I'm not a frequent commenter or a local so I'm sure my perspective on this is different that many of you but I think ECS's stance on the San Jose Game is ill advised and probably will be ineffective. Edit: I think that ECS, and individual fans, hve every right to make decisions about what games to attend and which to stay home from. I just think that ECS' decision in this case is imprudent.
I'll start with this caveat: I'm not an ECS member and I am not privy to their private reasoning, all I have to go on is their public statements.
My Understanding of the Situation
ECS members travel to basically every away game and provide great support for the team, cheering, singing, sometimes providing away Tifo and special gathering opportunities for fans at away games.
For this year prices for tickets have apparently increased at several away venues. ECS has noted Portland and Vancouver, and has taken a stand for San Jose.
The earthquakes have scheduled the event as the first event at Levi's Stadium, built at the tune of about $1b dollars as the new home of the Beloved San Francisco 49ers. They apparently negotiated a deal where the Quakes season ticket holders get tickets (included in their season ticket) at about $25 and then the 49ers are in charge of all other ticketing: availability, pricing, location etc. I am sure the Earthquakes are getting some money out of this too, but the 49ers have the contractual right to set ticket prices and collect whatever they can get people to pay.
The Tickets for away supporters (with fees) come in at $53. The tickets for the general public start at $55 and go up from there.
According to statements on the ECS website in their public forums, ECS has decided to officially not attend the game claiming these prices are #awayrobery.
What I think is lacking in ECS' analysis.
ECS Claims that this is detrimental to soccer and to away support, and to a certain extent I can see what they are getting at, but from another perspective I feel they may be missing some things.
1. This is a special event.
- This is the meeting of two rivals, each celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year.
- This is the first event in a new stadium. Many people will buy tickets just to have been at the first event.
- This is Folks in the bay area's only opportunity to see the Sounders and the Sounders are one of the biggest MLS draws.
- This is not San Jose's usual pricing structure, this is a one time only event.
2. The prices being commanded are not out of line with other bay area events.
Price Ranges for comparable rivalry games for other bay area sports, noting that each of these clubs adjusts pricing based on demand (the giants adjust pricing daily) and selecting a similar level rival:
- 49ers: $85-$375 for season tickets with each ticket requiring a one time license from $2k-80k. The tickets for the sections ECS would be in are $100 per game with a $5000 seat license.
- Sharks: $55 -235 for an upcoming ducks games.
- Giants: $26-$98 for an upcoming game against the dodgers (on a tuesday)
- Raiders: $25-150 per game if you buy season tickets (averages over two preseason games as well and higher end tickets could require a seat license)
- Warriors: $48-480 for an upcoming game against the Knicks.
- Cal vs Stanford football: $75 plus fees for the cheapest ticket. (up to $200k seat licenses for some seats)
- Quakes: $23-165 for an upcoming game against RSL
- Athletics: $16-62 for an upcoming game against the mariners.
The range of $53-164 including fees for this game is not out of line for a big game for a major professional sport in the bay area. if you want to pay $20 for a game you're going to have to watch the A's or go to a non-revenue college sport. Alternatively Earthquakes games for non-draw opponents at their shoebox of a stadium remain a good value, and deals can be had for families interested in the sport.
I will be buying tickets to this game (as I do for other bay area sporting events I am interested in attending) and it be, by my quick calculation in the bottom half of ticket prices for the year, slightly above the Giants but Below Cal Football and Sharks tickets.
3. I cannot begrudge the earthquakes for seeking out additional revenue.
The Earthquakes sold these rights because they have inherent revenue limitations in their current situation. They are hard capped at 10k seats in Buck Shaw, and they have to resort to special games (in Stanford stadium and here) to get the extra revenue needed to compete in MLS.
I can understand their situation as they are trying to finance their new stadium and they need the quick cash from this opportunity to take the edge off the debt long term. I also root for the California Golden Bears. Cal is doing a similar one time event at Levi's Stadium from which they hope to net an extra $1M of revenue above what they would normally get from that game. I would assume the quakes are looking at a similar revenue boost. For both organizations this is not an insubstantial percentage of their season ticket revenue.
Additionally, I think as the quakes see it, they've taken care of their fans by providing the tickets in the season ticket package. Anyone else would be a casual fan who is purchasing a ticket for this special event (See #1).
In the long run I don't see them doing this every year, once they have their own stadium done, I would expect them to hold marquee events there to get every penny of the revenue available.
4. I cannot begrudge the 49ers for seeking out additional revenue.
Levi's Stadium cost $1.3b to build, approximately $336m more than originally planned.
Including some money from the city of Santa Clara, the ticket seat licenses and commitments from contracts (potentially including this game) they have contracts for $1b of that money, leaving them $300m short. Ticket revenue would cover the remainder over the long term but again, financing that money would be a substantial drag on their finances until it is paid off, especially since many of the existing contracts are long term deals, proving revenue over 20 years. The 49ers contributions to this project are about twice what the total cost of Centurylink was, and an order of magnitude higher than the Seahawks paid (the 49ers are paying near $1b, Paul Allen ponied up $130m). This is a substantial financial burden and is substantially different than the Seahawks.
The stadium authority is looking to showcase this large expenditure and expects to be able to get a substantial price for the first game at this stadium.
5. Low ticket prices are not necessarily positive for the development of soccer in MLS.
MLS revenues are more substantially weighted towards gate revenue than any other major professional sport.
MLS revenues are also the basis for negotiations for the new CBA and salary cap.
If ECS success and gets their message across to MLS brass that tickets are too expensive, I would expect it to have a chilling effect on raising the salary cap. Failure to raise the salary cap will stunt the long term growth of the league.
If we want high quality players, if we want the best athletes in this country choosing to play soccer, if we want a better MLS, we need the salary cap to go up. For the salary cap to go up, ticket prices will go up, probably faster than inflation.
6. I don't think the ploy will be effective:
I don't think the earthquakes or any other club will be substantially moved by this ploy. In fact I don't think the MLS clubs value away support like ECS does, and I don't think they ever will. In fact, given ECS's historic struggles to get higher away ticket availability, I think that some clubs may see this as an excuse to cut away supporter ticket availability in the future.
So what does this all mean?
Maybe the quakes could have negotiated cheaper tickets for ECS in their contract, but I don't see their motivation to do so. I bet they figure anyone who can afford to fly down for a soccer game can afford an extra $20 for the ticket.
It's clear that ECS is upset about ticket prices elsewhere as well. I don't think that they are a victim of a calculated system of discrimination against away sounders supporters, but rather a victim of the sounders popularity. The sounders are a premium match over the long term sounders away matches will be the amongst the most expensive matches for that team. Tiered pricing is an industry standard and MLS teams would be giving up revenue not to follow it. I'm not sure why ECS chose san jose to make a stand, rather than a game where the MLS club still has control of the pricing but I suspect it was more convenient to make a stand here than at a Cascadia match.
I guess it comes back to the fundamental question of marketing: how much can MLS charge before people balk and walk away. While we would all like ticket prices to be low, we also have to understand that growth of the sport relies upon ticket revenue.
I guess we all have to make that call individually, but I for me the answer is different than ECS's answer. I will be at the game and I will miss the signing and chanting and support normally provided, but I will still enjoy myself. I think that's the danger here for ECS, and why I would be careful how many principled stands they make. If folks get used to life without away support, that opportunity could disappear.