Missing pieces continuing to plague supporter culture in Vancouver

Missing pieces continuing to plague supporter culture in Vancouver

Jigsaw puzzles are one of life’s simple pleasures that I don’t spend a lot of time on, but when I do, I usually enjoy them. Finding all of the edge pieces first to build the framework or shape of the puzzle and then grouping the rest of the pieces together by their dominant colour. Things often then are easier to put together in small clusters before being linked up to create the larger picture.

We all know that frustrating feeling when we are robbed the joy of placing the final puzzle piece – because it is missing – in the last spot to complete the journey and be able to gaze on the entire image in all its fullness. The only thing worse is having multiple missing pieces. This idea of a jigsaw puzzle with portions missing from it reminds me of the football and supporter scene in Vancouver.

Sure there are parts of the picture that are quite clear, but there are a number of gaps – especially when it comes to the relationship between some of the supporter groups and their connection to the Vancouver Whitecaps Front Office. Every so often there will be 140 characters shared, a Facebook rant, forum post, or pub discussion that seems to shed some light on these incomplete areas, but it is still hard to appreciate the intricacies of the overall scenery. In some way it feels like this puzzle is missing some of or all of the edge pieces, which help define it and give it context.

As a keen observer, witness to, participant in, and just someone who is passionate about the culture surrounding the game and support in this region (and country), I feel compelled to attempt to fill in some of those blank spots. I fully recognize that the perspective I share is… biased. It is one of the reasons I have not used this medium to utter more of my thoughts in the past. However, the time has come to help make this picture as clear as possible for as many as possible.

Today the FO have sent out information to their season ticket members in regards to 2018 pricing. There are at least two significant changes that supporters need to be aware of.

1 – There will be no more Green sections at BC Place. The Green sections that were in the corners of BC Place’s east curva will now be a part of the Teal (Family) sections. The Green sections that were in the corners of BC Place’s west curva will now be a part of the White (Supporter) sections.

2 – The people who are in what used to be Green, will see a 7% raise in their season ticket price or roughly $2.50 a month ($30 for the season). The people in the Teal and White sections will see their season ticket price drop by 5%. The price for 18 matches (17 MLS, plus one Voyageurs Cup) will be $479.30, which includes all fees. This works out to $26.63 per match. This number includes the traditional 12% discount that is offered during the first period (approximately 2-4 weeks) of season ticket membership renewals/sales.

The simple analysis is that the FO is decreasing the cost of season tickets for 12 sections in the stadium (six in each curva) by roughly $25 and they are increasing season ticket prices for eight sections (about two in each corner) by roughly $30. What is really going on is a course correction.

When the Whitecaps entered MLS they had three ticket prices in each curva. The most expensive was directly behind the goal, well the section on either side of the tunnel. These were the Aqua sections, if memory serves correct. The next price point was Teal, and finally the corners were Green. The reasons that were publicly given for this breakdown at the time were that there was a “perceived value” to being in the supporter sections and they wanted to monetize that as much as possible. The FO decided it was best to charge some of their most loyal supporters more for the ability to be in the areas with the worst sightlines. These were the very people that created the atmosphere on match days that the FO used as their primary marketing piece, especially in terms of trying to differentiate themselves within the local sports community.

It only took a couple of seasons for the powers that be to realize this wasn’t working. Initially the Aqua section was phased out and became a part of Teal, with Green remaining in the corners. Later the west curva was changed to the White (Supporter) sections and the east curva was left as Teal (Family sections) and again the corners remained as Green. The FO’s approach to dealing with having the cheapest tickets in the corners, which is a better view than behind the goals, was to slowly raise the price over the years. This always reminded me of the experiment where if you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out, but if you put a frog in cool or room temperature water and raise it slowly over time, the frog won’t notice and will boil to death. Somehow I think humans, especially Vancouverites, will react a bit different than amphibians.

Now that Green has the same price tag as White/Teal, it no longer exists. It has taken six and a half to seven years to correct the section/pricing issues that were created at the onset of MLS, and that is without a discussion on the actual cost of tickets and how they compare to other teams in MLS. It also doesn’t address one of the significant concerns that supporters have had for a long time – a General Admission section to help unite the various groups.

GA is the ideal set up for the long-term health and growth of supporter culture in any city. It enables like-minded people to gather together, it makes it easy to bring small and large groups of family/friends/co-workers/etc. out to matches and expose them to the culture, and it can be very helpful when it comes to deploying visual displays. It also allows future supporter groups to form, which helps to keep the culture fresh and relevant. Specific to Vancouver, a unified GA section for supporters would enable there to be vocal unity throughout the entire supporter end of the stadium.

Earlier this year representatives from the Vancouver Southsiders and Curva Collective met to try and tackle a number of issues. In February, Peter Czimmerman and Jeff Tinker began to work at a proposal for the FO on possible ways to move forward with GA in time for the 2018 season. At the pre-season meeting with the FO at the end of February, the supporters informed the FO that a proposal was being worked on and would be coming. Following this meeting the FO helped with the proposal by giving pertinent information to Peter and Jeff in regards to number of tickets/seats in each section and previous and current pricing to go with them. These two gentlemen, and particularly Peter, worked diligently to put together a comprehensive proposal that included financial feasibility elements.

In the end there were two ideas on how to best move forward with GA.

There was the band-aid removal method, meaning you turn the whole of White into GA. This would meet all of the goals mentioned above, coupled with new pricing in the Green section and you have a way to increase revenue. We knew this was something the Whitecaps Front Office would likely not agree to, but ask for the moon and the use that as a negotiating point, so both sides feel they have gotten something out of the situation.

The second approach, which was deemed more easily implemented than ripping off the band aid, was to turn one section of the six in White, into GA… with the understanding that others would follow in the future, if and when it was warranted. A third option of building a section in the tunnel gap between sections 254 and 201 was not included in the proposal as the FO had told supporters on a couple of occasions that this was not something they were willing to make the financial investment for. Thus two options were included in the Southsiders/Curva Collective joint proposal.

At this point I am sure some of you are wondering about Rain City Brigade’s role in all of this. They do usually have a representative at the meetings with the FO, but they have made it clear that they have no desire to be a part of a unified GA section. That is totally cool. The team plays in a massive stadium and there is room for everyone to support in whatever positive ways they would like.

As the proposal was going through its final editing, the supporters got a surprise email from the FO stating that they were putting out a survey about GA. There are a number of issues that the supporters interested in having GA had with how this survey was handled. To start with, it worked against the process that was in place. The FO knew that the proposal was coming and they acted on their own. Their survey had no education on what GA was and why they were considering implementing it. It basically asked two questions:

(1) Are you planning on renewing your season ticket in 2018?

(2) If we make your ticket GA would you still plan on renewing in 2018?

The response was approximately 70% saying they were unlikely to renew if this were to occur. Honestly, I was surprised the negative response was so low with the options given. I would have expected it to be higher. Needless to say the supporters felt like the FO poisoned the well and acted in bad faith. This is not the time to list all the times that supporters have felt that way, but it is obvious that it is not the first offence in this respect.

In the May 15th meeting, when the FO shared their findings with supporters, they were unwilling to admit that the course of action they took impacted the outcome. They also made statements to the effect that “it is not logistically feasible to do a part of a section as GA”, which of course is something that Curva Collective does every match in 5-10 rows at the front of section 203/204. The one thing the FO wanted that night was for the supporters to come back with a commitment to move into one section together.

I won’t soon forget that night in June when a couple of people from each group met in a round room, around a round table, to talk about the best way forward. I know some people still wonder about why Curva Collective started in the first place. I won’t get into all of that now, but it was – at least in part – a result of what happened with the poor section/ticketing issues at the beginning of the MLS era that led to the Southsiders original 150 ticket deposits being shot gunned across 5 sections. There was no core and those 150 people struggled to meaningfully lead the other two thousand or so people that were in close proximity to them in 2011. Out of those growing pains, and some stylistic preferences, Curva Collective was born.

Going into that June meeting I remember reflecting on a few things. I looked back on the visual display the two groups had worked together to create and deploy. There were some pretty memorable ones in the mix. I think we showed that we can do some quality stuff together. I thought about the vocal side of the support as well. Over the years, and particularly due to Cascadia away days, the two groups had come to sound pretty similar. Sure there are a maybe a handful of each others chants that we’re not super excited about, but those are minor differences. The most significant difference vocally is the fact that we’re singing separate things at the same time.

For some this might sound, pun intended, like a very simple thing to overcome, but it really isn’t. We have made multiple attempts over multiple years and it is just not easy to be synced up in our current locations, at least not for long periods. We do sing two to four times together each match, or each half on a good night. As Southsiders’ Stadium Ops Board Member, Darcie Kerr, told the FO on May 15th, “What we’re doing isn’t working, so what do we do now?” I honestly never thought I would see the day of the Southsiders and Curva Collective in the same section at home matches. However, going into that June meeting, I knew we had to be willing to try.

Curva Collective’s representatives at that meeting expressed the openness of the movement to cross the tunnel and join a unified GA section in 253/254. The more surprising thing for me that night was hearing that representatives of the Southsiders were willing to move to section 203/204 should the circumstances be right. As I drove back to the Fraser Valley that night I was filled with hope. Hope for the future of supporter culture in Vancouver. I was filled with joy at the prospect of home supporters at BC Place all singing the same song. I was excited at the possibility that some of the Vancouver Southsiders might join us in section 203/204, but I also remember the sinking feeling I got in my stomach when I realized that the unified GA section couldn’t be in section 203/204.

On my commute eastward that night I was reminded of the fact that many passionate Southsiders, who sing loudly and proudly, are also people who would prefer to not be in the GA section. Many who would identify that way would not mind being next to, or close to one though. If the Southsiders were to bring all of their GA seeking people over to 203/204, they would be leaving behind a remnant of a significant size, filled with some nice singing voices. This would basically lead to a reverse of the current situation where the larger group is on one side of the tunnel and a smaller group of passionate singers on the other side of the tunnel. The smaller group would obviously want to sing their hearts out, but it would be hard for them to sing together with those on the other side of the gap. I came to a place where I knew that the GA section had to be in 253/254, and I was surprisingly OK with that. Sometimes when we give something up, we find a deep sense of relief. Have you ever experienced that? I did that night.

The groups came back to the FO with an email expressing our willingness to be together in one section and that that section needed to be 253/254. Unfortunately the FO’s response was that they were only willing to make GA happen in 203/204 and only starting in the five to seven rows behind Curva Collective’s existing area. I thought I would have been happy for such a reply, but I was gutted. I knew it couldn’t be in 203/204 because we would be creating a similar dysfunctional situation to what already existed. That is also without going into the details of what it would mean for the Southsiders to orphan half of their people on the other side of the tunnel. We went back to the FO and told them once again why it had to be 253/254.

You know how this part of the story ends. The FO sent out their message to all the people who responded to their GA survey saying they had heard from the people – or at least heard the replies to their poorly asked questions – and they were no longer pursing GA. That of course is not fully true. They are now working with the Southsiders to create a GA section in part of 252/253, which is a bit strange because they told us in May that doing something like this wasn’t possible. I guess parameters change more than you’d expect them to (There is a joke about MLS rules being written on napkins in there somewhere).

It is hard to see some of the team’s most passionate supporters once again be abandoned in their efforts to continue to see the atmosphere progress. You’d hope it is for the last time, but history would indicate otherwise.

I hope this adds a few more pieces to the puzzle, in terms of what is really going on with the Whitecaps and their supporters. I hope this brings into focus some things, as opposed to making already murky waters murkier.

I have included the GA proposal, so that you can read it for yourself. After all Peter and Jeff put a lot into it and I think it is important for as many people as possible to understand what is/was behind this effort. If you still want to be in a GA supporter section at BC Place, please contact Peter Czimmermann at secretary@vancouversouthsiders.ca as he continues to lead the charge toward some form of GA on the Southsiders side of the tunnel in 2018. You can also contact Jeff at curvacollective@gmail.com to support with Curva Collective in their GA section this season. The group is having a meeting in August to discuss what 2018 might be like. Jeff can give more details on that as well.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Please note that this is my perspective as an individual member of Curva Collective and not necessarily the views of the entire group. Always happy to hear people’s feedback and various perspectives, so please feel free to post in the comments below.

There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Angus Walker at 16:47

    I sit at the back of section 254 behind the goal. Most supporters sections at clubs I have watched over the years are directly behind the goal. I think the supporters sections at the Whitecaps are too separated. You speak of filling the gap between sections 202 and 254 but the two groups wont even move closer together within the confines of what we have. We have quite a rowdy group where we sit and join in with the chants when we can (and start our own when we cant). Sometimes we hear the Curva and other times the Southsiders and many times we get confused by both singing different songs. Just moving Curva to 202 and the Southsiders to 254, would bring them closer together, so they can sing the same things. That would enhance the volume and bring the rest of us into mix which will up the volume even more.
    Simples

  2. Dann at 19:38

    ST holder from first MLS days, and love the supporters groups! They’re a key part of the atmosphere for me and my family (who prefer to sit a couple sections away). I’ll send a note to the FO in support of your GA proposal

  3. Smapti at 20:04

    Far Up Far Out

  4. Alexxeee at 20:51

    It’s $2.60 a month mate, lay off a crap cup of coffee from Tim Hortons and you’ll be just fine.

  5. Greg Petrie at 20:52

    Ever since they shifted to the “teal end zone (supporters end)” and “white end zone”, I’ve been waiting for the day when the Whitecaps lower the price in the white end zone or raise it more in the teal. I know it’s coming. It’s the only reason you change the colour of the two end zones, to one day set up a price difference. It’s always been ridiculous of them to have the “perceived value” of tickets with such poor sight lines be so high in price, and over the years it’s shown to be just that in the white end zone, with empty seats, group-on tickets, or free tickets the norm at that end of the stadium.

  6. Kip at 21:12

    Apart from a small but vocal minority doesn’t sound like many people are that interested in having this happen. I sit in 202 def not interested in giving up my seats for GA neither is anyone I’ve spoken to.

  7. Darren Porter at 23:35

    What garbage is this? People don’t want GA in this city. Get over it.

  8. Greg Petrie at 09:09

    Conversely, you might say that a small but vocal minority *don’t* want GA.

    I sit in a section where a bunch of scalpers have grabbed up some of the tickets around us. Those seats have frequently been empty this year. GA would allow them to be filled. I’ve also been to the rugby sevens games the last couple of years where the majority of the seating is GA and it’s worked fairly well and been a lot of fun.

  9. Greg Petrie at 10:56

    I should probably add that the article points out that it was the Whitecaps who ran a poll for “all of supporters section” being GA, while the Southsiders/Curva were more realistic in only trying to establish one or two sections for GA. That might inconvenience some people but most people would be unaffected.

  10. Joe Deasy at 11:19

    Judging by the comments and social media discussions, the first thing Curva and Southsiders need to do is take a stance as an organization, maybe in the form of a vote or something similar, so that true unified action can be taken on behalf of the groups. If the response is negative then it will be clear that the fans do not want GA. Should both groups be in support, very effective action could be taken, such as protests (see Bundesliga fans remaining quiet for 12 minutes to protest ticket price increases) or requesting the front office to remove any marketing material that shows the Southsiders or Curva.
    Personally, I am a fan of GA, but I am very wary that in this market there are people that would prefer to have a assigned seat. Ultimately, this should be settled democratically

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