As we are all probably quite aware, Seattle Sounders take the motto "We will follow wherever you may go" quite literally. In fact, there's an entire subgroup of ECS devoted to carrying on this tradition. You can find them on Twitter under the handle @ECSTravelMonkeys and they do yeoman's work to make traveling for Sounders games as simple as possible.
With the Sounders taking another large contingent to Southern California for the first leg of the Western Conference finals against the LA Galaxy on Sunday, I figured now would be a good time get to know what goes into making this happen. The answers were supplied by ECS Travel Director Heather Satterberg.
How many Sounders fans are making the trip to LA? How many with ECS?
Including the team's friends and families, there will be 700 Sounders fans in LA. The ECS has sold 550 tickets for the match.
Is ECS or the Sounders doing anything to help the travelers on their way?
The ECS provides a discount by buying in bulk. Tickets in our area are listed at $55 each, but we were able to obtain them for $31. So we sell them at $32 (+$1 to cover credit card fees) to members, and $34 to non-members, because, well, it was ECS memberships that allowed us to front the money buy in bulk. The Sounders help travelers simply by being the Sounders. Lots of companies want to partner with the Sounders so you can find discounts from air carriers, car rental companies, hotels, airport parking companies, etc. 10% off here, $5 bucks off there, every little bit helps. Plus, we have some special partners sending complimentary beverages for the tailgate.
How did ECS go about coordinating with the Galaxy on tickets, tifo and proper entry and exit plans?
We've been doing it since we joined the league. We do it for every match. But we've been to the West Coast venues so many times, that the operations plans have almost written themselves. It always starts with a phone call, and in the playoffs that means calling both of your potential opponents. We're all sports people, so everyone is very careful about speaking in hypotheticals so as not to upset the soccer gods.
For ticketing, you start with the numbers you sold in the past and you think about how many of the group will travel, and then add about another 150. I'm not kidding. This group and their passion never cease to amaze me. It's humbling.
Most of the tifo exemptions are spelled out. Some things will change based on an experience the venue may have had recently, or maybe because we weren't so nice last time we were there. But, with the Galaxy and Stub Hub staff, we have a pretty good relationship. It helps that our SoCal Sound subgroup is at every Sounders match at Stub Hub. There's consistency with us, and that makes stadium staff feel a little more secure in what they can expect from us.
For every away match, we have an operations conference call about a week out from the match. (That's standard around the league) That's where a lot of the details get hashed out. Tailgate timing, parking or bus-drop locations, entry times, tifo exemptions, etc. We usually have 3-6 ECS members on the call, along with a Sounders staff member, Away FO staff, Away stadium & security staff, and sometimes some league staff. It usually depends on the profile of the match.
We almost always have a designated person who questions everything and pushes our agenda, and then another person who offers the compromise. I'm not giving anything away; they do it, too. In fact, I had a good chuckle at our ops call for the regular season match with Galaxy in October. Our designated person kept pushing them on an exemption for BFFs (Big F*cking Flags), these are the huge 10'x12' ones, which need 16' collapsible poles in order to wave them. Well, StubHub has a 6' pvc limit for visiting supporters. So, our person asked why they allow it for their supporter groups but not other groups that come in. And, the Galaxy person, finally getting a little exasperated, said, "Because it's our stadium, and well, we deserve to have some home field advantage."
At that point, I actually paused the call's proceedings and just thanked him for his honesty, because we ask that same question of every front office, and he was the first to actually say what we have all known. :D
What kind of limitations has the Galaxy put on Sounders supporters?
We don't really have limitations, we are allowed to organize support, self-police, treat our section as GA, use a drum and megaphone (so long it only amplifies the human voice, and is never pointed toward the pitch), rail banners, song cards, pvc for 2-poles, we are allowed to enter early to arrange our tifo, and we are asked to hold in the section for about 20 minutes afterwards to give home fans time to empty the concourse.
How have Sounders fans been treated at StubHub in previous trips?
StubHub and Galaxy staff typically do a pretty good job. We had a SNAFU at our last match, which was a direct result of it being Landycakes' last regular season home match. They felt that since the match would sell out, and many Sounders fans would probably try to buy on the secondary market, that they needed to wristband the ECS. That way they could readily tell who had tickets for our section and who didn't. Unfortunately, what was usually a 5 minute entry process then took almost an hour of ripping the ticket, searching bags and persons, hole-punching the ticket, then giving us a wristband, then re-re-checking everyone as we filed into the section. We barely made it in time for the kick-off.
But, we had a post-mortem on that, and they will increase the assigned personnel, so I don't anticipate any trouble...but, we shall see. (There's a conspiracy theory among some that they did it on purpose so we couldn't spoil the pre-game LegenD festivities, if you can imagine.)
Can Sounders fans who bought their own tickets coordinate with you in any way?
They can meet up with us a Lot 16 starting at about 10:30AM. But once it's time to march in, they'll to go in a different gate.
Is there going to be any kind of pregame activity?
We're having a no-host tailgate until we March at 12:15pm, so everyone is welcome to join us in Lot 16.
How many goals to you expect the Sounders to win by?
None. I fully expect us to tie our way to the cup. We're Seattle. We don't get it easy. No one like us. We don't care.