My take on MLS expansion in Philadelphia

Good morning all.

As you read recently on SBI, Major League Soccer is preparing to announce Philadelphia as the league’s 16th franchise and, with that in mind, I thought it was a good time to take a look at Philly and what the city will be bringing to the MLS table.

Here is my story on Philadelphia expansion for ESPN.com. I found it very interesting that there are so many long-time MLS fans in the city, fans who rooted for either D.C. United or the Red Bulls/MetroStars who are ready to root for Philly’s new team. Add that to the instant rivalries created by D.C. and New York and these are elements that will help a Philly team be a success right away.

Those of you who have read SBI for a while know that I have backed Philly as an expansion city for a while now and I’m still convinced that it will be a big hit. After working on this piece I am even more convinced.

League officials are putting the finishing touches on the announcement, though I am told the league’s Board of Governors has yet to put its stamp on it. Could this lead to a delay? Sure, but just like the Seattle expansion news (which you read first on SBI and which wound up being delayed by almost two months), Philadelphia expansion is happening. In a league where simple trades wind up getting delayed by a week because of red tape, it isn’t a surprise to see such a major announcement getting stuck in the MLS mud.

Here is a question. What will you be looking forward to the most about a Philadelphia expansion franchise? Visiting a new stadium? Enjoying a new rivalry? Having an excuse to travel near Atlantic City? A chance to have some quality cheesesteaks?

Share your thoughts below.

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63 Responses to My take on MLS expansion in Philadelphia

  1. Josh says:

    Philadelphia seems like a great city to have an MLS team. The people of that city always embrace their teams. My question is — and forgive me if you’ve covered this before — but does the talent pool exist for expansion? Seems to me that it’s already spread really thin. Just wondering.

  2. I live in NJ and support RBNY and will continue to, but I work in suburban Philly, and there is quite a passionate fan base here, and several of my co-workers are talking about season tickets already. So I am really looking forward to the rivalry.

  3. I am sure the Sons of Ben and the team’s fans will welcome all of those from South Jersey who want to cheer on the new Philly team. Those from North Jersey are simple SOL.

  4. J says:

    this will be HUGE for MLS and soccer. To see the rivalries that will be created with Toronto, RBNY, United, and the Revs, will surely raise the bar. Also from a “sports in America” perspective, it makes no sense why you would field a team in Salt Lake City before Philadelphia. Now we have all the major markets covered and the eastern conference, if the format stays that way, will truly be a fun battle to watch.

  5. Jonathan says:

    I think that MLS choosing Philly over St. Louis is just another case of east coast bias… I think St. Louis would have been just as good of an option as Philly with the natural rivalries between KC and Chicago, and the homegrown talent it could provide with what one could see as an academy and reserves team with SLU right downtown… I think MLS has made a bad decision- it may prove to be more profitable in the short term, but I think in the long term MLS should have chosen a soccer die hard city such as St. Louis and forge a longterm commitment. San Jose, Seattle, Philly do not equal hot beds of American soccer. St. Louis does…

  6. Derek (Brooklyn) says:

    I grew up in Philadelphia but have lived in New York for 5 years. I’m an MLS fan but have never identified with another team. Though I have some favorite players and pull for any MLS team against a team from another league, it will be great to have Philadelphia Athletic/Independence to pull for.

  7. Derek (Brooklyn) says:

    Jonathan,
    I definitely support St. Louis getting a team but I think you should be careful suggesting that it’s the only “soccer die hard city” around.

    Anyway, Philadelphia was chosen over St. Louis because of its size, not a regional bias. Larger cities = more people watching on television.

  8. Lee says:

    “I think that MLS choosing Philly over St. Louis is just another case of east coast bias…”

    It’s actually pretty simple, Philly is the number 4 market in America and St. Louis isn’t in the top 20. Plus Philly had the backing and the state funds, which I don’t think St. Louis had in place yet.

  9. @Jonathan:

    I would take a look at Philly’s soccer hitsory and NCAA programs before you make such a statement about its love for the game. And there is an east coast bias, yes, in the sense that the eastern sea board is way more populated than the mid-west. Its just simple math that is relfected in the martket numbers mentioned by Lee.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Market size doesn’t gaurantee a profitable team… I know this sounds cheezy, but a team in st. louis would be adored, like a Newcastle of America

  11. J says:

    the numbers don’t lie. You can’t place a team some place because of history. I don’t hear any calls to bring back Bethlehem Steel. Philly is a top market with a large population, end of story. Toronto did not have great fan support for their USL team through out that history, yet check out those crowds for TFC. If anything, you should be more upset a team was awarded to San Jose who have no concrete stadium plan and will be playing @ a college field most of their games. I still don’t get that and its very disappointing.

  12. Mike says:

    Jonathan- St. Louis can’t even put together an investor group so there are obvious flaws to the StLou proposal. I say move the Wizards over there, but hey that’s me.

    Pretty exciting that there are only 108miles between Chester, PA and Harrison, NJ. And about the exact same number between Chester and Poplar Park. That should help bolster a fan base within that 225 mile span. 1.5-2 hour drives are more than doable for most people and especially for youth clubs and school programs.

  13. RK says:

    I’m torn. I grew up for 7 years in Philly, so I’m a Philly sports fan, but when MLS came I had been in DC for 12 years. It’ll be interesting to see how my allegiances lie…

  14. Breton says:

    Lived in and around Philadelphia my whole life and I could never wholeheartedly support RBNY or DCU because of the distinct possibility that Philly would one day get its’ team. Damn is it going to be fun driving to and from DC/NY for those Atlantic derbies.

  15. brian says:

    mmm….fc cheesesteaks…

  16. Brian says:

    I will enjoy an excuse to leave my mother-in-law’s house when we visit because it’s less than an hour from Chester!

  17. David Weinstein says:

    Not really an MLS fan, as Ives knows, but I’ll tell you what: I will get season tickets and cross the bridge to Chester for every home game. Philly has been aching for a return of the outdoor game and the fan base is here. The suggestion that the team won’t be adored is preposterous. When you get MLS-haters like myself pumped to watch, in person, every home game, you can bet there are those who have been following MLS in the region who are hot to do the same. The youth market / game in Philly suburbs, on both sides of the river, is enormous. That alone would be enough, let alone the lifers like myself who’ve been playing for decades, waiting for the pro game to come. Regardless, it will be good for Chester, which needs all the help it can get.

  18. THE Nick says:

    Lets get one thing straight, Ives. You want a quality cheesesteak, you go to Piccolo’s in Hoboken (high quality meat, fresh cheese, nice crispy bread). You want a crap piece of bread loaded with low quality meat and some over processed cheese, you go to Philly. I’m stickin with Piccolo’s.

    Carry on…

  19. Kim says:

    THE Nick,

    A real cheesteak is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Sure there’s low quality ingredients, but that’s the charm. If I want Angus steak I’ll go to an actual restaurant.

    On to Philadelphia, as a DC area resident that grew up in South Jersey, I’m so excited on different levels. The United fan in me is excited to travel home to see United games on a regular basis, but I’m also stoked to see a deserving area get a team. Ives ESPN article hits the nail on the head as to why this will work.

  20. bring mls to queens says:

    Philly is great now we need a team in nyc to complete great rivalries throughout east coast. Queens, please wilpon!!! I have spent half my life sitting on the cross bronx expressway, I WANT MY TIME BACK!!

  21. iki says:

    This will be something that wil put Philadelphia back where it belongs. People always talk about St. Louis’s rich soccer tradition and history, but they often forget that Philadelphia has just as rich a tradition.

    Bethlehem Steel FC moved to Philly and became Philadelphia FC. In case you don’t know Bethlehem Steel FC still holds the record for most US Open Cups (5).

    Also the first Soccer Specific Stadium was not constructed in Columbus or St Louis, it was constructed for Bethlhem steel FC almost a century ago: Steel Field, a European styled ground that still stands today.

    See this thread for more:
    link to bigsoccer.com

  22. Alex says:

    Does this mean that the “Sons of Twain” or whatever the St. Louis Supporters will be called need to step up and get media savvy like the Philly Sons of Ben and get some press and coverage to push their bid over the top? Seems like St. Louis die-hards need to do just that.

  23. AT says:

    So, will the Atlantic Cup become a three-team trophy?

  24. J says:

    iki….AWESOME POST. Love the history lesson this early in the AM…

  25. DCBird says:

    I grew up outside of Philly, and I can’t wait to travel up I-95 to Chester to see DC United whip on our new rivals to the north! Beating New York game in and game out is getting a little old, y’know? (Kidding, of course!)

    Seriously though, I’m looking forward to bringing all my old friends who still live in the Philly area to the games, and heading out for panzerotti and beer after the game.

  26. Marc says:

    I’ll be moving back to my hometown of Philly this fall, and there’s no question I will be buying season tickets for the team. I have dabbled in pulling for the Revs several years ago, and now DC United since I’ve lived in DC the last few years, but it won’t be hard to fully get behind my real hometown team.

  27. South Jersey Gino says:

    I am excited about an MLS team playing within a half hour of my home and plan on getting to as many home matches as possible. However, aside from the Sons of Ben, I think it will be a struggle to get strong support from your everyday Philadelphian after the initial excitement subsides. I apologize for the generalizations, but philly is not the most worldly of cities (and according to a recent magazine poll, not very attractive or educated). Its sports fans, although feverishly loyal, exude all the anti-soccer traits that have slowed the acceptance of the beautiful game in this country. To them, soccer is a slow, low scoring, boring, communist sport played by a bunch of sissies. Like most cities, there are a handful of great pubs to catch a european match. But try getting an MLS match on a tv in average bar over a dogshow and you will quickly learn that while there is room for Bon Jovi’s indoor football team in philly, soccer may be a different story.

  28. inkedAG says:

    Yum….cheesesteaks…..

  29. Joamiq says:

    Definitely looking forward to having a new team and a new set of fans to abuse. Sons of Ben have always had the advantage of not actually having a team, so there was nothing to say to them except… that they had no team. But another rivalry will be awesome. MLS can always use more juice. And Philly can always use one more team that doesn’t win championships.

    As far as visiting Philly, I’ve got to back THE Nick on this. Maybe this is blasphemy and I know I’ll never win this argument against Philadelphians (except for the one who actually brought this up to me of his own volition last weekend), but I think there are better cheesesteaks in Jersey. I’ll take a cheesesteak at Hoagie Haven in Princeton any day over Pat’s (bleh) or Jim’s (not bad). Geno’s doesn’t even enter the equation for me. Then again, the team isn’t actually going to be in Philly, so this is moot.

  30. kpugs says:

    I’m just looking forward to having an MLS city close enough to north Jersey that I should be able to make it to every away game in Philly.

    I could care less about visiting the city, unfortuntely. Been there before, and it kind of sucks. But having friends down in south Jersey just outside Philly makes this expansion even better for the group of fans I go to games with.

  31. Frimp says:

    Agree it will work but will face similar challenges existing MLS teams in big markets face…that said, great move all around. For now I look forward to hating another Philly team. PS your so-called “cheeseteaks” are as overrated and unappealing as your sports teams, let the trash talk begin so we’re all crazy by 2009…(playing, of course, but they are)

  32. scott47a says:

    To say that St. Louis has a history with soccer greater than that of Seattle is a mistake, Jonathan, and shows a lack of education.

    But the truth of this situation is that the guy who is pushing a St. Louis franchise doesn’t have the deep pockets required as MLS tries to push to the next level. This isn’t just about wanting to have a team, a lot of places want to have a team. The people that want to have a team must have enough money to be able to lose dollars for a few years as the league grows and adds fans, sponsors and better players.

    Once St. Louis finds someone with deep pockets, it will quickly move to the top of the list. If it doesn’t then other places like Miami, Atlanta, Phoenix and Las Vegas may end up ahead of St. Louis too.

  33. Binks says:

    Before everyone goes off rimlicking Philadelphia and the fact that they’re getting a franchise, they’re also getting the equivalent to kryptonite in Nick Sakiewicz. If they get anything it will be 50 promises with 8-12 weeks or 60-90 days ad nauseum.

    I think the league made the safe decision by working to get Philthadelphia in but it was the wrong decision.

    Given, I’ll most likely have a partial season ticket plan there for all of the RBNY games but I don’t agree with safe being right.

    If St. Louis wasn’t chosen its because Chivas is moving there. At least that’s what I think.

  34. Q says:

    I will echo the sentiments of many on this board… I spent 24 years of my life hating DC teams, now I am a DCU supporter/season ticket holder. How am I supposed to cut ties with them? I feel like a traitor to my city right now. I will have to not do anything until the first Derby with DCU. I will know whom I am rooting for by the feelings I get during the game. Truthfully, I’m pulling for Philly in my heart. Let’s hope!

  35. Matt says:

    @Joamiq: South Jersey is world renowned for their cheesesteaks! **sarcasm**

    The arguments that the Philadelphia will not support a soccer team for whatever reason is just absurd! Do you realize that this area (Philly & suburbs, South Jersey, and Delaware) has the second highest concentration of youth clubs in the nation next to California. There is a yearning for pro soccer in this area that neither DC United or NYRB could satisfy. This team will sell out even past the initial honeymoon. Plus, the 18,500 seat stadium virtually guarantees sellouts!!!

  36. RK says:

    One nice thing about being a DCU fan, along with the other Philly sports teams, is that I actually had a championship-winning team for once in my life :)

  37. Mike Caramba says:

    I think it’s great that the fan base played a role in the decision here. I think MLS could find figures about youth soccer participation or yuppie mothers or college students or whatever, to substantiate a claim of “established fan base.” But I can’t really argue with the 1500-strong Sons of Ben. Great for the city, great for the MLS.

    Next step–look at the fan base in Portland, Oregon! Their supporters club is already bigger than almost any in MLS. Follow the precedent set with Philly, put a team in the city that should have gotten the Pacific Northwest slot, and bring (arguably) the greatest rivalry in the A-league to MLS–Portland-Seattle.

  38. kidsqueya says:

    “quality” and “cheesesteak” do not go hand in hand. You do know that they put cheeze whiz on that shizniz, don’t you? ;)

  39. reid says:

    Steve’s Prince of Steak is the only one that matters. If you want me to take a crap in a bun and mark it Jim’s I will, i’ve got time

  40. KingSnake says:

    I look forward to The Sack screwing up Philly as bad as he did the Metros …

  41. Tom Wizard says:

    You that are bashing Jonathon for his “east coast bias” comment don’t understand that this is something those of us who live between Chicago and LA deal with all the time. That being said, STL should be the next place MLS puts a franchise. It has always been a hot soccer town, and has been for over 30 years.

  42. Ski Fast! says:

    I’m a member of the Sons of Ben and I am one of those who has been an avid fan of the league (attending a number of matches) for a number of years. However, like several locals, I have never called any club my own due to the fact that there was no Philadelphia team. I am very delighted that I can now finally call a club “my own.”

  43. EASTLACHIVA says:

    I’m looking forward sharing to sharing a beer with the Sons of Ben a the Home Depot Center parking lot.

    Mad props to Philly, their fans, and the SOB’s.

    Vamos Chivas!!

  44. Ski Fast! says:

    Whoever mentioned Hoagie Haven is right about how amazing that place is. I’m a Philly guy, but I venture up to Nassau Street every so often to grab a delicious hoagie. One point of contention, though–I wouldn’t classify their steaks as cheese steaks, per say in the purest sense. They are more aligned with hot hoagies, or as I say, straight up goodness on a roll.

  45. Derek (Brooklyn) says:

    Tom Wizard,
    Correcting is not the same as bashing. I grew up in Philadelphia & have lived in Seattle, Iowa, and New York. I am in favor of St. Louis being franchise #17. But charging “east coast bias” in this case is without merit. Market size was clearly the deciding factor. If you simply exchanged the population of the two cities, St. Louis would be getting ready for an announcement right now.

  46. Scott A says:

    Question for anyone familiar with the area. Is Chester a decent location? I don’t mean is it affluent there, I don’t think that’s important. Is it close to the city center, easily accessible, etc? Any thoughts from Philly natives on the location would be great.

  47. Nordy says:

    I’m just excited to get to spend some time in Chester, PA! It’s a delightful little town!! So quaint and picturesque…

  48. Jonathan says:

    I never implied that Seattle didn’t have it’s own soccer history and tradition, but I think that you’re hard pressed to find one as deep and rich as that of St. Louis’ it’s just sad that I have to watch teams in San Jose, Columbus, Salt Lake, and now Philly, when I know that St. Louisans would become a more dedicated fan base than all of the above cities. And I do believe that very strongly.

  49. Charlie Armstrong says:

    Geez, Nordy. You made diet coke come out my nose! Delightful Chester!

    I’m looking forward to the team and plan on getting season tickets. I just hope they don’t name them something stupid.

  50. scott47a says:

    Jonathan,

    I don’t doubt St. Louis’ love of the game. Glad to hear you offer the same respect for Philly and Seattle (where more than 12,000 people have already put down earnest money for season tickets for a team that doesn’t start play for 12 months. Let’s see the Sons of Ben match that.)

    Any super-wealthy Paul Allen-types in St. Louis that you can get behind the project? That insurance/used car salesman you have pushing now just isn’t going to get the job done for MLS, I’m afraid. Any chance you get a Busch involved?

  51. Kevin B says:

    Scott A:

    The stadium will be around a 10-15 minute drive on 95 South from Philadelphia Int’l Airport (which translates to about a 25 minute drive south from Center City). Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be any train/mass transit from Center City to the new stadium.

  52. Tim F. says:

    1. Enjoying a new rivalry

    2. Visiting a new stadium

  53. Tim F. says:

    For those of us who don’t know Chester, can you profile it for us?

  54. Jonathan says:

    scott 47A… you’re a little correct in that it’s dumbfounding how some of the old money in st. louis hasn’t ponied up to put a team here, considering the potential and the ridiculous amount of money that some of these people have… I just wish that the MLS insiders (who are obviously more biased to having teams on the coast) would have taken a more hands on role in drumming up interest with potential St. Louis buyers… I mean even Ives kind of gave a passive look to St. Louis and a more active consideration to Philly in his articles… I know it wasn’t intentional but it kinda sucks knowing that there won’t be a team in my hometown… I mean i’d sooner fly to London to catch a game than seattle, and that’s the truth!

  55. Dan says:

    I have a 6-year old son who loves soccer, and taking him to MLS games in the Philadelphia area will be great for him and the hundreds of thousands of other youth players in the Delaware Valley who are just like him. I agree with one of the posts here that people outside of Philadelphia are grossly underestimating the influence the youth soccer clubs will have on attendance figures. I am assuming that the core of the new owners’ business model for attracting fans will be to market heavily to all of the local youth clubs. I have no doubt that the presence of an MLS club will cause the Philly youth club scene to explode in growth. Also, Philly is not a city with only a few soccer pubs. They are everywhere in Center City and they are always packed.

  56. papa bear says:

    I’m mostly excited about seeing yet another team who will win a title before RBNY/Metrostars win one…anyone I do enjoy the verbal gymnastics attempting to explain away 12 years of futility.

  57. Mikebsiu says:

    Phillly is blue collar town, no one is going to support soccer in this town. It lacks large immigrant groups that largely fill mls stadiums.

  58. j mac says:

    professional soccer in philly won’t fail. there’s way too much ethnic diversity, a huge soccer community, a mature soccer generation of thousands who played 10, 20 30 years ago who know the sport and have their own kids who play, and a convenient location right off a major interstate that will be easy to get to. south jersey and delaware will draw significant numbers as well. with about 4 million people within an hour’s drive, who cares about eagles fans and phillies fans — there definitely is a place for soccer to succeed in philadelphia.

  59. South Jersey Gino says:

    Dan:

    Other than Dark Horse, Tir Na Nog and Fado what other pubs regularly show footie games in Philly?

  60. Scott A says:

    Thanks Kevin B. I suppose it doesn’t sound too bad, not as bad as the location of the Miami team.

  61. Soy United! says:

    Another team that D.C. United will own a la New York/New Jersey…

  62. We’ve won as many cups as you, Red Bull, Red bull.

    We’ve won and many cups as you and we don’t have a team!

    (well THAT chant is about to change!!!)

  63. kofi_x5 says:

    How about the Philly ‘Busters’ ?
    For all the “ish” talkin y’all doin
    RBNY can’t wait to jump you in the MLS gang