Welcome to Major League Soccer, Leo Messi.
Or should I say, welcome to Philly. Some people claim that it’s always sunny here, but I promise, it rains.
Messi, the best player to ever grace MLS, is heading toward Philadelphia after Inter Miami picked up a win against Charlotte FC and the Philadelphia Union defeated Querétaro for the second time in Leagues Cup Friday night. The best player in the world is coming to Subaru Park.
Or should he? As “that’s so Union” it would be for Messi to ask, “What’s Chester?” when he expects to play in Philadelphia, the world’s biggest star shouldn’t be relegated to Subaru Park. Neither should the Union.
As reported by Matt de George of the Delco Times, the game will be played in Subaru Park, per Union sources. But nonetheless, let’s dream.
The Union, which has historically fought to get attention in an already packed Philadelphia sports scene, has the chance to establish itself by hosting Messi in front of as many eyes as possible. Putting 20,000 people into Subaru Park isn’t enough for what may be the team’s most popular game of the season (for better or worse). If the Union can get 67,000 people to attend one of its games, it needs to jump at the chance.
Sure, a large percentage of the crowd will be wearing pink or blue and white kits with the No. 10 and the name “Messi” emblazoned on the back. That’s a simple fact of life: Lionel Messi is more popular than the Union will ever be. Messi is a greater name than all but a few European giants and that’s how the soccer world will turn until many years after his retirement.
But the Union’s match against Inter Miami isn’t about the Union or even Inter Miami. It’s all about Messi. The Union needs to own that and accept that is the way for it to promote the club.
Let’s also look at the financial benefits for the club. Assuming that they commit the crime that’s perpetrated across Major League Soccer of charging $400 for tickets to see Inter Miami, the difference in revenue is tremendous. Playing at Subaru Park with 20,000 in attendance with an average of $400 per ticket gives the club a total of $8,000,000 in revenue. Moving the game to the Linc gives the team $26,800,000. Even if the club drops ticket prices to fill the stadium by half, that’s still $13,400,000 in the club’s bank account. Jeremy Rafanello could get a massive raise.
Selfishly, a move to the Linc also means better media coverage. We can assume that media from the world over will descend on Subaru Park for the Messi game, and local beat writers could get pushed out. The local work of media outlets like Philly Soccer Page and of course yours truly at Philadelphia Soccer Now, might not get credentialed. Coverage of the Union will suffer while coverage of Messi thrives. We like to think we do a pretty good of covering the Union, but we also haven’t been the biggest cheerleaders for this competition either.
Maybe the Linc doesn’t sell out, but who cares? Even if the Union gets just a few extra thousand fans in the seats, that’s a few thousand fans who weren’t in attendance before. On a bad day, the team still makes local news for hosting the world’s best player AND doing so in the city’s premier stadium. There really is no situation here where the Union, and its fans, come up short.
So switch stadiums and open up the gates, Jay Sugarman. Let the masses enjoy your soccer club in what will likely be the biggest atmosphere the team sees for some time. If the Chicago Fire feels that they can fill Soldier Field when Inter Miami comes to town in early October, surely the Philadelphia Union feels the same way.
Welcome to the Linc, Leo Messi. Go Birds and don’t forget to DOOP.