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Fans left fuming after Sounders ticketing fiasco

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“That bar was not met today, and that is completely our responsibility,” the Sounders share in a statement.

MLS: MLS Cup Conference Semifinals-Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The first Seattle Sounders match played in front of home fans in over a year had promised to be a celebratory affair. By Friday, it likely still will feel that way. But on Tuesday — the day tickets finally went on sale — the emotions surrounding the game are considerably darker as fans encountered frustration after frustration in an attempt to get their hands on the roughly 35,000 tickets that were made available for the first five home games of the season.

Although some of those tickets still remained available as of 6 PM, the Sounders expected their inventory to be exhausted by the end of the day. More importantly, they seemed to understand that the obstacles fans needed to clear in order to make it happen fell extremely short of the standard they’d set during their 12 MLS seasons.

Around 5 PM, they issued this statement:

“Earlier today, our club launched its pre-sale for Sounders FC Season Ticket Members to secure tickets for the first five matches of the 2021 MLS season. That launch did not go as planned and provided our Members with a user experience that fell far short of expectations. As our most important constituents, our Members expect a lot from our club, and rightfully so. That bar was not met today, and that is completely our responsibility.

Our club apologizes and will do better moving forward. There are no excuses. Please know that we are working with the necessary parties to ensure that all of today’s issues are remedied. While we fell short of both your expectations and our own, our club-wide focus remains on welcoming fans back into Lumen Field as smoothly and safely as possible. We cannot wait to celebrate with you safely again soon, and we are working hard to regain your trust after today’s experience. Thank you for being a Sounder.”

The day got off to an ominous start when the Sounders — apparently through a third-party vendor — erroneously sent an email at 8 AM to season-ticket holders telling them that tickets were already on sale, even though previous communications had suggested they wouldn’t be available until 11 AM at the earliest. That caused a mild panic online, with fans rushing to Ticketmaster only to be placed in a queue that at one point appeared to have nearly 5,000 people waiting.

It wasn’t until around 9:30 AM that the Sounders issued a statement to season-ticket holders about the error, clarifying that they wouldn’t be able to purchase tickets until their previously assigned windows.

Frustrating as it might have been to anyone who had waited in the virtual line for 90 minutes, if that had been the only problem, all likely would have been forgiven.

Things only got worse.

Tickets were supposed to go on sale to inaugural season-ticket members at 11 AM. Instead, fans were greeted by errors on Ticketmaster or forced to again wait in a queue that numbered in the thousands. The planned one-hour window quickly expired, and at noon tens of thousands more season-ticket holders were supposed to gain access to the tickets. That only exasperated the technical problems.

Around 2 PM, the Sounders issued another statement, claiming to have “resolved the issue” and changing the pre-sale window. Inaugural season-ticket members were still promised exclusive access to tickets until 3 PM, with those promised access at noon pushed back until then and others gaining access at 4 PM or 5 PM.

Although fans were finally able to start buying tickets, Ticketmaster’s ability to handle demand was still causing significant levels of frustration with reports of “seat rule error” with no explanation on how to remedy it being the most common complaint. Meanwhile, and perhaps most frustratingly, tickets started to show up on the secondary market at drastically marked up prices.

Even for those who got tickets, there was a palpable sense of anger that seemingly won’t easily be mollified.

The irony in all of this was that the Sounders only recently switched from SeatGeek back to Ticketmaster, seemingly with the express purpose of avoiding situations exactly like this one. If any company should have been able to handle something like this, it’s the ticketing giant. Instead, they were apparently caught off guard by the level of demand.

The Sounders, too, own a share of the blame. Based on surveys and conversations ticket reps had with season-ticket holders, they apparently assumed demand would be significantly lower. But that data was largely gathered before vaccines ramped up, which surely increased the number of people willing to attend matches. At the very least, waiting until just a few days before the first game — and making all five games available at once — likely exasperated any issues.

While vaguely similar frustrations also surrounded MLS Cup tickets in 2019, in the end most everyone who wanted to be there was able to get in. Most had forgotten about that by the time the game rolled around. Chances are, this situation will not blow over so easily.