Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer spoke to a handful of reporters today about the fans’ concern over the higher season-ticket prices. He also spoke later on ticket allocation to away fans in the three-way Pacific Northwest rivalry we’ll have next season. Here’s the completed transcript.
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(On the higher season-ticket prices) “I certainly saw some message-board activity and went back and tried to do some research and do some digging. I think to me there were three issues. One, we all along intended to raise our ticket prices three percent in this third year for original season-ticket holders. I do think there was some confusion about that and it may be partly on our side. I’m sure we’re partly to blame. I have seen articles online and message-board information about us not raising prices three percent, but I haven’t seen anything from our club that said that. So that was the first issue that’s become a bit contentious. The second issue is the friendly. This year we decided to do a seventeen-game regular-season package and one friendly. We had talked to our customers and thought we heard them loud and clear, which was that they didn’t want multiple friendlies and they wanted one big one. So we have set about to bring a blowout friendly to Qwest — one of the top teams in the world. Those Chelsea-type teams. Real Madrid. Manchester United. Teams like that. It’s really expensive to bring those teams in and so the premium on that friendly got adjusted. So that was the second thing. I think for me the most problematic was the overarching confusion on invoices that got to people, where it wasn’t very clear how the ticketing was broken out, including the credit on the Galaxy ticket. All those things together have led to some angst and consternation. On the friendly, again we indeed to make that an absolute blowout event, with one of the big teams in the world, but if there are some of our fans that don’t want to come to the game, if they call our customer service reps, I’m sure there’s a way for them to sort that out and make them happy because, as always, our fans are the most important thing to us and if they’re unhappy we want to hear them out.”
(Was it concerning that the overall price had gone up despite the one-game credit?) “No, but maybe there should have been. It never has been and never will be our intent to take advantage of our season-ticket holders. It costs a lot of money to run a big, professional sports organization and we’re not swimming in buckets of profits. The business is healthy and we’ll continue to do what we need to do to keep it healthy. That said, our communication could’ve been better, should’ve been better. And again, that’s why if someone doesn’t want that friendly, with the premium, if we take that off it kind of solves that problem for those people. The negative to that, for those people, is when we announce a blowout, the tickets will almost certainly be priced at a higher level. And we’ve seen in the past, those teams will probably sell out the stadium.
(Do you have an idea of how many season tickets you’re expected to renew?) “We have our projections and our goals, but I’m not going to talk about them publicly. Yeah, we have our expectations and we have a waiting list. I understand that there are some people that are upset about this. We’re not being inundated with this. There is some concern out there but I don’t imagine this is going to affect our overall plans for next year dramatically, especially now that if someone doesn’t want it, they don’t have to have it.”
(Given what you said about the friendly, are you interested in hosting an all-star game?) “I think it’s been doled out a couple of years down the line if I’m not mistaken. It may not be announced, but I believe it’s been decided — one year out, maybe even two years out. It’s absolutely something we’d be interested in and we do talk to the league, but with new stadiums coming online and MLS Cup, they like the idea of an all-star game in Seattle, but there are other teams that are deserving as well.”
(But not next year?) “Maybe I’ll get in trouble for publicly saying it — but I don’t think it’s coming to Seattle next season.”
(With you having so many more fans than any other team, why aren’t you making more money?) First of all, our average ticket prices aren’t at the top. I think our average ticket prices are about fifth in the league so there are certainly teams that are generating significant revenue, or close to our revenue. We also have spent pretty heavily on the player side. Not to the extent that the Galaxy or Red Bulls have, but certainly a decent amount over the cap. Third, we try to do things at an extremely high level. So the people, the broadcasts, the stadium, the gameday experience, the marketing, the community relations, this facility here, I would venture they’re all done at a higher level than some of our competitors and that all costs money. Yes, our revenues are very strong, but our costs are high as well.”
(Where do things stand on away-fan ticket allocation?) “We’re working very closely with Vancouver and Portland. We understand that it’s a very big issue. We think we’re on our way to a good solution that I think will make everyone happy but we’re not yet prepared to talk about what that plan might look like.”
(What are the concerns with it, some of the costs and benefits, as you look at this unique situation for next season?) “I think first and foremost is security. I think that we have what we think is a spectacular gameday experience at Qwest Field today with 36,000 very happy, very safe fans. We don’t want to compromise that in any possible way. So that was the first thing. The second thing is we, along with Portland and Vancouver, have capacity issues and we need this to be equitable. Portland has a 20,000-seat stadium and if they happen to sell 20,000 season tickets — not sure they will — we want to make sure that if we’re giving 150 or 200 or 300 or 500 of whatever the number is, if we’re giving those tickets up we want to make sure we’re getting them in those markets. So those are really the two big issues, just safety and equity. People say, ‘Well why don’t you open up another section of the stadium?’ That’s the follow-up, but we have a very specific way we want to run our business and keep the fans tight and keep that supply somewhat limited. We’re certainly not going to open it up for away fans, if we’re not going to open it up for our own fans. That’s not a very good message.”
(If you thought you could sell 65,000 for Portland or Vancouver, could you open those up for single-game sales?) “If we thought that we could sell another 30,000 tickets, I have the feeling that we would consider that. But I don’t any of us believe that that’s really the case.”
(Is this a decision between the three clubs or is the league involved?) “The league has a say as well. So we’re working in conjunction with the league.”