SBD/Issue 111/Franchises

MLS To Award Expansion Franchise To Philadelphia Area

Garber Today To Award Expansion
MLS Franchise To Philadelphia
MLS today will award an expansion team to Chester, Pennsylvania, to begin play in 2010, according to Jeff Gammage of the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. MLS Commissioner Don Garber is scheduled to announce the league's 16th team at a 2:00pm ET news conference in Chester, where the club will play at a "planned waterfront stadium." CEO of the unnamed team's ownership group Nick Sakiewicz said: "The soccer fans are just coming out of the woodwork. It's incredible." The team's "immediate priority is to start stadium construction." The hiring of a front-office staff will begin this fall and the team intends to hire a coach "this time next year." The team already has begun accepting season-ticket applications over the phone, and a new Web site "will go live shortly offering a 'Two for a Ben' deposit deal -- $100 to reserve two seats.'' The $115M stadium will "anchor an expansive $500[M] housing, office and retail development" that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said would "change the face of Chester forever." Rendell is expected to attend today's news conference, alongside "other government leaders, MLS officials and former area soccer stars." A string band also will be in attendance as will at least 100 members of the "Sons of Ben," the team's fan club. Gammage notes the announcement comes exactly four weeks after Rendell "promised that Pennsylvania would provide a key $47[M] in funding for the stadium complex." Delaware County Council is contributing $30M to the project, Chester City Council donated the land, and the Delaware River Port Authority last week kicked in $10M. State Rep. Dwight Evans, Appropriations Committee Chair: "It shows that when government and the private sector work together, everybody's a winner" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/28).

Expansion Team To Play In 18,500-
Seat Soccer Specific Stadium
GOOD SIGN FOR MLS: In Philadelphia, Mike Jensen writes the new franchise "may not challenge the established Philadelphia sports teams for fans and media attention just yet," but it is joining a league that "seems to have gotten its act together." MLS "never will be the NFL, the English Premier League, or Italy's Serie A." However, the league that "got off to a rocky start in 1996 has diversified its ownership -- previously, a couple of billionaire owners kept the league afloat -- and network television partners in two languages now pay small rights fees to show their games." Previously MLS "used to pay the networks" to air their games, but now "things are so good that every MLS game was televised nationally or regionally last season." When the Philadelphia franchise begins play in 2010, MLS "hopes to have 10 to 12 of the 16 franchises playing in soccer-specific stadiums," including the 18,500-seat park planned in Chester." That is a "significant threshold for a league that had an average attendance of 16,770" last season, the second highest in league history behind the inaugural '96 season. MLS President Mark Abbot said of a soccer-specific stadium: "It provides a top-level, intimate atmosphere. Secondly, the ancillary revenues you are able to generate are a key component" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 2/28).

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