Remember back to just before the 2009 MLS season started. There was a buzz around the Sounders. At first we weren’t sure what to expect. A sold out Thursday night opening match was electric. More games sold out. Tickets were impossible to come by. More seats opened up. More sell outs. Barcelona, Chelsea and the MLS Cup brought record crowds. It seemed that the team could do no wrong.
It was the perfect storm. A soccer enthusiastic public desired something positive to come from their city’s roster of not just losing, but atrocious, sports teams. That pent up demand, combined with a short supply of tickets, drove incredible buzz and success.
But perfect storms don’t last forever, and now the Sounders have to accept the bad that comes with the good of success. 2010 has been an interesting years for the guys in rave green. It’s a pretty interesting litany of environmental demand issues:
- Key injuries got the team off to a slow start.
- Spring optimism (which turned out to be very misguided) made the Mariners relevant for a brief period of time.
- The Barcelona and Chelsea games were replaced with Celtic and River Plate.
- The team’s European superstar was either whining, moping, in trouble with the front office, or hurt. We never really knew what it was – except he wasn’t drawing fans
So naturally demand fell. And that may have been fixable. But then at the same time, the Sounders faced a problem that no other American sports league has to face.
The Sounders qualified for what’s called the Concacaf Champions League. Now this as marketed as the marquee invitation for North American and Central American teams. It’s a chance to compete in real matches against top talent from Mexico, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, etc….But in reality, it’s a kind of weir tournament for anyone to get too attached to. You see, you qualify in 2009 to play preliminary games in 2010 to make a championship round in 2011. You could have literally turned over your entire roster between qualifying and playing in the finals.
But the other thing it did was add 4 new mid-week home games to the tail end of the season. And these games weren’t part of your season ticket package.
Now, factor in that the Sounders qualified for the U.S. Open Cup Final, and are hosting it. That adds another game, and a very exciting one at that. That’s extra game #5.
Now, just for fun, throw in that the Sounders promised a 3rd free “Friendly” to season ticket packages. Here comes Chivas from Mexico, to play a friendly at the most unfriendly time of the year – right before playoffs. Imagine the Huskies scheduling a practice game with Nebraska the week before the Apple Cup. Yeah – not much sense to it.
There are 15 games in the season, starting in Mid-March. Most of those are on weekends, so by the time August comes around, some fans are feeling a touch of soccer fatigue. A playoff race can reinvigorate the base and get them out to the games they bought a good 10 months ago.
But adding another 6 home games to the season – that’s 40% for you math majors – when kids are in school and youth leagues are firing up, is just an unfortunate turn of events. And that is why you saw 11,000 people last night. Even your most ardent supporters and look at the home calendar:
- 9/29: Meaningless CCL game
- 10/2: Important MLS game
- 10/5: Important US Open Final
- 10/12: Meaningless Friendly
- 10/15: Possibly important last MLS home game
- 10/19: Meaningless CCL game
So what’s the 2011 solution? Because if they win the U.S. Open Cup, they’ll qualify again for next year. And that schedule won’t change, so you’ll be in a similar bind. Here’s what I’d do:
- End the pre-season with a match vs Portland as a free ticket to season ticket holders.
- Reduce down to 1 mid-season friendly, but make it a good one.
- Let season ticket holders buy all 4 CCL matches for the cost of one game.
Now, there’s an economic issue with the CCL thing, in which the Sounders probably have to pay the CCL on every fan that enters the stadium. So, a 4 for 1 deal is going to cost them money. So they’d have to renegotiate some part of the concessions deal to make the money back. It’s not a perfect plan.
But the overall lesson is one of supply and demand. And once you lose scarcity, it’s hard to get it back. And the same people who wanted to go to the game they couldn’t go to, don’t want to go to the game that no one wants to go to. It’s a delicate balance. Interesting to see how they solve everything, now that a few land mines got thrown in their path.