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'Away Robbery' symbolizes shift in sports consumption by younger fans

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The Sports Business Journal gathered sports executives for a conference at the same time "Away Robbery" was the talk of ECS and some other supporters groups. SBJ considered that as a symbol of how Millennials are different from Boomers.

Leverage is an interesting thing. It's hard to get and it is harder to use it effectively. When the Emerald City Supporters took to Twitter, Sounder at Heart and other media to announce their boycotting of the trip to San Jose, there was some question as to whether it would have any effect on prices. Prices aren't yet lowered, but they are getting noticed at the highest levels of sport - not of MLS, of SPORT.

When the San Jose Earthquakes set a minimum ticket price for visiting fans at $55 this season, Seattle Sounders fans, whose team opened the season in California, took to Twitter in protest. It wasn't long before Earthquakes supporters joined them, and then fans from both teams and both cities united to take their concerns to the league.

Opposing fans joining forces is something MLS Commissioner Don Garber never imagined, and it underscored just how different millennial fans are from their predecessors.

"That's not something anyone in our generation thought of," Garber said. "A Giants fan wasn't hanging out with an Eagles fan to figure out how they were going to deal with away-ticket pricing. We better understand that. It's going to affect the way we do business."

Those opening paragraphs in the Sports Business Journal story about how NASCAR, MLS, IMG College, Wasserman Media, MLSE, Vulcan Sports, the 76ers, Twitter, Honda America, and Vizio execs are dealing with Millennials. That generation is a prime age group for advertising and the fuel for the future of sport.

The Baby Boom and Greatest Generation had their sports traditions. Younger fans are shifting how they consume and their traditions are different. The Sports Business Journal (and the related soccer execs interviewed) indicate that one of those traditions is travel and another is a willingness to work together outside the stadium in order to pressure teams and leagues to shift policies to favor fans, not suits.

Sports leagues, particularly sports with 100-year histories in the USA, are not used to having to shift rapidly. Twitter's sports leader points out it took baseball 30 years to add replay. The NFL local blackout policy shifted this last season after decades of its protectionism.

Millennials do not wait decades for changes that help them enjoy sport. They do not wait years. That generation is used to a tech industry that responds and develops rapidly. Sport needs to deal with that.

"In a tech-based world, you have to change or you die," Wasserman said. "[That hasn't been] the case with sports. It's an industry that has lived on in much the same form it has for 100 years."

Away Robbery is unlikely to change the pricing structure this year, but the lever was applied and North America's sports business leadership noticed.