at Orlando’s stadium and The Crew’s new Stadium. Then they could put a beer garden /outdoor bar above/behind TRE. This would also allow for fans to leave the stadium in an easier fashion after games
    IMO, the big obstacles for the Union in any expansion/modification of Subaru park are not obstructing the views of the River and the Bridge. Those are the main two attributes that give Subaru Park it’s charm, and seperate it from other venues in the league.

    • the idea of giving up ownership to rent directly contradicts what they have just accomplished with the Sportsplex. They are no longer renting (I assume they paid rent for the academy’s schoolhouse and the use of the facilities at YSC), but are in a position to rent out now and take in money rather than sending it out.

      • If they were paying rent at YSC, which they probably were, it was out of one pocket and into the other. Pretty sure YSC is owned by Richie Graham who owns most of what Sugarman doesn’t.

  4. Just a thought, cut your loss’ with Chester and Subaru Park. Rent from the NFL stadium (like ATL and SEA). Plenty of space and suites, much better parking and food options, and much easier to get to.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      So you want them to go with a stadium that is a MUCH worse place to watch a game than where they currently are?
      And maybe it is much easier to get to for you but not necessarily for everyone. And it is much harder to get out of the parking lots at Lincoln Financial, especially if there is a hockey, basketball, or baseball game getting out at the same time.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      @Con – Yeah definitely don’t do that. If you aren’t outright building a new stadium, and I’m not advocating for that, then you must do some renovation to the Soob, for sure.

    • Vince Devine says:

      Worst idea to date!

  5. Zizouisgod says:

    My understanding from someone who worked on the design and construction of PPL/Talen/Subaru was that The River End was engineered to be able to support a second deck above it. However, that could be completely false, Kyle, as you’ve done a pretty comprehensive dive into that scenario.

  6. 1. Any construction plan must maintain the ability to play games during it.
    2. Move plaza activities across the street, next to Yards, for example.
    3. Move the press box and Media facilities to the top of the second deck once construction of the second deck is finished. You have o leave them on that side of the stadium so cameras are broadcasting with the sun behind them.
    IMO, Nothing will happen until the Sportsplex is finished and beginning to produce revenue, and until the losses from the pandemic have been recovered.

  7. Missed Opportunities:
    Little know fact, Union had out option in Chester after yr 10 if in bottom quartile of attendence, which they were. Should have taken it, if not originally, and build 22-25K seat stadium with Temple, split the costs, (as Temple pays $10MM+/yr to use the Linc and doesn’t get any pkg/concession revenue) and build staduim in city accessible by the subway.
    PS orignal missed opportunity was 30yrs ago not getting team and building stadium at the Garden State Park, as all the infastructure was already there, and the NJ transit drops you right on the doorstep. Duh

    • Vince Devine says:

      Didn’t have a team (or league?) 30 years ago.

    • Eric Boyle says:

      Nice thought but a city stadium had many issues as Temple found out. Temple’s plan to build a 35k capacity stadium on campus stalled in 2018. They just renewed the lease at the Linc in 22 and dropped plans to build on campus.

      • Yes, when they were incurring 100% of the cost, tough sell. Half sounds a lot better, no?

      • Eric Boyle says:

        Half of $100 million? No.

      • Lot more than that. Subaru was $200M 15yrs ago. $3-400

      • Eric Boyle says:

        Temple’s 2018 plans called for a $130mm 30k capacity stadium. I grant you actual build costs would inevitably be higher, but the point is moot because they never got past the opposition to it. Hard to see Union partners raising $200mm in any case.

  8. I don’t see how they can add a single additional seat to Subaru Park without first doing something about parking. The lots are poor, moving people in and out of them is currently a mess…

    I don’t know what the solution is – more land for parking, some innovative public transit options, boats up and down the Delaware…. I think they’d be better served in the city, though I know that’s likely never going to happen.

  9. Al DiMarzio says:

    I did not renew this year because the only way to get my seat in 134 from lot C was to use a walkway along the river end. They eliminated the walkway last year. Forcing me to walk all the way around the stadium to get to my seat. Despite a gate being located in the n.e. end that’s never been used except for exiting. They haven’t fixed that. They’ll never improve any of it. They are only cash in, not out.

    • Would have never had western Philly suburbs attend in Jersey

      Parking isa mess , we go out Highland Ave . you have to leave at the 88th minute to geta head of the newbies who dont know how to go home

      You should be able to walk throgh the complex on game day and not on the River,, A few more portable lights ot turn on the complex lights

  10. As mentioned above, Adding seats will exacerbate the deplorable parking situation. This should be addressed in any planning discussion.

    Also, the crowded concourse. If they add seats where will they add bathrooms and food services? The concourse was poorly designed from day one with all the destinations on the inside forcing traffic to cut through lines (OK, the folded food lines helped), but the bathroom lines are already terrible. Where are 4000 more men going to ___? (My wife gives Subaru Park kudos for adequate women’s facilities!). Speaking of poorly designed, a good design for a men*s room would have traffic in only
    one direction – in => do your thing => sinks => towels => out. duh!!!!

  11. Lost of comments on main concourse, but few mention basic underlying issue that causes the situation. Majority of stadiums have a RAISED main concourse as they dig DOWN (and have field below ground level) as it most cost way to build. However next to the river, wasn’t an optio, so have to have field ground level and build up, so concourse on field lwvel not above like most elsewhere. Proce you pay for river view. Worst part besides size, is you do NOT have ability to view field from main concourse level, i.e. while in line for concessions like many other stadiums.
    PS went to Nashville for game ly and they are in the hood and access much worse then Subaru.

  12. Lots of comments on main concourse, but few mention basic underlying issue that causes the situation. Majority of stadiums have a RAISED main concourse as they dig DOWN (and have field below ground level) as it most cost way to build. However next to the river, wasn’t an optio, so have to have field ground level and build up, so concourse on field lwvel not above like most elsewhere. Proce you pay for river view. Worst part besides size, is you do NOT have ability to view field from main concourse level, i.e. while in line for concessions like many other stadiums.
    PS went to Nashville for game ly and they are in the hood and access much worse then Subaru.

  13. In all fairness to Subaru Park, the seat views are pretty good throughout, which is the point, i.e., watching the game.

    Putting the stadium in Chester was a mistake, but it’s not like putting one in the City has been successful for anyone else. Plus, I like the team being an “outlier” from the Philadelphia stadium hub even if I would love some of the pre- and post-game amenities.

    I also agree with most, if not all, issues with the stadium (THEY DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE PARKING SITUATION) but we need to remember that it was built at a time when most clubs were sharing stadiums and single use soccer stadiums were just starting to happen. In this case, we highlighted the only things we had, the bridge and the river.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *