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Volume 21 No. 1
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Philadelphia Union’s retro third jersey producing robust sales

Don Muret
The Philadelphia Union is reporting strong sales of its third jersey, modeled after those of the old Bethlehem Steel Football Club, a local team that dominated the ranks of American pro soccer in the early 20th century.

As of last week, the Union had sold 438 of the retro jerseys at PPL Park and online, doubling the total number of third jerseys sold during the first two months of the 2011 season, the last time the MLS team wore an alternate uniform, club officials said.

For the March 2 regular-season home opener, the Union’s merchandise per cap was $6.47, the highest among all MLS 2013 home openers, team spokeswoman Aimee Cicero said. The number is triple the league’s average for a single game, said Nick Sakiewicz, Philadelphia’s CEO and operating partner.

The Union wear their third jerseys, a tribute to the old Bethlehem Steel FC teams.
All items tied to the third-jersey program, including T-shirts, scarves and hats, accounted for 23 percent of the team’s retail sales for the game, team officials said. With paid attendance of 18,160 for the opener, against Sporting KC, total merchandise sales were about $117,500.

The trend continued for the Union’s second home game, March 16 against New England, with the third-jersey campaign driving a retail per cap of $6.25. All told, the first two home games produced two of the Union’s highest per caps since it joined MLS in 2010, team officials said.

The Union wore the black-and-white replicas for both games, emblazoned with the red logo of Bimbo across the chest, the Mexico-based bakery that sponsors the team’s jerseys. The team plans to wear the third jerseys for four to six more games this season, Sakiewicz said.

The Bethlehem Steel jersey is the first in a series of retro kits recognizing great Philly teams of the past that the Union plans to roll out over the next several years, he said. The Bethlehem Steel club was originally an industrial league team before it became a professional club, importing players from England and Scotland to compete at the highest level of sport in this country. From 1915 to 1926, Bethlehem Steel won five National Cup titles, forerunner of the tournament now called the U.S. Open Cup, according to the website

For the Union, the retro jersey effort fell into place after Sakiewicz started looking into the history of soccer in Philadelphia soon after he was hired in late 2007 to help launch the franchise.

Sakiewicz discovered a rich tradition of teams such as the Philadelphia Spartans, Atoms and Fury, as well as the Ukrainian Nationals. There was also a Phillies soccer team in the 1890s that played 15 years before the Bethlehem Steel club was founded.

“I was surprised,” Sakiewicz said. “I started thinking, ‘What better way for the Union to connect with the market than making a connection with the past.’ Bethlehem Steel was wildly successful and played in front of crowds of 30,000 to 40,000.”

Working with Adidas, the official uniform supplier of MLS, the Union designed the jersey with the Bethlehem Steel club mark on the jersey’s right front shirt tail and the steel factory logo on the back collar. The Union logo patch is on the right chest area.

A limited number of retro jerseys have a third Bethlehem Steel club mark inside the garment, behind the Union patch.
The jerseys, which sell for $110 and $120 at the stadium, are also available at retail stores in Greater Philadelphia, including five Angelo’s Soccer Corner locations. Angelo’s runs the team store at PPL Park.

> PAPER CHASE: The 2013 NCAA Final Four marked another step in the evolution of paperless ticketing in sports: More than 60,000 attendees used Flash Seats technology to enter the Georgia Dome for the semifinals and championship.

Veritix has the primary ticketing deal for all NCAA championship events, including the Final Four. The firm’s Flash Seats system enables fans to buy a digital ticket online and use a credit card or driver’s license to gain access to the event.
Guest services staff armed with electronic readers at the gate scan the magnetic stripe on the back of the card, which then prints a seat locator that serves as the patron’s ticket.

This is the fifth year that the NCAA has used Flash Seats. In that time, the number of paperless tickets used for the Final Four has grown from 1,600 students at Ford Field in Detroit in 2009 to the 32,000 ticket packs sold for the semifinals and final through a public lottery for this year’s event in Atlanta.

The total number included Flash Seats tickets distributed to coaches through the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
The exceptions were the thousands of hard tickets distributed to Final Four sponsors, VIPs and suite holders, Veritix CEO Sam Gerace said.

The technology is still new enough that Gerace, who was on site to monitor the system and get fan feedback, said he could see the “trepidation in their eyes” as fans approached the stadium gates without a ticket in hand. They cheered up considerably once they saw the system worked and they were headed in the door, he said.

> PERSONNEL: Mike Handelman has left HNTB after his position as chief sales officer was eliminated. Handelman had been with the sports architecture and engineering firm since 1996. … Rich Neumann has joined Brailsford & Dunlavey as vice president of major accounts. Neumann spent the past 12 years with Mandalay Baseball Properties, where he was responsible for acquiring minor league teams and developing new ballparks. Neumann and Chris Dunlavey, president and co-owner of Brailsford & Dunlavey, have known each other for the past 10 years, Neumann said. Now, Neumann will serve exclusively as an owner’s representative for the Washington-based firm. … Legends Sales & Marketing promoted Al Guido to senior vice president of sales and marketing. Most recently, Guido was Legends’ vice president of sales in charge of selling premium seats for the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium in Santa Clara. In his new role, Guido will work with Legends President Chad Estis and Chief Operating Officer Mike Ondrejko to pursue new business. … Populous brand manager Gina Stingley recently gave birth to her first child. Jack Grant Stingley was born March 18 in Kansas City. He weighed in at 6 pounds, 4 ounces.

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @breakground.