If you are reading this from the Philadelphia area, I don’t have to introduce Mayor Nutter to you. If you are elsewhere, it won’t surprise you to know that like many big-city mayors, Nutter is Philadelphia’s chief sports fan as well as its chief executive. And like any good Philadelphian, he isn’t afraid to tell you.
In recent years, Nutter has added soccer to the list of sports he follows avidly. He might not be the biggest expert, but he has developed a genuine affection for the world’s game – and a genuine appreciation for its economic impact on his city.
The All-Star Game continues a trend of soccer events here that includes the 2010 NSCAA Convention, the 2009 Gold Cup, and the 2003 friendly between Manchester United and Barcelona that christened Lincoln Financial Field.
Mayor Nutter was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time earlier this week for a quick chat about how he has become a soccer fan.
Everybody knows about Philadelphia’s passion for sports, but we traditionally think about that passion being expressed through the four major ones – football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey. What has soccer done in the last few years, in your estimation, to build a niche?
I think soccer has made itself now part of the "big five" sports. When we talk about sports in the Philadelphia region, I think increasingly, you’re going to hear people talking not only about football, baseball, basketball and hockey, but also soccer.
It is a rapidly growing sport, there’s a ton of fan base here in the Philadelphia region, and there are a whole lot of young people – and people who think they’re young – playing soccer. So I think they’ve energized and activated the area, causing all of us to pay that much more attention to soccer.
Certainly the Philadelphia Union gives a lot back to the community, and they’re doing some great things down in Chester. They’re also helpful here in Philadelphia as well.
If someone had said to you back in your days as a disc jockey* that you were going to be presiding over an event like this, and celebrating the existence of a soccer team in Philadelphia, what do you think you would have said?
I would have said that maybe they had been over-served. First, I had no idea when I was working at a nightclub that I would be the mayor of Philadelphia. So a lot of things have happened, obviously, over the years.
But it’s a wonderful moment for our city, certainly for our region. I’m very, very excited about this upcoming MLS All-Star Game, and I just want the fans to come out, have a good time and enjoy the match.
* - Yes, for those of you who don’t know, Nutter was a DJ before he became involved in city politics. He quite famously belted out a rendition of "Rapper’s Delight" at his first inaugural ball. Really. Here's the proof: