For the first time in its three-and-a-half-year existence, PPL Park will host the College Cup. Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz hopes it won’t be the last.
Buoyed by the success of many other big college events at the Union’s home stadium, Sakiewicz is confident PPL Park will be the perfect venue for Friday’s national semifinals pitting Notre Dame against New Mexico (5 pm ET, ESPNU) and Maryland against Virginia (7:30 pm ET, ESPNU) and for Sunday’s national championship game (3 pm ET) between the winners of those contests.
“We didn’t really set out to make PPL Park the go-to collegiate athletic stadium,” Sakiewicz told MLSsoccer.com. “But it’s earned that reputation.”
In recent months, PPL Park has played host to the Army-Navy soccer game, as well as the Big East soccer championships. The 18,500-seat soccer-specific stadium in Chester has also been the site for college football, college lacrosse and college rugby since opening its doors in 2010.
“We feel geographically we’re in a great spot,” Sakiewicz said. “And the building sets up terrific for collegiate sports.”
Sakiewicz said the feedback for past events has “been all positive” and that most of the Union fans are on board with non-soccer events coming to Chester because season-ticket holders “get first dibs” on tickets.
And, of course, there are benefits for the Union, both financially and in terms of garnering more exposure.
“We wouldn’t be going out and bidding for them and trying to acquire them if we didn’t like them,” Sakiewicz said. “And they bring great value to our season-ticket holders, our sponsors and people in the area that want to see top-level collegiate events.”
PPL Park will only be the third MLS stadium to host the College Cup, following the lead of Columbus Crew Stadium (2001, 2003) and Pizza Hut Park (2008). But the tournament has stuck at the same venue for multiple years in the past, which is what Sakiewicz hopes will happen at PPL.
To show the benefits of the NCAA making a home in Chester, the Union CEO pointed to the Collegiate Rugby Sevens Championships, which has been held at PPL Park the last three summers and is poised to sell out the event in 2014.
“If we can do it with collegiate rugby sevens, we sure as heck can do it for soccer,” Sakiewicz said. “But the thing is the NCAA has to be committed to bringing the event back to the same location and also partnering with us to help sell and build the crowd year in and year out.
"And like collegiate rugby sevens, we can build the College Cup into a four-team tournament that puts 18,000 people into the building. There’s no doubt. But these things need time and development and nurturing and a lot of elbow grease.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.