I have been a Union season ticket holder for five years (the first year, my husband and I sat in different areas of the stadium with single game tickets). I have supported the Union at away games, at viewing parties, purchased merchandise, and have supported various charity endeavors that the front office and the Sons of Ben have been organizing. Falling in love with this team and sport even helped to further a blossoming relationship between myself and my then boyfriend (now husband). This team has been the ice breaker that has caused me to develop friendships with some of the best people that I am proud to call friends. In short, supporting the Philadelphia Union is more than merely sports entertainment; it is deeply embedded in my heart and soul. It is a totally different emotional connection than I have with the other Philadelphia sports teams. I love them all—don't get me wrong, but my love for the Union is just different.
Like all of you, I was watching the Open Cup game against the New York Red Bulls and was celebrating a hard fought win. The amount of tenacity and heart that the players put out on that pitch was extraordinary. Roughly 600 or so Union fans even made the trip to Red Bull Arena for a 4:00 pm mid-week game. As I was basking in the afterglow of a tremendous victory, an epiphany came over me—this front office does not deserve the fan base it has nor the heart that these players have shown. It is not that the fans deserve better, so much as the front office doesn't deserve us. It may seem like hair splitting, but it is a bit of a different perspective.
The front office has continually made poor decisions. When they do choose to spend money, they spend it in the wrong places. There has been a plethora of articles written on this site as well as others that goes in-depth into the front office's follies, so there is no need for me to recount them here. It is naïve to think that the Union front office can spend like a LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, NY Red Bulls, or a NYCFC. However, it doesn't really have to. DC United is ranked roughly where the Union is in terms of payroll, yet the two teams are in drastically different places within the Eastern Conference. It's not about the amount of money you have; it's how you choose to spend it. Time and again, this front office has proven that they cannot spend money in a way that makes good business sense (Sorry, Nick, but the M'Bohli deal never has and never will make good business or soccer sense).
Add to that the fact that the Union has one of the smaller coaching staffs in the league, no adequate gym facility on-site for its players, and a lack of a "Sporting Director" to take charge and make expert soccer personnel decisions along with the coaching staff (which the fans have been promised they would receive. Still waiting on that one too, Nick) and you have a situation where Coach Curtin and this team are winning despite the lack of support from its own front office. Nothing but heart, pride, and love of their fans is keeping these players' minds in the game and competitive.
So that brings me back to the original point. There has been discussion amongst fans of ceasing to go to games or not renewing their season tickets because they want to send a message to the front office. I completely understand the rational. The front office thinks in dollar signs. However, I simply can not go along with that plan. I love this team too much to punish the players who have nothing to do with the front office by not going to games and cheering them on. So, what can a fan do?
The answer is that I'm not sure. This is more of a way for me to get my thoughts out to the rest of the fans so that we can talk about it over time. I try my best through social media to point out the follies of the front office as much as I can. The more public pressure and negative press that's put on them, the better. It is not true that all press is good press. I can stop buying concessions. I can stop buying merchandise from their team store. If you are single ticket holders, you car pool to the games to only pay for one parking spot. But, I simply cannot give up supporting the team in the most active way I can (and the way that matters the most to the players)--by attending games. Can anyone think of any other ways that the fans can send a message to the front office? This will hopefully turn into a productive discussion.
It's totally fine to disagree with me. I recognize and understand the other side of this coin. But, especially in light of the latest Open Cup victory, our boys in blue need us. And they will need us to make the playoffs. Let's be the loudest we can be in the stadium and show the rest of the league why, even despite our awful front office, we are the best fans in MLS and the ultimate 12th man.