Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz
Ever since PSP’s exclusive interview with Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz hit the internet last month, there’s been steady talk about some upgrades to PPL Park in the near future. To many, it’s been recognized as the worst kind of good news.
Among the proposed additions would be a new restaurant located behind the River End and an expansion of club suites into the general seating areas. There was also some vague talk about adding more of that general seating, from 3,000 to 5,000 blue chairs, but only as a distant prospect—once the higher end clientele’s needs were addressed. Naturally, this kind of top-down approach to expansion rankled a few of the proletariat, myself included.
As we know, the stadium’s infrastructure can ultimately accommodate 30,000. We’re not there yet, but there’s a reason it was built that way: so that future generations of fans have somewhere to sit once soccer has taken its rightful place alongside the Big Four. Our Manifest Destiny always seemed to be pointing straight up to that imaginary second level, and not for the icing of club boxes and chophouses, but for the cake of general admission, the bedrock of fandom.
Now, populism is cheap—except when it’s sincere.
The notion that the ownership’s first thought, aside from not being anything related to matters on the pitch, is to better service those with presumably the least interest in the game day experience is an unfortunate sign. It belies a slow but steady departure from that which built the Union out of barroom sweat and bleacher bum gumption, till truly grass roots finally blossomed on cheap Chester real estate.
Nothing against the fans in the suites; for all I know they love the U as much as the most intoxicated River Ender in the throes of his most obscene soliloquy, albeit from their comfortable distance. Nor is there anything wrong with having a sit-down meal before or after the game, though how one could improve on the culinary full-body-massage-with-happy-ending that is a halftime Los Taco is well beyond me.
It’s a matter of priority. More club seats? Sure. Just not at the expense of regular seats that are already there. Maybe the sections they have in mind aren’t occupied by any season ticket holders, but this way they never will be. Allowing general admission space to fall victim to some kind of club box eminent domain is a slippery slope.
A restaurant? Sure. Just not between three-quarters of the stadium and the best view in MLS, and certainly not in a way that seemingly precludes any expansion of the River End, sitting like a dam made of concrete and family friendly atmosphere to cap the swell of what’s apparently a less desirable kind of enthusiasm down in steerage.
Several years ago, fans of nothing—nothing—convinced MLS and Philadelphia that if you build it, they will come. Philly built it, and they came. And while every bit of success inevitably comes with a certain level of loss to the gods of consumer culture, I hope the Union won’t forget that when they came, some of us were already there.