Philadelphia's USA World Cup hope

By Russell Padmore
Business reporter, BBC World Service

image captionPhiladelphia Union is having a tough debut season in the MLS

The USA's World Cup match against England this weekend offers the 16 teams in America's Major League Soccer a chance to promote their businesses.

The heady days of the 1970s, with top stars like Pele and George Best playing in the US, were a false dawn for those hoping the game would take off in the country.

However, the years since 1994, when the US hosted the World Cup, have seen a steady growth of the game.

Philadelphia Union, the new team in the Eastern Conference of the MLS, are suffering a tough debut season with just two wins from 11 games.

But that could change on Thursday, when the Union are away from home to play the Kansas City Wizards.

Ticket sales boom

The fortunes of Philadelphia Union on the field contrast sharply with the business behind the team. They move into a new stadium, PPL Park, at the end of the month and already all their season tickets are sold for the 18,500 seat arena.

It's encouraging for a business that has to compete with established sports like baseball and the gridiron game that the rest of the world calls American football.

Nick Sakiewicz, the chief executive of Keystone Sports Entertainment, owners of Philadelphia Union, tells the BBC that while goals are not being scored on the pitch, off the field the business is developing well.

"We have great fans in Philadelphia. Our timing coming into the marketplace after 15 years of Major League Soccer in America is wonderful," he says.

USA World Cup

He also says he's not worried about the poor start to the club's first season in the top football league in the US.

image captionMr Sakiewicz says the World Cup is an opportunity for MLS teams

"It's not about wins, it's about building a good club that's competitive and we think we have fulfilled that very much," he says, reflecting a positive outlook on the future.

Success for the USA at the World Cup in South Africa could boost the fortunes of football in America, and Mr Sakiewicz hopes it will also attract more fans for Philadelphia Union.

"The USA doing well would be wonderful, as it would be for any country that does well in the World Cup - the biggest stage of them all.

"We put a lot of pride and work and effort into helping US soccer field as good a team as possible," he says.

'Fever pitch'

In a week when the accountants Deloitte revealed European football teams are paying their players too big a percentage of their revenues, it is worth noting that the 16 MLS teams have a cap on wages for their stars.

English football fans who are used to paying up to £50 ($72) for a match ticket will reflect ruefully on the $25 that supporters are paying to watch Philadelphia Union play.

When England's millionaire players take to the field in South Africa this Saturday to play the USA, the entrepreneurs behind Philadelphia Union will be cheering on their own national heroes, most of whom are not in the same pay league as their rivals.

Mr Sakiewicz reads the mood of supporters as reaching fever pitch: "Philadelphia's pretty excited about soccer right now, with or without the World Cup. I don't know how more excited our fans can get".

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