For many years now football fans in the UK have argued that the game has forgotten it’s roots. It was the sport of the working class and was priced accordingly so that young, old and everyone inbetween could get along on a Saturday and see their heroes.
Then things changed.
Football became fashionable. Spurred on by the success of fanzines, television companies embraced the fan culture. Comedians like Baddiel and Skinner became household names with their televisual equivalent to the fans printed tomes. Footballers became celebrities and the game the new rock and roll.
The Premiership exploded into the nation’s consciousness, then came big names, the more corporate side of the game, the hike in ticket prices, the pricing of ordinary fans out of the market and the money men running and ruining the game across Europe.
Football is almost unrecognisable from the sport that gave me hours of pleasure as a little boy in Fife.
But that’s the UK. As an exile living in a country now where football struggles for column inches alongside college sports and curling, I was under the impression that I was back in the heart of proper football with my support of Vancouver Whitecaps FC. A club with values and a true understanding of how important ordinary fans are to the games growth in Canada and throughout North America.
The Caps as an organisation seem to have their head screwed on when it comes to footballing matters on the park. As they prepare for their debut season in Major League Soccer next year, the enthusiasm amongst the small, but hardcore, supporters of the current Division 2 level side grows by the day, with announcements of management, players and plans for the step up to the “big league”. It’s an exciting time to be a Whitecaps fan.
Or at least it was. Now it’s just become an angry time as the Club seem keen to show that although they get it ON the pitch, OFF it, they haven’t a clue.
The Caps announced their season ticket prices today for their inaugural MLS season and whether it’s greed, ignorance or just sheer stupidity, they seem to have scored a massive own goal before a MLS ball has even been kicked.
Vancouver is a football city (or market as the ad men would like you to call it). It always has been since the Caps made their way into the NASL in 1974. When the team won the 1979 Soccer Bowl in New York, over 100,000 fans lined the street to welcome their heroes home and the Whitecaps were the hottest ticket in town.
Times may have changed with football in North America but the passion for the game in the city of Vancouver is still huge, with 15,000 $50 season ticket deposits being snapped up and crowds of over 20,000 expected for the Whitecaps first MLS season.
You have to wonder though just how many of these deposit holders will actually be converting their deposits into full season ticket packages now that the pricing of them has been released.
To say the prices are a shock to the Southsiders supporters group is an understatement. Fuck knows how the rest of the the Vancouver public will greet them. You know, the ones that don’t live and breathe football. The ones that will cite hockey’s Canucks or the throwball Lions as their main team in the city.
The Caps advertised ticket prices from $319. They have honoured this with approximately 10% of these tickets available in shitty corner seats. Many will have put down season ticket deposits expecting to be paying this amount, especially in any designated supporters section. The more realistic amongst the support expected to be paying a bit more.
Yes, a bit more. Not hundreds more.
The next pricing tier is a very small number at $418, followed by the behind the goal supporters section tickets at $494. Fancy a seat along the touchlines? Try forking out up to $969 for that privilege. You then have to add on a 12% sales tax on top of these and then a service charge as well. They are amongst the highest in the whole of the MLS and for a club that hasn’t even kicked a ball in anger yet, that’s just plain crazy no matter what spin you put on it.
The package is for 17 MLS home games and two Canadian Championship games. No playoffs. No friendlies. No seemingly added bonus at all in fact.
Fucking scandalous in these recession hit times and whoever came up with these final prices in the Whitecaps front office needs to take a good, long hard look at themselves.
The Club will argue that they are not a normal new MLS Club. They are successful in other Leagues throughout the years, they have history, they have a current fanbase, they plan to be amongst the best in the World.
To reach that latter goal they obviously need to go with top players. They don’t come cheap, especially those in their prime. They do need money for this, that I accept, but I would have thought that their recent mega money deals with Bell and Bank of Montreal would have gone a long way towards that. I’m sure both corporate giants won’t like the prospect of them sponsoring a team with many empty seats dotted around the stadium or unhappy fans.
At these prices the Whitecaps will also have to have instant success otherwise renewals will be a very hard sell and the prices hard to justify.
Now they may be marketing geniuses and sell the bulk of tickets at these prices. I personally will eat humble pie if they do this with no struggle whatsoever. They’ll be lucky to get 10-12,000 season ticket holders at those prices though in my opinion and part of me hopes they do fail as they need a fucking wake up call and a kick back not only into reality but into the world of proper football not fantasy football.
It would appear that it’s some of the most loyal fans that have been shafted in the process. The Vancouver Southsiders supporters group has been a key asset to the Whitecaps organisation in the last couple of years.
That group has created the only football atmosphere at their current ground, taken part in advertising campaigns for the Club, have earned the media’s ear and been the best promotional tool the Whitecaps have in their arsenal for attracting proper football fans.
The Euro ex-pats who sneer at the Caps current level may just give MLS a look in when they see that there are fans in Vancouver bringing a European flair to the terraces and it’s not just soccer mums and family friendly sections sucking the life out of the atmosphere. Not that I expect to see too many families come out to watch the MLS Caps at those prices of course.
How has the Southsiders loyalty been repaid? By more than doubling the amount that the group currently pay for their D2 season tickets, charging the third pricing tier when the second would have been barely more palatable and giving them one of the worst views they could have of the game for that money. Behind the goal, through the net was the view the fans wanted to cheer their boys on to victory – just not at those prices.
The new Vancouver supporters section in MLS will now be the costliest of any other team’s supporters section in the entire league and in many cases, hugely so. That’s what loyalty gets you apparently in Canada.
To put this into context with other MLS clubs we need to compare and most certainly contrast the $565 that’s expected to be shelled out for the Vancouver supporters section (all fees included there).
The other new Club for 2011, Portland Timbers, have looked after their fanatical Timbers Army with a cost of $360 for their season tickets and group branding of their section. The Whitecaps other Cascadian rivals, Seattle Sounders with their ECS supporters group, have upped their prices to $436 for newbies and those who have just held season tickets for one year. Those who have been in from the start get it for $351.
Beckham’s crowd in LA pay between $400 and $500 but also get 5 bonus matches as part of their package, but Thierry Henry’s faithful in the New York supporters section pay only $320. Last year’s expansion team in Philadelphia charge their supporters section $275, San Jose $204, Chivas USA $180, Colorado $180 and Dallas $170. The successful DC United are more to the top end at $460 but at least you get a jersey included for that price.
In fact from what I can see, apart from narrowly at Kansas City, EVERY other MLS club rewards their loyal and most fanatical fans with the lowest prices in the supporters section.
For a front office that seemed for so long to “get it” their actions smack of an organisation that is no different from the football clubs that many despise in England and elsewhere in Europe. The ones who forget what creates a proper football atmosphere is football fans. Supporters, not attendees.
It would seem that even in Canada, a country far from being described as a footballing hotbed, and in the MLS, a league which let’s face it is a fucking joke with very low standard players, “top” names that have had their day and so many unfootball-like regulations in place, money still seems to be the god for those in charge.
Vancouver Whitecaps have set their stall out that they want to be one of the world’s top 25 football clubs. Sadly, it would appear that they’ve gone for a top 5 club pricing structure and it’s a structure that will rule out many of the ordinary supporters. The ones that could really make a difference, that could create an atmosphere to rival elsewhere in the League and the world and most importantly, help grow the game of football in Canada and North America.
Football the world over it appears is no longer the domain of the working man.