South Philly Wooing Sports Fans With Xfinity Live! Complex

They built it, but will you come?

By L. K. Murray
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 20, 2012

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There was a simpler time in Philadelphia sports. It didn’t include stadiums named after banks or subway stops named after a company touting its 4G coverage. Hell, people didn’t even own cell phones back then.

There was the Vet, home to the Eagles and Phillies, and the Spectrum, where the Flyers and Sixers called home during the ’70s and ’80s.

Fans back then didn’t need club-box seats, sushi or vodka tonics. Just a warm beer and a cold hot dog seemed to suffice. Ice cream in a plastic mini helmet and nachos were about as exotic as the food choices got there.

But those arenas are long gone, with nothing more than bronze markers to note their existence.

Veterans Stadium was reduced to rubble eight years ago this month; we bid farewell to the Spectrum in 2009 with the swing of a wrecking ball. What was once home to championship sports teams, musical acts like Adam Ant and ZZ Top, professional wrestling and monster truck rallies is now little more than a parking lot.

Obviously, things have changed. Philadelphia continues to expand as redevelopment creeps along its major corridors. And nowhere is this as evident as it is in South Philly, home to our city’s four major sports teams.

Lincoln Financial Field is home to the Eagles and Temple Football. The multipurpose CoreStates … err … First Union … err … Wachovia … err … Wells Fargo Center is filled more than 80 nights a year with Flyers and Sixers fans.

Only the Phillies have been able to raise a league championship banner in the city, breaking a title drought dating back to the Reagan administration. They did so in the 8-year-old old Citizens Bank Park, where you’re as likely to find vegan and gluten-free food options as you were the infamous feral cats in the bowels of the Vet.

And now, just in time for the start of another Phillies season, the curtain goes up next week on Xfinity Live!—a 60,000-square-foot sports and entertainment center owned by Comcast-Spectacor.

And it’s dropped smack dab in the middle of the sports complex.

“By taking down the Spectrum and building something new and exciting to reinvent the property and create a fun entertainment center, it doesn’t replace the memories, but it moves us forward,” says Peter Luukko, Comcast-Spectacor’s president and COO.

Come rain or come shine, the sports complex in South Philly is where the Delaware Valley goes to cheer its teams and drown its sorrows. Which is why Luukko sees Xfinity Live! as another step in the evolution of not only professional sports, but of Philadelphia itself.

“The whole idea of all of this is to have a concept that there’s something for everyone—a family oriented place where maybe you want to do some fine dining one night, but maybe the next you want to relax in a pub,” he says. “The next night, you could sing along at the Victory Hall, or ride the bull another [night].”

Five venues take up space at the corner of 11th Street and Pattison Avenue, anchored by the NBC Sports Arena and its 32-foot diagonal Sony HD TV. It’s being billed as a “fourth stadium.”

One of the spots is PBR Bar and Grill. But don’t be fooled by the name. It’s named for bull riding and not for shitty beer.

The Broad Street Bullies Pub plans to offer four dozen beers on tap in a classic setting. Victory Beer Hall, a joint venture from the Downingtown-based craft brewer, is a take on European drinking halls.

There will also be smaller retailers like Mitchell and Ness onsite.

Joel Maxcy, an associate professor with Temple University’s Sport Industry Research Institute, says the Xfinity Live! project is a sort-of sports shopping mall.

The three existing stadiums are the anchor stores, the draws for patrons, and the rest are infill. Instead of an Orange Julius stand, you have a place to buy crab fries. Instead of a place to get your ears pierced, maybe you can get your face painted.

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