Things are looking pretty dismal for Philadelphia sports. The Eagles, coming off their 2011 horror show, have no real backup for the injury-prone Michael Vick, suffer from poor tackling and will be facing tougher competition in their division than years before. The Sixers had a great run to and in the playoffs, but are a long shot to repeat. The Flyers, as always, seem perpetually unable to figure out their goalkeeping issues. And the Phillies, my beloved team, are aged, injured and are now forced to come to terms with a farm system depleted by too many low round draft picks. No, it is not a great time to be a Philadelphia sports fan. But that doesn't mean there won't be a parade down Broad Street.
Because regardless how my teams do, Philadelphians will be celebrating in 2015. That's when the Pope is coming to town. After blowing us off in 2008, choosing instead to take what must have been a divine form of the Acela Express from New York straight to DC, Pope Benedict XVI is likely preparing to visit Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families.
Why here? One-third of the city's two-million-plus population are Catholics. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia oversees scores of parishes and schools throughout the area. And recent priest abuse scandals have shaken many of the faithful. The time is right. And besides, where else is His Holiness going to go when he gets the munchies for a steak with sauce, onions and whiz at two in the morning?
Philadelphians can likely expect the following: lots of crowds, a parade or two, plenty of media attention and one of our sports facilities to host a large mass. Although given the performance of our sports teams of late, I've heard that the Mass may be changed to a Requiem.
Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, can expect the following: money. The papal visit will bring plenty of opportunities to profit. And why not? People surely love the Pope. But they also love a good week down the Jersey Shore and a new car. Smart business people are already thinking of ways to bring these loves together in 2015. Maybe your business can also profit from His Holiness. Just consider these five ideas.
1. Selling Souvenirs.This is the most obvious. Everyone will want a memento of the Pope's time in town. Back in 2008, my family and I were coincidentally in New York City during the Pope's visit and my son bought a T-shirt commemorating the event, which he still proudly wears to this day. Did I mention we're Jewish? People like souvenirs! With almost three years to plan, there's plenty of time and opportunity to license products, create new ones, set up a website to sell stuff in advance and start filling up the garage with potential items to sell during the big week. The really smart business people will do their best to corner the market, hiring as many helpers as possible to blanket the city with their goods. They'll have no conscience whatsoever and sell whatever they can -- from ashtrays and T-shirts to duffel bags and teddy bears with a cross on the back. This is America. Catholicism? Capitalism? Sounds pretty close to me, doesn't it?
2. Selling Food. Don't want to sell Pope thongs or bandannas? Then think about all those hungry people who will be congregating in the streets. Now's a good time to plan out another way to make some dough. Soft pretzel dough, I mean. And hot dogs. And drinks. And chips. And whatever other food these people are going to want to sustain them through those long hot hours waiting to catch a glimpse of His Holiness. A smart entrepreneur, with enough foresight, could rake in tens of thousands in just a few days selling food to the masses. Just make sure to get rid of the hamburgers by Friday.
3. Partnering. A big event like this will put pressure on both the city and its preferred contractors. Public and private parking lots will likely be stressed to the maximum. Our transportation system will be pushed to the limits. Medical services will need to be on call. Security has to be tight. Which means there will be plenty of opportunity for small and large businesses, not to mention our government, to partner with each other. The economy has forced our city to reduce budgets for libraries, police, firefighters and teachers. Even our political and union leaders have been forced to curb their payments of bribes and kickbacks as a result of these hard times. The papal visit will not be cheap. Smart entrepreneurs will be offering their services to the city and their designated contractors as a more efficient means to get the job done. They'll cut deals with private parking lots to open up their spaces, offer shuttle services for the elderly and make their medical facilities available. And those already in the security business will likely look for more business that week too. It's time for some brotherly love, baby. And a few extra bucks to boot.
4. Supporting the Catholic cause. Okay, so you don't want to be shilling bottles of water or dealing with the crowds during the Pope's visit. I get it. But that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of his visit to advocate your support of your Catholic customers, suppliers and friends. Use the occasion to give to a Catholic organization. The Brits like to hold parties for their Queen's Jubilee, so why can't your business host a party for your customers and suppliers to honor the Pope's visit? If you're not a partying type, then maybe support a local church or youth group because, contrary to the vilification many priests have received in the press, the great, great majority of them work hard every day doing good things for their communities. And they're all in search of funding and help. It's okay for your business to sponsor events and for you to promote that sponsorship. We live in a media society and it's nice to show that your business is behind your community. With the Pope's visit, it's a great time to highlight your support of Catholic causes and all the good that they do.
5. Opposing the Catholic cause. Or, maybe you're not a big supporter of all the Catholic causes. That's okay too. It's a free country. Of course, it will take a thicker skin but if you're out to get more attention for your business then there's no better way than taking a controversial public stand. The Catholic religion has done plenty of good but there's certainly no shortage of detractors. Over the past few years, popes have thrown themselves into contentious social issues like abortion, birth control, homosexuality, capital punishment and Notre Dame's mediocre performance on the field last year. Maybe you don't agree with all these positions. Maybe you feel strongly about some. And maybe you'd like to take the opportunity of the Pope's visit to highlight your opposition. You can do this reasonably and without a lot of yelling and screaming. Your business can sponsor, advertise and help promote those organizations that you support. True, you might lose Catholic customers. But you may also gain those who share a like mind with your points of view. You might get some good press. You might get abuse. But remember: there's no such thing as bad PR.
Yes, Philadelphia fans are sometimes known for their rude behavior. We've thrown snowballs at Santa Claus and batteries at opposing players. But there's no doubt that people of all faiths will welcome the Pope with open arms when he comes to town. And there's no doubt that there will be plenty of entrepreneurs who will also be happy to see the Pontiff too. Will you be one of them?
Another version of this post appears on The Philly Post.