Philadelphia has been left without a Major League Soccer franchise for the first eleven, soon to be twelve, seasons of the league’s existence. A combination of factors seems to have worked against the effort to complete the Atlantic Seaboard foursome. The metro areas of Boston, New York City and Washington DC all had investors in place in 1995 in conjunction with natural grass stadia, while Philadelphia could have had interest, the artificial surfaces at the Vet and Franklin Field weren’t conducive to the game, and both were already shared by multiple teams. The league skyrocketed at the beginning with curious viewers joining the hard core fans. DC United opened in front of 30,000 plus fans on a cold night in April 1996, despite losing their three previous matches, including an absolute drubbing at the hands of Brian McBride’s Crew at Ohio Stadium. Attendance is on a steady climb back up after a sharp drop. The league’s business model is well thought out and teams are starting to realize profits in their soccer specific stadiums. Yet, even though Lincoln Financial Field was sold as a stadium that could host soccer, it has only hosted “events” and Jeffrey Lurie appears disinterested in bringing a team to his stadium.
Philadelphia is a huge market for youth and adult participation in soccer and though we know all too well that participation has yet to equal attendance for MLS teams, it does make the case that the sport at the grassroots level has taken hold. Quantifying the level of support for a franchise is difficult at best, but if one uses the big soccer forum activity as a guide, the Philadelphia market clearly outpaces all cities that have never been fortunate enough to have an MLS franchise. Combined with Philadelphians fierce loyalty towards all things Philly, you have the perfect storm of support and passion knocking at the door of Don Garber.
Philadelphia would complete the league’s Atlantic Seaboard market penetration by having a franchise in each major city. There are pre-existing rivalries that would galvanize the new support and encourage travel between all four cities for away matches, further cementing the fantastic atmosphere that MLS supporters create in the stadiums. Imagine two thousand Philadelphia fans in Red Bull Park. Imagine the same number of New Yorkers in Philly. Philadelphians already travel to Mets games in good number, imagine a caravan and a dedicated seating for all Philadelphians and the noise we could create. The travel would be just as easy to DC’s Poplar Point or RFK and United’s fans travel in greater numbers than any supporters in the league.
Philadelphia is a win-win for the league. Mr. Garber we are knocking on the door. Please find an investor for this market, it is ripe for professional outdoor soccer.