This is the second and last installment of my road trip series. Last week we visited Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. This past Saturday we went to see the Rapids play the Philadelphia Union at their brand new stadium, PPL Park in Chester, PA. I’ll review the stadium much like I did Red Bull Arena last week and conclude with my comparison of the three and pick my favorite.
Chester PA is not noted for its upscale building and infrastructure nor is it friendly place to stroll around the streets alone or unescorted by well armed friends. We exited the train where four of Chester’s finest greeted us. Actually, they didn’t greet us as much as cover us as we ran to the awaiting shuttle to take us to the stadium. A path marked off by crime scene tape. Note, that comment is true, the running under cover, to the best of my knowledge was not The stadium is located almost directly under the Commodore Barry Bridge. Sitting in the south stands affords the fans a spectacular view of the bridge. I would have loved to show pictures but my Droid phone decided blurry was the new focused, hence no pictures.
The stadium seats 18,500 and is single deck stadium built above ground so you enter at field level. The best part was the players entered the stadium by power gliding off the bridge. Okay, I don’t know if they really did that as I missed the first 30 minutes, but they could have. Turkey Hill ice cream is the official ice cream of the Union and can be bought in pints. They also serve Luigi’s Italian Ice and soft serve ice cream in cones and cups. If you’re from the east coast you know how important those items are in the summer. The roof partially covers the north and south stands and the supporters stand behind the east goal. Unfortunately due to our late arrival and long lines at the rest rooms we didn’t get much chance to wonder around There is no way to walk around the stadium while watching the game and like many stadiums, the concessions (at least the ones I saw) were under the stands. You could listen to the game, however, as they played the audio loud enough to hear.
I touched on this in my recap of the game, but to reiterate, the fans were loud and reacted consistently to action on the field. While the supporters filled the east stands I couldn’t hear much from them.
I must give credit to the Union fans who shared the train with us going to the game. They were friendly and helpful. Credit also to the train conductor (do they still call them that) who tongue in cheek was annoyed with the “non-Union” fans boarding “his train”. For the most part, the fans in the stadium didn’t react to those of us in Rapids attire (or me in my Kauai Charter Boat tee chart and Aspen hat. There were a few obnoxious exceptions but not enough to tar the otherwise benign reaction.
The locations of the three stadiums are more similar then not. Red Bull Arena (RBA) gets points for having restaurants within walking distance. RBA and PPL Park both have public transportation available while Dicks Sporting Goods Park (DSG) has the best parking. DSG also gets points for being the least likely place to get shot when walking from the parking lot to the stadium.
RBA seemed to have the widest variety of food while DSG has the only food mascot (the Smiling Moose). Both RBA and PPL Park offer fountain drinks with ice which for my wife is the only stadium criteria that matters. DSG gets points for being able to walk around the concourse without that gloomy closed in feeling when under that stands. Also you can get your food and drinks and still sort of watch the game. With the two full decks, RBA has the feel of a real American football stadium, although that doesn’t factor in my scoring as I really don’t care about that. PPL Park reminded me of a glorified high school football stadium.
RBA has a translucent roof that covers all the seats while the other two only partially cover the sideline stands. The down side is RBA feels more closed in. The upside is also you don’t have to view the surrounding Dresden style buildings. PPL Park has a great view of the bridge while DSG has the mountains.
There is a reason why DSG is in Commerce City and not Denver, PPL Park is in Chester not Philadelphia and RBA in Harrison, not NYC. It’s comes down to the dollars. People can rag on KSE about all sort of things and many I have no issues with but putting the stadium where they did is not one of them. Unless of course they want to go after most every other owner in MLS who has built a soccer stadium as KSE’s decision was no worse. But before you go after all those other owners, first go after those that haven’t built one yet.
Now for the winner, my choice is DSG Park, followed by RBA then PPL Park. There are a lot of things on which to judge a stadium and each of these three having things which I like but I’m not pretending my decision was based on a sophisticated, rigorous or elaborate analysis. My decision came down to the overall “feel” of the experience. Sitting in my seat, I’m immersed watching the game so it came down to how I felt entering the stadium, walking around before the game and at the half and then leaving. Based on that, DSG simply felt better. Commerce City has its issues but the stadium complex is open and clean while both RBA and PPL Park look like a shiny new stadium dropped into a blighted city. Commerce City isn’t the most scenic area on the front range, but fields around the stadium, the open area in front and large open areas to the north provide a buffer from that reality. There is no tailgating around RBA or PPL Park. There are no tents, grills, kegs, soccer fans mingling, talking soccer, laughing and kicking a ball around 50 yards from the stadium.
Going to an MLS game at Dicks Sporting Goods Park is a better experience.