Is Philadelphia a soccer town?
This week, we have a chance to show the world the answer is a resounding yes, as Copa America Centenario comes to Lincoln Financial Field for three games, including one with the United States Men’s National Team.
Only…what if the answer is no? Or, perhaps more likely, what if the answer is yes, but only at the right price…?
The USMNT is coming to Philadelphia for what is ostensibly an elimination game in a major tournament, we are three days out and … well, there are still plenty of good seats available. The U.S. match with Paraguay is not close to sold out. Not bloody close.
After the 4-0 victory over Costa Rica on Tuesday, this weekend’s match is crucial for the Americans to advance into the knockout round of Copa America. A win or draw and Jurgen Klinsmann’s team officially moves on. A loss and, well, disaster.
Given the stakes of the game, it stands to reason Philly’s soccer faithful would be out in full force. Standing room only. Turning people away at the gates. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
For the other two games, it’s going to be a lot worse.
The match between Uruguay and Venezuela on Thursday has about 20,000 tickets out, but the seating chart above seems to indicate that number is high. Either way, it’s not great, especially in the Linc, but light attendance for that match somewhat understandable given the teams the tournament sent to Philly on a weekday evening.
A full week away, but Chile and Panama could end up being worse.
Again, its not as if the organizers sent Brazil and Argentina to Philly. But they did send the U.S. national team, and to not sell out a must-win game for the USMNT in Philly will be telling. And disappointing.
Certainly there’s more to it than a simple lack of interest. The first match of the tournament — a 2-0 loss to Colombia — drew 67,439 in Levi’s Stadium, while Tuesday’s win over the Ticos drew just 39,642 fans to Soldier Field in Chicago. Entire sections were empty, and the upper deck was completely closed off, not that there was anyone interested in sitting that far away for the prices Copa America’s organizers are charging.
Early in the first half of Tuesday’s victory, I made a comment on Twitter that the biggest indictment of the Klinsmann era of U.S. Soccer may be the team’s inability to sell out its own matches for a tournament like Copa America. The US has played 13 times on American soil since last year’s Gold Cup match in Philly, and there have been more matches with under 10,000 fans (5) than over 30,000 fans (4).
My comment was met by many in the American soccerati, including those in the Philly area, complaining about the price of tickets. So has Copa America priced their own fans out of the market.
Only, Mexico doesn’t seem to have a problem selling out their games. El Tri’s 3-1 win over Uruguay had more than 60,000 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium. Thursday’s match against Jamaica at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is nearly sold out.
That’s more than 92,000 seats nearly filled as of Wednesday morning, far more than the 69,000 seats at Lincoln Financial Field, of which thousands in the upper deck on the TV side will go unsold. And that’s part of the reason The Guardian is writing headlines like “Why Mexico, not USA, will enjoy home advantage at Copa America.”
Colombia seems to be doing just fine, too, for what it’s worth. After the sellout against the United States, this was the scene from their second match.
It’s reasons like this that make us chuckle at the release the Philadelphia visitor’s bureau sent via email today, with this:
The games are expected to draw more than 75,000 fans to the city over those three days, generating an economic impact of $41 million and impacting occupancy at area hotels. According to data from TravelClick, June 9, 11 and 14, are strong for Center City hotels, with all three days currently sitting above 90% occupancy. This is in large part due to the number of rooms the athletes, organizers, media, sponsors and fans are occupying, in addition to two conventions in town.
All due respect to the traveling Panamanians, but they’re not exactly bringing a ton of people to Philly. And while the city can talk about all the people coming into the city for the matches, it’s those already here who should be showing up to the games.
Yes, the ticket prices are ridiculous. Let’s be fair. Paying $75-100 for upper deck seats is ridiculous for any sporting event, making attendance across the tournament rather lackluster, so much so that some are openly wondering if it will impact the ability for the United States to attract a World Cup. From WorldSoccerTalk:
The Copa America Centenario won’t have issues generating enormous ticket sales for games such as USA vs. Colombia, Argentina-Chile or matches featuring Mexico or Brazil. However, there will be challenges facing CONCACAF/CONMEBOL selling tickets to plenty of weeknight games involving lesser known South American and CONCACAF teams in cities such as Philadelphia, Orlando and Seattle. In these instances, attendance could really suffer.
Frankly, two of these Philly matches should be played in Chester at Talen Energy Stadium, not at the Linc. And yet, Philadelphia is the fourth-largest market in America. Seeing a building one-third full for an event of this magnitude will be striking, and at some point it’s going to matter to major tournament organizers that Philly isn’t as big a draw as they hope.
The notion that poor attendance for Copa America would impact the United States winning a World Cup bid is foolish, as this money grab of a tournament will have no bearing a decision that big for FIFA. Despite the optics of near-empty stadia, overall attendance numbers are higher for the early rounds in America than they were last year in Chile, or any other South American venue that may host the event in the future.
That said, poor attendance for the games in Philly could impact the likelihood of getting World Cup games if the United States does procure a bid soon. To suggest Philly will sell out non-US matches for the World Cup when we’ve seen the draw for events like Copa America and the CONCACAF Gold Cup is ignoring history.
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s not a sexy opponent. Yes, two of the three matches are between teams outside the top five in the world, on weekday evenings. But at some point Philly is going to have to show it can really draw for international matches — especially those featuring the United States — if the World Cup is going to be an eventuality.
Per Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com, the last international match held at the Linc was, in fact, a sellout. That was the Gold Cup Final between Mexico and Jamaica, after the United States lost in that debacle of a semifinal.
The U.S. Men drew just over 12,000 at then PPL Park for the third-place game last year.
In 2014, the Linc hosted Inter Milan and AS Roma in front of a woefully embarrassing 12,169 supporters. Two years before, Real Madrid faced Celtic in a match with a reported 34,018 that was only true if each person in the stands was counted twice.
In 2011, the United States hosted Mexico at the Linc in front of 30,138 fans. It was Klinsmann’s first match in charge of the team, showing that he did as little to inspire fans to attend then as he does now.
The 2010 World Cup send-off match against Turkey drew 55,407, which at the time was lauded as a good crowd even if a few of us (read: me) thought “huh, this should probably be a sellout.”
Still, it was far better than the Gold Cup doubleheader the year before, which saw the United States, Panama, Honduras and Canada combine for 31,087 fans in another likely inflated number.
This U.S. attendance will be better than that, surely, and maybe given the circumstances of the match it will out-draw what they did in Chicago. But the few days is an opportunity — prices, match-ups, day of the week be damned — to show that Philly can draw for big events, and that if the United States eventually does get a World Cup, that we’re one of the cities hosting, and filling the joint, whoever gets sent here.