The MLS offseason is a little long, but that doesn't mean it has been boring. In Sounders-land we've had the re-signing of two of our most popular players, the signing of an interesting international, the coming and going of several MLS veterans, a new jersey to fawn/fret/fawn/fret over and, of course, the still not entirely unsettled matter of Cascadia Cup tickets. Regarding that last matter, I figured it would be good to chat with Gary Wright — the Sounders' Senior VP of Business Operations — and Keith Hodo — the president of ECS — regarding the plans for Cascadia Cup. I also talked with Wright about other various aspects of ticketing and offseason plans.
The big news is this: There won't be extra sections sold for Cascadia Cup matches regardless of demand and it's looking to be unlikely that the Hawks Nest will be opened up for regular-season games. It also looks like the 500 tickets available to away supporters will be distributed through supporters groups and you'll almost certainly have to be a member to have access. Of perhaps less major interest is the Sounders apparently deciding not to go to Turkey for preseason training, as Wright said they will travel to Arizona and Florida only.
I'm sure most of these things will come as somewhat of a disappointment to many of you. I can't say that I totally agree with all the decisions myself, but I can say that I at least came away with an understanding of why the decisions were made the way they were and can't really argue with the logic.
As far as the away ticket allocation itself, I don't really think there's much left to say other than maybe reiterating the fact that this really seems to be a joint decision on the parts of all three teams. While it's been reported that the Sounders were the ones tamping down demand, Wright said all three teams spent a significant amount of time and thought in agreeing to the decision to allocate 500 tickets to away supporters.
"I don't think there's any question that we were in total agreement on how many tickets to have," Wright said, noting that the decision was modeled at least in part on the NFL's allocating of 500 tickets to visiting teams. "All three teams want to make this a great experience.
"For the first year, it's a great test. Nothing is in stone forever."
Distributing those tickets will be the province of supporters groups. Just how supporters will distribute their tickets among the three main groups — ECS, Gorilla FC and North End Supporters — is still being determined, but you're probably going to have to be a member of one of those groups to get a ticket. ECS is planning to present the plan at next week's Alliance Meeting.
"Right now we're going to offer them to members," Hodo said, adding that it will most likely be on a first-come, first-serve basis. "The only point that we're sticking on internally is whether to allow people to buy one or two each."
As a point of reference, it's worth noting that ECS distributed more than 300 tickets to last season's U.S. Open Cup match at Portland on about a week's notice. Hodo estimated that there were about 500 Sounders fans in attendance. He also seemed to think 500 tickets would be plenty for the trip to Vancouver, B.C., as many members have expressed some concern over dealing with the border.
Opening Extra Sections
One way to potentially alleviate the potential ticket crush brought on by increased away support would have been opening extra sections for Cascadia Cup matches, assuming demand warranted it. Wright said that won't be happening. It had been suggested in the past, for non-MLS matches anyway, that if demand warranted additional sections to be opened up that the Sounders would consider doing that.
"We look at this as a total business," Wright said. "You have to establish a manifest and once you do that, you leave it at that level. If we open it up in one game, why not open it up for other games and then season tickets don't become as important.
"If you were just looking at it from the outside, geez they could sell 5,000 more tickets for that game, why not do it? That makes some sense, but there's an overall, business plan. Our goal someday is to sell the entire stadium, but you have to take steps to get there. Someday it will happen."
One step in that direction was expected to come this season. Toward the end of last season, Sounders owner Joe Roth expressed his hope that season-ticket demand would allow the Sounders to open the Hawks Nest for regular-season matches. The decision has not been finalized, but it's looking like that won't happen. At least part of that equation is the loss of advertising space. is
"The Xbox advertising is a major factor," Wright said. "We take tremendous pride in the fact that Xbox and Microsoft are our major sponsor. That piece of real estate is pretty iconic. That just jumps out at you on TV. That is a major piece of the puzzle.
"We have to do what's right by them also. They made a great leap of faith on the product before they knew what they were getting into. We have to be fair and right. They are a partner of ours, they are a teammate. We try to treat people right."
The uncertainty around the Hawks Nest, as well as finalizing where away supporters will be placed, is part of why many prospective new season-ticket holders don't know whether or not they'll get tickets. Wright said the seating configuration will be finalized in the next two to three weeks, and anyone who requested tickets should know their fate by then.
"It's all just totally tied in to the big picture," he said.
Sounders Preseason Plans
Wright noted that training camp officially opens on Jan. 19 and that, contrary to previous reports, the team would be staying in the United States throughout preseason. The Sounders will go to Arizona for a couple weeks and to Florida for a week, but will not be going to Turkey.