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Understanding Sounders’ new ticket return system

It’s a bit of a chore to navigate all the variables, so we gave it a shot.

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In 2022, the Sounders implemented a brand new Return Ticket Program for season ticket holders. The idea was that instead of having to sell or give away tickets you couldn’t use, you could return those tickets to the Sounders and receive Return Ticket Credit. Many used the program, but it had a lot of flaws, including a very limited option of what to use your return credit for (like playoff tickets which turned out to not be necessary in 2022) as well as requiring returns 10 days in advance.

The 2023 version of the Return Ticket Program has significant improvements. You can return tickets up to noon PT of the day before the game. You can return some or all of your tickets. While it will be the club’s discretion whether ticket credit can be applied to pay-as-we-play events like League’s Cup, playoffs or future CCL games, the gamechanger is that Return Ticket Credit can be used towards your 2024 season tickets.

To make the Return Ticket Program work, the Sounders implemented some rules and changed the way tickets are priced. For one, tickets for only 7 of the 18 total dates can be returned in a given season. Also, the amount of credit you get changes for each game.

For the examples below, we will use the case study of a non-inaugural season-ticket holder with two tickets in upper 123 in the south end. In this case, season tickets in 2023 cost $504 each plus a $20 processing fee total for a total of $1,028. That comes out to an average of $28 per ticket.

From that base price, the Sounders have applied premiums and discounts based on perceived demand at the beginning of the season, called Variable Pricing. This is different from Dynamic Pricing, when prices can change in real-time as demand and supply changes.

For 2023, there are 4 price points:

2023 Sounders Price Points

Games Premium $28 adj. Description
Games Premium $28 adj. Description
6 -35% $18.20 Weekday games, St. Louis, Leagues Cup
5 4% $29.12 Non-Premium Weekends
5 20% $33.60 Premium Weekends
2 45% $40.60 Portland Timbers
18 0% $504 TOTAL

The adjusted ticket price represents the amount of Return Ticket Credit that the season ticket holder gets for returning those tickets. Without this Variable Pricing model, people could return their least desirable Wednesday tickets for full value while they keep the more desirable tickets at the same price. This way, returning tickets for Portland is worth more than twice as much credit as a midweek game.

However, if your plan is to use Return Ticket Credit to buy different seats, you have to keep in mind that you are not buying those seats at the season-ticket holder rates. The tickets you are buying are full-price seats (though when you buy extra tickets while logged in through your season ticket holder account, you don’t have to pay additional Ticketmaster fees)*. For example, this week’s RSL game in upper 123 can be returned for $29.12 each. But buying two tickets in upper 123 costs $34 each.

*Note: Original article assumed that when buying tickets with Return Ticket Credit, you also had to pay Ticketmaster fees

With Dynamic Pricing, those differences get even bigger. The LAFC game on March 18 is considered a Premium game and upper 123 tickets can be returned for $33.60 each. But the game has so much demand that those tickets at full price cost $52 each, more than 50% additional.

This becomes much less of an issue if you are planning to use your Return Ticket Credit to buy next year’s season tickets. In this case, you are swapping tickets at season-ticket rates for other tickets at season-ticket rates and there is no loss of value. But to do so, you have to be sure that you are buying season tickets for the following year, because if you fail to do so, the Season Ticket Credit expires in December.

Another option to get full value for your ticket credit is if the Sounders allow season ticket holders to purchase pay-as-you go products (like playoff tickets) using Return Ticket Credit. At this point, you can’t count on that, because the rules say that “Other Events including League Events and CONCACAF or other competitions may or may not be eligible for purchase through use of RTP credit, at Sounders FC sole and exclusive discretion to determine.”

Of course, an alternative to returning your tickets is to sell them, and to do that, you have several options. The least costly way to do that is to find a private buyer or seller through social media or your own contacts. For that kind of sale, the new variable face value is a great starting point to negotiate a price, as that mostly takes demand into account (if not entirely).

If you instead choose to use Ticketmaster’s embedded ticket sales process, it is an easy and convenient way for others to discover your tickets for sale. But Ticketmaster subjects both the buyer and seller to a large amount of fees. If tickets are listed at $100, the seller keeps 90% of that, or $90. Meanwhile, the buyer is subject to a 17.25% service fee, plus a $3 handling fee, plus about 2.5% in tax, meaning that the buyer pays over $120 per ticket and the seller only keeps less than 75% of that money.

Also keep in mind that while Ticketmaster charges 17.25% service fee for resale tickets, they only charge 12.5% service fee for tickets purchased directly from the Sounders inventory (which in most cases will be season tickets that were returned for credit). That means sellers have to charge 5% below the inventory price to be an equivalent deal to buyers. However as mentioned already, the dynamic inventory price is typically well over 5% more than the season ticket base price of the same section.

Another complication with Ticketmaster is that in most cases, there is a floor price that is the minimum amount sellers can charge. It tends to be about 15% below the Variable price, although for games over a month away, there currently is no floor price. Usually, as games get closer to kickoff, sellers are motivated to lower their prices to well below face value to make sure that their tickets sell for at least something, while buyers know that for most games there can often be last-minute bargains.

A price floor acts as an enforced agreement among sellers not to undercut each other as gametime approaches. It does mean that more tickets go unsold, but it also means that when tickets do get sold, they will be sold for a price closer to what the seller paid for them. It also means that more desirable tickets in a price range can be more easily sold at close to face value, while less desirable tickets have a harder time finding a seller. The price floor can be circumvented by selling at a third party, like SeatGeek or by making a private sale, but each comes with their own issues, and often at that point, people are willing to give their tickets away rather than have them go unused.

As the chart below shows, if the seller is planning to buy season tickets the following year and can return their tickets before noon the day before the game, they are far better off returning their tickets rather than trying to sell them close to the price floor on Ticketmaster as they will get much more value. But for last-minute decisions not to attend or for tickets that have a hard time finding a buyer, the price floor can either work for or against the seller, depending on the circumstances.

Return vs Sale Prices in Upper 123

Date Team Premium Return Price Club Inventory Price Floor Profit at Floor
Date Team Premium Return Price Club Inventory Price Floor Profit at Floor
3/4 RSL 4% $29.12 $34 $25 $22.50
3/18 LAFC 20% $33.20 $52 $29 $26.10
4/8 St. Louis -35% $18.20 $25 $15 $13.50
6/3 Portland 45% $40.60 $69 $35 $31.50


For season-ticket holders that know that they plan to renew their tickets for the following year, the Return Ticket Program is a great new option to utilize for any games they don’t plan to attend, especially when they don’t expect to be able to sell their tickets for a profit. For those that may not be renewing their season tickets, the program is still good, but comes with a lot of risks that they will not find good options to use the credit, but it still may be a better option than trying to sell them on Ticketmaster.

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