(Philadelphia, PA) - Yesterday was a historic day for Philadelphia soccer fans and a homecoming for Philadelphia Union faithful. A crowd of over 18,000 were in attendance to open the team's new home, PPL Park.
The $120 million dollar venue, nestled on the bank of th Delaware River, was opened with a certain set of tight deadlines from the team and the community. Even though the arena is a step in the right direction for the city and the team, it is far from perfect and in some places, far from done.
Beyond the fact that the stadium is located in the occasionally hostile city of Chester (which is a factor that may inhibit the teams long-term success), The stadium was delayed for countless weeks, forcing the team to play their opening home games at the Eagles' Lincoln Financial Field.
Most delays came from construction issues and caused the first two home games (about the span of two months) to take place at Lincoln Financial Field.
For those of you that were not in attendance yesterday, you may be lucky because, beyond the play on the field, the stadium experience fell way below expectations. Here are some of the highs and lows for the new PPL Park.
1. Parking: If you are a season ticket holder for the Philadelphia Union, this was not an issue, but if you are planning on attending a game, you may have an issue with finding a place to park.
The team does not have enough parking lots at the stadium to fit the expected 18,000 + attendees. Also the team is counting on sharing parking with the ever growing Harrah's Chester Casino.
Many fans were forced to park as far as a 1/2 mile away in sections that are more abandoned plots then parking facilities. Highland Ave. (off 95) was the largest lot yesterday and did not provide adequate security to the already wary Union fans.
2. Water: At yesterdays home opener temperatures reached close to 100 degrees. This will not be the case for every game, but with the amount of people in the arena and the relative humidity in the area, you would not expect them to run out of basic amenities such as water.
By the 60th minute you could not find a water bottle anywhere in the arena, and the stadium staff, whom were already handing out free cups of ice, told people that their only option other then beer and soda was to use one of the 5-10 water fountains in the arena.
3. Overcrowding: I don't think the Union expects to sell out every game, but in the chance they, do there could be a very big issue with safety in the arena's corridors. The facility does not allow enough room in the food areas for free flow of people, and an emergency could cause for HUGE issues. Between the heat, lack of water, and the small cramped corridors there were countless emergencies and the first aid station was crowded and filled over capacity with heat related issues.
4. River End: The one thing the Union did do correctly is supply a proper amount of space for their true fans and biggest supporters, the Sons of Ben. This group of fans will be in the River End chanting and screaming and create a great atmosphere for fans and soccer spectators alike.
The only issue is above them. The team has their end facility flush with the Sons of Ben and did not think to create a fence system above to keep the fans and debris out. They were forced to send security to the top of the River End to keep fans off the roof of the facility, and this could become an issue if it is not addressed.
5. Opposing Fans: In a usual soccer style arena, it is customary to have the opposing teams supporters section to be located opposite the home teams behind the adjacent net. The problem at PPL park is that the ownership group did not want the groups of opposing fans to be too close to their plush luxury box.
In a move of sheer stupidity, they moved the oppisng fan sections right across a small opening from the Sons of Ben. It was not an issue in their home opener because the Emerald City Supporters (Seattle Sounder Supporters Group) were not large in number and do not display a hostile persona.
The issue will be when teams such as the D.C. United and N.Y Red Bulls come to town. There is not enough spacing between the groups, and when it comes to filing out of the arena, the Sons of Ben share the same alley ways and exit as the opposing fans. This is a sign of controversy and could become the arena's biggest issue.
In Conclusion: All Union fans know that the home opener was just a work in progress, and the team and the city of Chester are working to finish and improve this product as they go along. No arena opens with perfection, and that is to be expected. Hopefully the team and organization will address some of their apparent issues. The team will play 12 of their remaining 19 games at PPL Park and are expected to be close to capacity for most of them.