[Editor's Note: Another fine fanpost, read up folks]
"Does the Chooch that plays for the Unions really wear number 51 too?"
- 63 year old coworker (4/16/11)
In just two years, people who honestly had no idea there was a professional soccer league in the United States have started asking questions about the Philadelphia Union (like the one above). Kits, hats, and bumper stickers can be seen at virtually every local youth sports venue, school, mall, gym, college dorm, beer festival, and pub. On a day that saw sellouts at the Wells Fargo Center for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Hockeyball Semifinals and at Citizens Bank Park, where Roy Halladay started against the Mets, PPL Park welcomed over 18,000 fans to watch the U take on the unexceptional San Jose Earthquakes.
Passionate fans like us question every move the team makes (HOW COULD THEY LEAVE HIM UNPROTECTED?? ALL WE GET IS A DINKY SCARF?? HOW IS THAT GUY STILL STARTING?? BIMBO??) - and we should - but every once in a while, we should also step back to look at the successes of our second season team working to make a name for itself in a sports-crazed market. Hit the jump for a look at how increased visibility in Year 2 has helped grow the Union brand, and some thoughts on what more could be done.
To those bleeding signal blue and natural khaki every Saturday, the Ruiz-Ruiz meeting was a funny pairing of a no-nonsense, blue-collar, team-player with a man whose reputation has been built on scoring goals and... 'gamesmanship.' To the wider public, it was one of the first times a soccer player has connected with something / someone local they care deeply about. I would love to see more crossover attempts like these. The DOOP song played after every Union goal (4 times in 4 games so far) is being used by the Flyers in their playoff run (16 times in 5 games). Fans have been reaching out to ?uestlove - could you imagine the scene if he shows up with his full drum kit? Or the roar on Seaport Drive if Cliff Lee made an appearance on the Jumbo-Tron?
Despite having the 3rd smallest stadium in the league, only the Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Toronto FC have seen more fans move through their turnstiles this season, and two of those teams have played more home games than we have. Part of this can be attributed to the novelty of having a team and promotions like Dollar Dog and Taco Day, but anyone who has been to a match will agree the atmosphere is worth the price of admission alone. The Sons of Ben bring PPL Park to life and the part played by fans in the other 16,000 seats should not be overlooked either. I hope efforts continue to allow supporters in The River End to use their ample creativity to rattle the nerves of every opponent that steps on our pitch, while providing an environment where younger fans can be exposed to the beautiful game at its best.
Games on Fox Soccer Channel are cool for those of us who already go out of our way to watch the soccer, but games / highlights / promotions on 6abc, Comcast SportsNet, The Comcast Network, and ESPN2 reach a far greater audience. Whereas few of us had the privilege(?) of catching games on The Live Well Network last year, games can be seen by the majority of families in the region, the Union is now being mentioned in-game during Phils and Flyers telecasts, there is a half-hour show that works its way into the weekly CSN/TCN rotation, and even local newspapers are beginning to carry articles shared by their affiliates. The one area I hope to see more coverage is on sports radio. As an avid listener, I know most hosts are unimpressed by soccer-related callers (to say the least), but the more they hear from us and the more positive reasons they have to talk about the Union - team or fan generated - the more receptive they will be.
One of the most powerful marketing tools for the Union to reach current fans has been the use of Twitter by the team and its players. More than any local sports franchise, there is an active team voice willing to speak and respond to the public, which serves as a lightning rod for concerns (COME ON, REALLY, WHY DID WE LEAVE HIM UNPROTECTED??), an outlet through which charitable work and behind-the-scenes tidbits can be shared, and an affirmation for those who praise the team. A player's skill or effort may be questioned, but he becomes an instant fan favorite as soon as his Twitter account becomes active. Shea Salinas was a very good player, and it was awesome to see him working with the kids at YSC even though he was sidelined with an injury, but would there have been as much fan backlash if he hadn't sought out every opportunity to connect with fans and show that there's more to him than what we see on the field? Would people have warmed up to Stefani Miglioranzi by now if he were on Twitter? If the Union brass is reading this right now, I would highly recommend asking a few more guys to sign up!
Oh yeah - scoring goals and winning games helps too.
Think the team should work on a viral video where they sing and dance to Rick Astley? Hoping we sign a midfielder from somewhere in Scandinavia named Desean Jackson for further name-related meeting opportunities? Want the anchors on 6abc to start wearing Nowak-style suits with BIMBO on the shirt collars? Leave your thoughts below!