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Several months ago, talks between the three Cascadia MLS clubs on the contentious issue of ticket allocations for away supporters were mired by exhaustive debates over “fair and equitable” outcomes for all three cities.  After much ballyhoo and grandstanding, 500 was declared the magic number supporters groups could expect when traveling up and down the I-5.
 
Unfortunately, when it comes to the actual distribution of these much-treasured tickets, there has been very little equity for Vancouver supporters whatsoever.
 
Portland’s front office routinely hands tickets over to the Timbers Army for their travels to Seattle. Sounders supporters have recently been handed control of their away tickets as well. No such luck for the Vancouver Southsiders – they are forced to keep a hawk-like watch over local ticketing developments for fear of losing opportunities to actually spend money supporting the Whitecaps.

Earlier this year, Vancouver’s fans eagerly waited for tickets to go on sale for the Cascadia Summit preseason tournament in Seattle. All three clubs issued a joint news release advising that tickets were to be purchased from the Sounders front office or from Ticketmaster. Lo and behold, when the sales date finally arrived neither Ticketmaster nor the Sounders claimed to know anything about Vancouver’s allotment, and declared the tournament completely sold out within a few hours.

Fearing the worst, the Southsiders enlisted the help of the generous members of the Timbers Army supporters club in Portland to ensure themselves of seats at Starfire tourney. As it turns out, the Whitecaps actually did receive a healthy shipment of tickets from Seattle… but it was nearly a week after the initial sale, and contrary to the sales protocols announced weeks earlier.

This turn of events was NOT how these tickets were intended to be distributed. If the rules changed, somebody forgot to tell the fans in Vancouver, and possibly the Whitecaps front office as well. You simply cannot jerk people around like this and not expect a negative reaction, which is why this week’s ticketing news – and the outrage amongst supporters – is even more frustrating.

Upon reviewing the March 19 game day program from the Whitecaps inaugural MLS match, the Southsiders were stunned to learn that corporate sponsor Uniglobe Travel would be a third-party broker to Vancouver’s 500-seat allocations for their regular season derby matches against Seattle and Portland.  Further, Uniglobe was providing charter buses to the travel effort – something the Southsiders had made their own reservations for several weeks prior after being told by front office staff that there were no plans for club-operated buses at that point in time.

I won’t speculate as to whether the Southsiders were intentionally deceived, or whether the staff present for those talks were misinformed. The bottom line is that once again, rules and plans for ticket distribution to Vancouver fans have been changed without consultation or notice to the people affected the most.

Upon reviewing information provided by Uniglobe, four immediate concerns became clear:
 
a) Their ticket and travel costs are significantly higher than the Southsiders previous self-organized bus trips (we can make the same run to Seattle for $50 – $70 less per person);

b) Their advertised departure times are insufficient for the reality of border waits. The Southsiders were recently delayed three hours at the truck crossing while traveling to Seattle, even though they arrived by 9:00 am. Uniglobe plans to arrive at the border even later than the Southsiders did.

c) The potential nuisances arising when boisterous Southsiders are seated on a bus with fans preferring a somewhat quieter road trip experience.

d) The apparent  HST surcharge being levied on tickets for an event occurring in the USA!

When the three Cascadia clubs reached an agreement on the 500-seat allocations for away supporters back in December, Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber was quoted as follows:

“Under the ticket plan, host clubs will make the 500 seats available in advance to the visiting team. The visiting club will sell those tickets, at face value, directly to their own fans.”

Unfortunately, Uniglobe’s non-bus ticket sales greatly exceed “face value.” Paying a corporate scalper $43 for a $28 ticket that was supposed to be allocated directly to supporters at cost is an astoundingly  vicious knife in the back of three Cascadia supporters groups who lobbied furiously to get fans access to those tickets to begin with. The fact is, before club executives entered those lengthy negotiations with each other, Seattle was going to stiff their incoming visitors with a paltry 150 seats ( a mere pittance when one considers that Seattle has 30,000+ empty seats in the upper decks of Qwest Field, but that’s another debate all together!)

So where are we now? As of this morning, the Southsiders have made our case to the club, and to their credit, they have been extremely receptive, cooperative and eager to find a resolution that keeps their sponsor and their largest supporters contingent happy. They have listened to our concerns about costs and departure times, and they have been quite open to the idea of adding “Southsiders only” buses to the southbound fleet, ensuring all travelers get the type of journey best suited to their tastes.

That said, they have advised that they cannot deliver any solid answers today. Perhaps tomorrow will bring better luck.

Our question though is this: Why do we have to keep traveling down these roads of negotiation, compromise and fence-mending instead of getting things right the first time?
 
Our ultimate preference is (and always shall be) that the MLS clubs need to step aside and let the supporters take the lead on supporters issues like these. For all the paranoid rhetoric we have heard out of Seattle’s front office about terrorism, riots and hooliganism, the reality is that the lucrative and highly marketable Cascadia rivalry will see far more damage from short-sighted decision-making and poor project execution than from pointy flagpoles or dirty words.

Come on you Caps: it’s time to keep your promises and deliver for your loudest and proudest supporters. We’re not asking for special treatment, we’re asking for the tickets YOU said we were entitled to. Get it sorted!

- John Knox is a lifelong Whitecaps supporter, and a founding member and current president of the Vancouver Southsiders supporters club.
The views expressed in this blog are strictly his own, and do not
necessarily reflect the views of the Southsiders organization.

 

 

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