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Sounders owner explains why some season tickets had sudden price spikes

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Adrian Hanauer insists the total increase was only in “mid-single digits” while acknowledging big bumps on some seats.

Gallery Photo: Sounders vs. Rapids: Photos Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

Around this time of year, Sounder at Heart has grown accustomed to hearing rumblings and grumblings about season-ticket prices. Just like every year, we heard quite a few complaints about how much their prices had gone up. But this year’s complaints seemed a bit different. While there have always been examples of double-digit percentage increases, this year we were hearing from people who saw even bigger bumps. One long-time season-ticket holder even told us their tickets were up 34 percent over the previous season.

Given the anecdotes, we wanted to get some data. We reached out to the Sounders, who got us in touch with majority owner Adrian Hanauer.

Although Hanauer didn’t hand over the hard data, he insisted the overall percentage rise in prices was “somewhere in the mid-single digits.” He also said 25 percent of the season-tickets either saw no increase or a slight decrease in prices. That’s obviously a far cry from the anecdotes we were hearing.

The Sounders don’t know quite where they’ll fall in comparison to other MLS teams yet, but their goal is to be about the middle of the top third in terms of average ticket prices.

“We don’t want to be first, we don’t want to be second, we’d probably prefer not to be third, but probably near there,” Hanauer said. “We want to find the right balance between being a great value proposition and generating the revenue necessary to compete for championships every year; that’s an art, not a science.”

He did, however, acknowledge the anecdotes were based in reality. Some sections of the stadium did, in fact, see significant price increases.

Why?

Unlike previous seasons, the Sounders enlisted an outside firm to examine their season-ticket prices and help determine the new ones. They looked at the secondary market, how much comparable seats cost around the league and how tickets relate to each other inside CenturyLink Field and other factors. What they found was that certain sections around the stadium were much cheaper than they should be, while others were a bit more expensive. The result was what is effectively a one-time price correction.

“Part of this year’s pricing conclusion and determination was to right-size all those data points about how tickets should be priced,” he said. “We took their recommendations and made our own adjustments. In a lot of cases, we made smaller increases than were recommended. We tried to take their feedback and put in a Sounders-fan friendly format.”

As much as no one likes spending more money for what is essentially the same product, Hanauer also pointed out that in order to keep spending significant amounts of money on everything from transfer fees to player salaries to running the academy and S2, ticket prices will likely continue to rise, albeit without the sudden spikes for certain tickets.

“One of our strategic objectives is to run a responsible and sustainable business — in the range of break even on a cash-flow basis — and that is what we’ve done from Day 1,” he said. “Not surprisingly, our costs continue to go up and we need to generate new revenue each year and hopefully improve the product on field.”

Other notes

  • As was noted in the renewal information, the 18th game in the package will be a CONCACAF Champions League game. The 19th game, though, is undecided. Hanauer said it’s possible it could be another CCL game if the Sounders advance; a preseason friendly, likely against a Liga MX team; or a summer friendly, likely against a European team.
  • Hanauer said the club’s goal of eventually selling out CenturyLink Field has not changed and remains one of the organizations top priorities. Toward that end, he seemed happy with the policy this year to adjust capacity to more closely meet demand for each game rather than identifying a handful of games as “full-stadium” matches. So far, so good, as the Sounders are on pace to top last year’s average and could even feasibly break the club record set in 2015.
  • Renewals for 2018 are ahead of where they were at this point last year, but Hanauer noted the Sounders’ place in the standings is much improved and that the sample-size is still too small to make any definitive projections about the total renewal rate.