Over the past few months, there have been whispers that the North American Soccer League (NASL) have had their sights set on the Philadelphia region for the installation of yet another franchise in the United States’ second-tier of professional soccer. More recently, those whispers have grown into murmurs as Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com began to report that a group of investors, mostly from overseas, has found the potential for success in the nation’s fifth largest media market.
Here’s what we know so far; Spanish side SD Eibar of La Liga, who recently competed in a friendly match against the Philadelphia Fury of the American Soccer League at Rowan University’s Richard Wackar football stadium, would like to establish a connection to the American soccer pipeline, and with a minor league team already established in Philadelphia, they may have found what they consider to be a perfect match. Eibar, in town for the friendly, drew the Fury 1-1 following the completion of their La Liga campaign, in which they finished 14th, staving off relegation by finishing four points clear from the relegation zone.
Tannewald has also reported recently that there are a couple of potential mystery investors, one from the United Arab Emirates and the other coming from Las Vegas. While an ownership group that includes a Spanish first division side, an oligarch from the UAE, and a mystery man from Las Vegas (editors note: PLEASE BE WAYNE NEWTON), sounds more like the set up for a tasteless joke, there is no doubt that these parties could have the revenue stream to take on such a venture. The remaining party could be the current owner of the Fury, Matthew Driver, who also doubles as the CEO of the American Soccer League.
The Philadelphia region has been waiting for the arrival of professional soccer What makes this possibility curious is that Philadelphia currently plays home to Major League Soccer side, the Philadelphia Union, whom, since their inception in 2010 has been gaining steadily in popularity, wiggling it’s way into the mainstream of the Philadelphia sports landscape (editor’s note #2: Please don’t bother to argue that soccer will never be popular in Philadelphia. Their average attendance exceeds that of the Sixers during their last playoff season. Look it up). Despite the increase in the Union’s current popularity and the popularity of the sport in the Delaware Valley, a second professional soccer team in the region might not be the best of investments.
As they say in the real estate industry, location is everything. One of the chief complaints of Union supporters is the team’s location in Chester, PA. It’s home in Chester in a way disconnects the team from the city, and could have been a factor which has contributed to the slow acceptance of the Union as one of the major sports teams in the city. Perhaps, if the Union built their home on the old foundation of the Spectrum, it would have been welcomed a little more warmly by the Philadelphia sports fan. In order for a second pro franchise in the Philadelphia area to be successful, that team would likely HAVE to be within the city limits, as close to South Philly or Center City as possible. Unfortunately, if Philadelphia does land an NASL franchise, they would likely play in Glassboro, NJ not Philadelphia. Making that move even more of a head-scratcher is the fact that Glassboro sits a mere 18 miles from Chester, and would put not one but TWO professional franchises within blocks of Route 322.
If the Union didn’t exist, the move to Glassboro would actually make a bit of sense. For one, it was initially scouted as a potential landing site for the Union before Chester was decided upon. Also, Glassboro has been going through a transformation of epic proportions around it’s crown jewel, Rowan University (Go Profs!), with revitalization efforts taking place throughout the area. Although there will likely be talks of a soccer specific stadium being had in the coming months or years, Rowan University does have a stadium that would meet the seating requirements of an NASL franchise, in it’s 5,000 seat Wackar Stadium. If a new stadium is considered, there is plenty of open space to place such a venue with ample access to major roadways, including Route 322 and Route 55. Lastly, Gloucester County, where Glassboro is situated, is considered to be one of New Jersey’s fastest growing counties, with ample room to continue the sprawl.
There is just one problem for a potential NASL franchise in the Philadelphia region: The Union DO exist, and just because THEY are gaining in popularity, does not necessarily mean that the sporting public’s desire for multiple options to get their professional soccer fix, is growing. If the NASL ultimately decides to award Philadelphia a franchise, it would do well to approach such a venture with managed expectations. A team here will likely always play second fiddle to the top-tier’s Union. They should expect to cater towards families on a budget, keeping ticket prices reasonably low, with theme nights and other offerings of chotchkies to ensure that the atmosphere is enjoyable to those not as interested in soccer so much as they are interested in a summer night out with the family. While this might be their only shot at long term success, following this formula isn’t a guarantee. It was the same formula that the Camden Riversharks followed and despite some early on success, they eventually folded. As matter of fact, the Riversharks should be the cautionary tale. Minor league sports are great in areas in which a top league team doesn’t already exist. However, when minor league sports are forced to compete with major league sports in the same market, very seldom does the minor league team come out the winner.
How ’bout those Adirondack Phantoms?