The Philadelphia Union’s season may not have officially started, but the team already has a trophy under their belt this year. The team was honored last Monday night by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association (PSWA) at its yearly banquet in Cherry Hill, NJ. The association honored the 2022 Union for reaching the MLS Cup Final, with team president Tim McDermott accepting the “Team Special Achievement” award.
Other award recipients on the night included Philadelphia 76ers’ point guard Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, and multiple members of the Philadelphia Phillies team that reached the World Series last year. This is the second straight PSWA banquet to have a member of the local soccer landscape honored. Last year, USWNT and Gotham FC owner Carli Lloyd was given the 2022 Native Daughter award.
In his acceptance speech, McDermott told the large crowd that he believed the next few years are going to be more important than anything prior. With the growth of the Union academy and the upcoming 2026 World Cup being hosted in Philly, the time for growth was now.
“If you look at the growth that we’ve had over the last seven years, it’s just been unbelievable,” McDermott said. “The fan base that we have attending our stadiums now rivals, or surpasses that of the NBA and the NHL. the owners who have bought into the league, coming from the NBA, coming from the NFL, and just fueling growth.
“You’ve made this a five for five (sport) city. I can’t thank you enough for the work that you guys do each and every day going to work, doing a hard job,covering us with integrity. Not just the sport of soccer, I know you do that for every single sport. You make it fun to be a sports fan here. So thank you very much.”
Following the dinner, McDermott spoke exclusively with Brotherly Game about both the honor and gave updates on a few pieces of Union news.
What does this honor mean after years of investing and becoming part of the city landscape?
“Yeah, it’s definitely very special to think about where we’ve come to at this point in our kind of journey. I think back to the people who really kind of started the franchise... and, obviously, ownership with Jay Sugarman and all that they’ve been through, and the belief that they had that this could be a great soccer city. To kind of see the development of that, the growth of it is really special, really rewarding. The last few years in particular, as you see us kind of cutting through in the sports media, you see more Philly celebrities coming out to the game. You see or hear more talk of us on the radio. So look, we work really hard to do that.
I think if you come to work in the MLS, you gotta love the build, you gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit. It’s different, right? We’re gonna make 20 phone calls to get, you know, five reporters to show up and do something and you gotta love that. You gotta want that. And you gotta have that hunger and that desire every single day. And when you start to see the reward of it, it means something. It feels really extra special to see like, what we’re building. And I truly believe that if you look at the growth that we’ve been on, and also the potential for growth in the future, you know, it looks (like) the future could be incredibly promising for soccer in Philadelphia, for the Philadelphia Union and the growth of us here in this region.
For all those reasons that I’ve mentioned tonight. You look at kind of the sustained success that we’ve had. We’ve figured out a system that really works for us. We’ve built the number one rated academy in North America. We’re selling players. We’re replenishing those players. We’re doing a really good job with scouting. We’ve created our own little black box, so to speak, in terms of the way that we do things from an analytics standpoint. We’ve got really good, really bright, really smart people working. Jim has created a great culture, and we play within a team system, and you put all those things together and it allows us to have sustained success. So I think you look at that, and then you look at kind of the fact that you do have the World Cup coming and the fact that many of those World Cup players can, or could be Philadelphia Union players, or somebody who’s come through the Philadelphia Union system. It really, I think, bodes well for the, for the outlook in terms of the growth of soccer. We’re obviously investing a lot right now into the Sportsplex that’s gonna be built over the next 18 months and really reshaping the the Chester community. So it’s good. It’s special and I love it. I wake up every day with that feeling of like, how do we just continue to build? How do we continue to grow? How do we earn more media, earn more views, earn more fans? And I think the folks that work with us at the Union, like they have that love for doing that. So it’s been great.”
Status of ticket sales, capitalizing on MLS Cup run and World Cup bid
“Right now I can tell you the tickets are flying. Like, that’s, that’s been amazing. We will be sold out every single game this year. So we are at a high water mark for season tickets. We’re gonna be approaching 14,000 season tickets, or what we call FSCs, which is a combination of seasons and Parsons. It’s kinda a way to look at it. That’s the most we’ve ever had by far. And so I think we’re now getting to a point where, (in the) not too distant future, we could be saying, ‘wow, we actually could create a waiting list’. So it’s exciting. I think the demand is there and obviously going to the MLS Cup - and not just going and competing, but obviously the drama, the story. I think most of (the people in) Philadelphia who watched that game, even if you weren’t a hardcore soccer, a hardcore Philadelphia Union fan, if you were just a casual sports fan and you saw that game, you came out of there saying, ‘Wow, that was fun. That was drama, that was energy. And I’m intrigued and I want more of that.’ And I think we’ve captured a lot of people by that game alone. And I think you’re seeing that now with the, with the tickets and the sales of the tickets going the way they are.”
Status of Sportsplex renovations
“So, the first biggest thing obviously is the WSFS Bank Sportsplex, which will be a $55 million dollar Sportsplex. Will have eight fields, seven of which will be outdoor. One indoor, 170,000 square foot indoor space, a couple basketball courts, a performance center. Obviously we’re gonna move our academy and all the offices and school down to that area as well. But beyond that I should say, we’re really trying to put a lot of, kinda, renovation and infrastructure improvements around this stadium. So right now we’ve been really focused on Rainy Street. Cause it’s kind of a main drag in, really redoing all that, the look and the feel of that. You mentioned the Sons Of Ben, they’re gonna have their own building out there. Yeah. So that’ll be fantastic for them. There’s another building that’s kind of adjacent to that, that we’ll be turning into a, you know, call it a brew hall. So I know everybody’s been looking for like, ‘Hey, where can I do before the game? What can I do after the game?’ Hopefully at some point in this season we’ll have a Union Brew Hall type concept that is up and running out there for everybody.”
The growth of the Union academy
I think when you have an academy that is producing top talent, that is being recognized as the number one academy in North America, you have coaches that want to come and coach there. You have trainers that want to come and be trainers there. You have kids, players that want to play there. That success attracts more talent. And so we have to have great inputs and then once we get them into the system, hopefully we’re doing a good job developing them to be great outputs, so to speak. Whether that be for us in the first team or whether that be at some point down the road playing for another club in Europe. I think because of what we’ve done, the system that we’ve built, I think we’re attracting more and more high quality inputs into the academy.
And that is fantastic because that creates that sustained success. Maybe even broader, that’s how you grow (the) U.S. Men’s National Team into a perennial top five type team. If every team in America can get behind and produce top talent, you’re going to see a seismic shift, I think for (the USMNT). And when that happens, and we are a top five year over year perennial powerhouse, I think that’s a game changer for soccer in America. Media is gonna be all over it. Kids are gonna be all into it. You’re gonna see more people wearing jerseys, right? It’s going to take on an effect and a shift like we’ve never seen before. And you know, the cool factor that will go with that, the celebrity factor that will go with that. I don’t think we’re that far away from something like that happening.
And a lot of it is credit to the academies and what’s been going on here. I’ll be the first person to say it’s tough to build a really great academy, to have that staying power. It’s kinda like you open up your door and there’s a tree that’s in the backyard, it’s this little tree and you look and say, ‘has it grown any fruit?’ Not yet. Next day you open up the door, you look again, has it grown any fruit? Not yet. And you just keep doing it and keep doing it. And you go, ‘oh boy, is it going to get big? Is it gonna produce fruit?’ And when it does, like we have now, you’re like, ‘wow, I’m glad we stuck with it.’ But it’s tough. It’s tough to do it.”
How’s Jeremy Rafanello, because I’m still mad about that
“No comment on that one.”