Eight days after Barack Obama’s presidential State of the Union address, Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz gave his version.
Instead of a touch on immigration and health care, on Wednesday from his club’s training camp in Deltona, Florida, Sakiewicz talked about 2014 optimism, the Union’s upcoming practice facility and a soured relationship with the city of Chester.
“We’ve come away after four seasons with some incredible memories,” Sakiewicz said. “We’ve had some ups and downs, which every club in every sport has. But we keep fighting to make this a championship team someday and always improve the already great fan experience at PPL Park.”
The most important topic that Sakiewicz addressed was the Union’s soon-to-be practice facility, which yet to get off the ground. Four years into the team’s existence and they still train in multiple places, primarily at Chester Park in Wallingford, where any errant ball can find the yard of a neighboring home.
“It’s really important for a variety of reasons,” Sakiewicz said. “First and foremost, it’s your office, it’s where you go to work every day and you want a great environment. The players want an environment where they can do extra work and have access to the facility to hone their game. It’s important to have that.”
He also noted that there will be a ground-breaking by the end of 2014. But the question still remains as to where that ground will be.
“There are two other sites that are very, very exciting,” said Sakiewicz, who wouldn’t confirm the locations. “Multi-fields with different aspects to it, similar to what other MLS teams have. We’re really focused on that. We’re in negotiations on some of them. I don’t have much else to report other than that we’re very focused on getting that done this year.”
Desperately wanting this state-of-the-art facility in close proximity to PPL Park in Chester, the Union were forced to back off that plan after finding the city of Chester to be difficult to work with.
“There was always a thought to have fields at Lot B, outside the stadium,” he said. “Those plans were fully developed and vetted but at this moment, in this environment, I do not think we’re moving forward with those for a variety of reasons. We’re dealing with a pretty fluid city government right now and we’re just not sure what the environment is. It doesn’t just go with fields but development on that site. You don’t want to build on an uncertain environment.”
According to Sakiewicz, the Union’s prickly relationship with Chester doesn’t end with the practice facility -- but any effort to grow the area surrounding PPL Park.
“There’s no discussion about a big picture in Chester,” he said. “The lack of long-term vision or strategy with the city leaves a lot of things unanswered, especially with future development. The talk about a hotel down there, retail or programming around the stadium -- there is no talk about that because of the environment that this city administration has put in place.”
But things aren’t all tough going for the Union. Going into their fifth season, Sakiewicz announced that ticket sales were up last season, “outpacing the previous three seasons.” And that new season tickets are the highest in club history.
“Local TV ratings grew by 47 percent,” he said. “Sponsorship, merchandise and food and beverage revenue all grew. All the metrics were strong on the business side.”
Also, the Union’s new headline additions of Maurice Edu, Cristian Maidana and Vincent Nogueira have made waves around the league, and have Sakiewicz bubbling.
“We’re excited we were able to acquire these guys. They are accomplished players,” he said. “Coming from very good leagues and with great reputations and resumes. We believe they will make a significant difference. You never want to get excited in this business until you're sure you should be excited, but watching these guys and the quality they bring to the field, it’s hard not to get excited.”