[MLS] Politicians, executives, and fans gathered Monday to witness the official ground-breaking for a stadium that will house the Philadelphia MLS franchise starting in 2010. League commissioner Don Garber and lead investor Jay Sugarman wielded shovels for a photo opportunity that followed about a month of actual work, once site preparation had been completed, in Chester, Pa.
The centerpiece for a $500 million residential/retail/entertainment project is a 18,634-capacity stadium at the foot of the Commodore Barry Bridge less than 15 miles from downtown Philadelphia and accessible by an interstate freeway as well as public transit.
Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell, state senator Dominic Pileggi, and Chester Mayor Chester Mayor Wendell Butler were just a few of politicians who attended the groundbreaking, an indication of the political support cited by Garber and CEO/Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz as essential elements in getting the project approved as well as funded in part by public money.
"In six months in Pennsylvania we got done what had taken more than 5 ½ years in New Jersey," said Sakiewicz of a laborious process to build a stadium for the MetroStars/Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J., while he was employed by Anschutz Entertainment Group when it ran the franchise. "They had three governors in five years in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, you had a governor who likes to make deals, loves soccer, and has a surplus. The environment in Pennsylvania was 180 degrees from what it was in New Jersey."
State funds will provide $47 million for the development project, including $25 million for the stadium, the estimated cost of which is $115 million. Delaware County and the City of Chester are contributing a combined $30 million for the project, with the balance to be paid by Sugarman, the chairman and CEO of iStar Financial, and his partners, which have formed Keystone Sports and Entertainment, LLC, to run the team.
The Sons of Ben supporters' club, which has bought an entire section of 2,000 season tickets, attended the groundbreaking to collect canned food for its "Help Kick Hunger" program. MLS Philadelphia - nickname to be announced next year -- donated $500.
Team officials announced that Panasonic Systems Solution Company has signed on as the team's second founding partner. It will be the "Official Technology Partner" of the new stadium and waterfront complex, and as such will hold rights to stadium marks and logos and branding the main scoreboard as well as LED signage.
Crozer-Keystone Health Systems and Premier Orthopaedics signed on as a founding partner in October.
The Philly developments are welcome news for MLS. Garber recently addressed fears that current economic upheavals will affect MLS stadium projects and the league's overall financial health.
"I see it on the sponsorship side, on the local and national level, I see it on the ticketing side," said Garber prior to MLS Cup. "Every day I open up the Sports Business Journal and read about another league or association that is talking about challenges. We're no different than them.
"As a senior guy in the sports industry, all of us are greatly concerned about how this industry, that is specifically linked to MLS, gets through what is undoubtedly some very, very difficult times in the global economy. We're well-diversified. That's one of the good byproducts of Soccer United Marketing, we're not tied to one business, so we have the ability to weather these tough times better than a one-dimensional sports industry. But these are trying times, without a doubt. "It's hard to look beyond even 30 days now and know what the state of the economy will be."