Rival Supporters Belong At Empire Field And BC Place

Following on from Wednesday’s blog, the Southsiders released a press release on the issue of travelling fans in the MLS. We’ll keep you up to date with any stories picked up from it, but here it is in it’s entirety just now:

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Vancouver Southsiders want the doors left wide open for soccer fans travelling from Seattle and Portland

VANCOUVER – Next year, Major League Soccer will be home to the legendary Cascadia rivalry between professional soccer teams in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. The league will also have to address an issue it has never had to contend with before – hundreds (possibly thousands!) of “away days” supporters travelling up and down the I-5 to watch their teams play on the road.

It’s a scenario that seems to have MLS executives mystified. Media reports out of Seattle suggest that Sounders FC owner Joe Roth has been spooked by public safety concerns, and may limit ticket allocations for visiting supporters to just 150 seats per match. League commissioner Don Garber also met with the Timbers Army supporters club in Portland this week, where he admitted that he doesn’t really understand supporters culture and the “away days” phenomenon that is so important to soccer fans around the globe.

IN OUR VIEW:

The three-way Cascadia rivalry is an absolutely crucial part of the past, present and future successes of professional football in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

The away days experience is vital to building camaraderie and solidarity within supporters groups, and expanding their membership numbers.

Supporters groups are the lifeblood of successful soccer teams, as they increase club exposure, generate an exciting matchday atmosphere and lend credibility to a sport which must compete with the Big Four sports entities (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) for fans, dollars and media recognition.

Bearing these points in mind, we feel there are steps that could be taken by Major League Soccer which would benefit the teams, their supporters and the league as a whole:

All home / away derby matches between Cascadia rivals should be booked for Saturdays, Sundays or long weekends. This will make it much easier for greater numbers of visitingsupporters to attend these matches. Midweek fixtures make travel expensive and impractical.

The three Cascadia clubs should not restrict the number of away tickets available to rival supporters. We believe that the presence of visiting fans on a rival’s home turf makes for an exciting atmosphere that strengthens the resolve of all supporters and encourages them to sing and cheer even louder. By welcoming the Cascadia rivalry right onto our doorstep, new Whitecaps supporters can see firsthand that they are a part of something that is truly unique to North American sporting culture. This rivalry is a powerful phenomenon that has the potential to convert casual fans into passionate, lifelong supporters. Major League Soccer should not be shying away from this amazing opportunity.

Major League Soccer should work with supporters to pre-empt any security concerns well in advance of the 2011 season. This is something which Vancouver Whitecaps FC has done extremely well over the past three years, resulting in a practically flawless safety record, even for matches with a significant presence of visiting supporters.

STADIUM SAFETY:

We believe there are three key principles which should serve as basic guidelines for Major League Soccer clubs who face the prospect of hosting large numbers of away supporters:

Away supporters should always be seated together in one area of the host stadium. This allows police / security personnel to supervise spectator conduct, and to swiftly identify and respond to any safety issues which may arise. The away supporters seating area should be located at a reasonable distance from the home side’s most active supporters groups.

If possible, away supporters should be instructed to enter and exit the host stadium through one or two predetermined designated gates. These gates should not be anywhere near pre / post match marches, rallies or places of congregation which are known to be frequented by the home club’s supporters. If away supporters seek entry at an incorrect gate, stadium staff should immediately redirect them to the appropriate entrance.

If absolutely necessary, visiting away supporters can be escorted in / out of the stadium by police / security personnel at predetermined times. Doing so will minimize the potential for verbal / physical altercations between rival fans. For example, away supporters can be escorted directly to their seating area 15 – 30 minutes prior to kickoff, and detained for 15 – 30 minutes after the final whistle before being escorted out (this will allow time for home supporters to disperse from the stadium, and once again reducing the potential for interactions between rival fans

IN CLOSING:

Vancouver, Seattle and Portland bring something to Major League Soccer that it has never had before – a legitimate and historical rivalry spanning three generations.This adds credibility to a league which is trying to establish itself in an increasingly crowded professional sports market.

We are of the belief that the pros of hosting away supporters by far outweigh the cons, as their presence on our home turf will only fuel the passion of the Whitecaps fan base. It would be a shame to allow a few misconceptions and fear of the unknown to get in the way of a truly electric match day atmosphere.

A sport only has relevance if there are fans rallying behind it. It’s time for Major League Soccer to support its supporters.

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