Major League Soccer fans are getting a little more to cheer about in Jacksonville.
The Philadelphia Union will play three exhibition games in the next three years at EverBank Field, with the first game right around the corner, February 15.It’s a deal Mayor Alvin Brown told me has not been long in the making, but one that is more than welcome.
“It’s gunna mean heads in beds, it’s gunna mean marketing Jacksonville and the word is gunna get out,” he says.
That “word” is that Jacksonville is a sports city and will be a big competitor for events like this.But will there be many more events to compete for?
City Sports and Entertainment Director Alan Verlander says this is, in fact, just square one of what will come of soccer in Jacksonville.
“Show the Union, show their opponents, show MLS soccer that Jacksonville is for real about this sport,” he says.
The Union itself is a fairly new club, but CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz says they’ve already built a strong fan base, many of whom he expects will travel to see the team.The city is aiming for a turnout of about 15,000 for the February exhibition.
Sakiewicz says the club was looking for a home away from home, and wants to ultimately make Florida its destination for the entire month of February.What set Jacksonville above the other big cities in the mix were the enthusiastic people.
“When people reach out to us and they want us to be somewhere, it feels good,” he says.
The turnout for the US-Scotland match Jacksonville hosted, which brought out 45,000 fans, was just one of the examples all parties used to show the support Jacksonville has for soccer, although Brown told me it will take a little time to build that kind of attendance up for these exhibitions.
I asked Brown about the role Jacksonville played in bringing the Union here, and whether there was any incentive.He says there was no financial incentive, and because of corporate sponsorship, there is actually no liability on the city either with ticket sales.
“It’s about partnership.It’s about them bringing their resources to the table, obviously we have the facility- working together to make this happen,” Brown says.
Tickets are already on sale for the match, available both online at ticketmaster.com and at the Veterans Memorial Arena box office.The game will be at 7:30 PM, and the opponent has not yet been announced.