So What Happens to Season Ticket Holders if There's a Strike?

season_tickets_animatedSo now that there's not going to be a strike (yet) we can turn our attention to other things.

Like, y'know, what happens if there is a strike? And specifically, what happens to the most loyal group of fans, the season ticket holders? And their money?

I've been wondering about the status of my season ticket money -- three midline seats, i.e. not cheap. And the Sounders Ticket Policy page is mum on the issue. So I called my friendly season ticket rep and got the official line:

1) There will not be a strike. Season tickets will be mailed out as scheduled between March 5 and March 15.

2) If there is a strike, (which there won't be) we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. No official word on refunds or lack thereof because... Well, there won't be a strike.

Me, I'm not nearly so sanguine. The real problem here is that we're not talking about issues with common ground. The players are standing on principle because they feel (and rightly so) that this CBA lays the foundation for how players will be treated into perpetuity. MLS is standing on principle because they feel (possibly correctly) that giving ground on issues like free agency will undermine their legal standing as a single entity, and they value single entity status above all else because they feel it's what will keep them from an NASL-style collapse.

I can see both sides. What I can also see is that when both sides in a conflict value principle above practicality, there is little room for compromise or middle ground. (See: Middle East, the.)

So where does that leave us, the season ticket holders?

Somebody said on the GoalSeattle forum that we'll get a refund only if the entire season is canceled. I've been searching for a source for that and can't find one, so we'll put it in the "unsubstantiated rumors" category. (If anybody has more info on this, please let me know.)

If that should be the case, (and again, I'm not saying it is) it would seem incredibly short-sighted, punishing longterm fans and leaving the casual, last-minute fan unscathed. That doesn't sound like MLS to me; they've been desperate to cultivate a passionate fanbase, and picking our pockets while delivering no product doesn't seem like the best way to do that.

Unless, of course, screwing over the STH were the standard set by other sports when there's a strike/lockout. Because if everybody else does something, it makes it a lot easier to do yourself. (Has anybody who visited Rome ever paid for their bus ticket when not in the presence of a transit cop? Didn't think so.)

So I went searching for precedent.

I found one blanket statement, for the NBA lockout. Good news: All season ticket payments were refunded. With interest.

I also found this interesting and somewhat comforting article on maintaining a customer base in the event of a work stoppage.

Three major professional sports - baseball, basketball and hockey - experienced work stoppages in recent years, creating a unique problem for teams: how to maintain their customer bases when their product is not available.

Most teams are more sophisticated at brand and image advertising than they are at customer relationship management. Many took the obvious steps of offering either an immediate refund, interest on money paid in advance (which usually exceeded that of an average bank account) or letters of apology.

(The article is worth a read in its entirety, if only to remind ourselves that it's the fans who are the victims in the event of a work stoppage and it can be hard to win us back. Even with refunds. Are you listening, MLS and players?)

On the other hand, the "Total Tickets" website, which sells hockey tickets, has this disclaimer:

If an event is cancelled for any reason other than an act of nature (rainout, earthquake, flood, etc.), war, terrorism, strike, or lockout we will provide a house credit for the amount that you paid for the tickets.

(Must give players and management a feeling of power to know that strikes and lockouts rank right up there with terrorism and war and earthquakes. They're every bit as omnipotent as tectonic shifts and despotic dictators!)

Sounders FC policy, on the other hand, merely says:

All sales are final.

Which would appear to give them leeway to refund money. Or not.

So, in short, there does not appear to be anything in place that would definitely prevent refunds of season ticket holder money, and there's plenty of precendent for doing it. And unlike, say, the Denver Broncos, it's not as if most MLS teams have people standing in line to replace the current STH's. So my best guess (which is, obviously, a guess)?

Our money is probably safe.

Let's hope this is a moot point, and that our season is safe too.

UPDATE WITH LEGAL STUFF

As you'll see in the comments, "Angry Waterfowl" was kind enough to research legal issues:

Alright, the question piqued my curiosity and i did a little research. The quick and dirt consensus of various state courts seems to be:
(1) STH’s plainly have a right to the face value of their tickets for cancelled games
(2) Tickets grant a right of entry only – the club makes no warranty as to quality so games with scabs do not (as a matter of law) warrant a refund [this may not be the case in florida - but most states that have ruled on the issue disagree with the florida precedent and it is unclear at any rate because it dealt with an express term guaranteeing refunds for strike cancelled games]
(3) Interest should only be enforced when one party acts in bad faith or cancels events of its own accord (so a lockout might trigger interest while a strike might not)

In other words, the money we've paid out entitles us to...something, or else they have to refund our money. But it does not necessarily entitle us to games with the current issue of Seattle Sounders FC, with Freddie Ljungberg and Kasey Keller. In theory they could upgrade the Kitsap Pumas, play them for 30 games and say they've fulfilled their contractual ticket obligations.

I think MLS is smarter at PR than that, though.

Right?

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