A tale of two teams. One is blue, one is red. One is winning, one is losing. One is a full stadium, the other is full of...
How do you define "Loyalty"?
As reported by Kurtis Larson in the Toronto Sun, TFC is in the process of deciding on its 2013 season ticket offer to fans... well, all that are left of them. In the article, he quoted Rajani Kamath, media relations for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as saying, "we're looking at our pricing and it's going to be based on loyalty."
What does he mean by this? My belief, and my wife will tell you that I've been wrong before, tells me that MLSE is considering something a number of MLS teams have introduced this year. It is... a loyalty plan.
In general terms, this plan gives you "points" based on your attendance and spending at the game which you can cash in for rewards. In Philadelphia, they even give you points when the team wins. You can use your accumulated riches for discounts on merchandise, to upgrade to a better seat, even to participate in an end of season pick up game at PPL park.
Not bad. It's always nice to get rewards but what about the issue of prices? This needs to be addressed. End of story (well, not my story, please read on).
TFC tickets are overpriced relative to the league and the market itself. Fans are voting with their butts, choosing to put them any place but BMO Field. Even if you believe that attendance numbers are about as reliable as my old K-Car was in the 90s, Toronto FC now ranks 10th in terms of average attendance and has experienced the 5th largest drop in attendance in the league (down 8.82% this year). Supply and demand eh, Tom?
For this writer, that statement that links pricing to loyalty is both troubling and optimistic. Optimistic in that if loyalty truly matters, then all TFC fans should expect a price decrease in the hundreds of dollars per season. Clearly, a 10-40% price drop was approved for MLSE's Toronto Raptors when pricing was exposed to be on the greedy side. For soccer fans, anything short of a similar offer which takes prices to the league average will be a slap in the face.
As good as that would be, maybe loyalty means something else to them. I am worried about the notion that MLSE might tie any price concession to your length of time spent supporting this club. Perhaps a sliding scale of discounts depending on your season ticket inception date. From where I sit, this would throw out the idea of "All for One" and solidly ensure that MLSE further divides the fan base into a tiered pricing model. If it left those that suffered through the Marlies' ticket package, affectionately known as the "Ransom Pack" in some circles, out of the discount offer it would be further injustice.
Another possible MLSE definition of loyalty might take the form of a discount for your commitment to a multi-year renewal. Say a deeper discount if you agree to a 3 year term. Something not uncommon in sports. The challenge here though is that this is a team in a constant state of flux. There is no leader, at least not yet officially named though Duane Rollins is reporting that Mariner and Cochrane will be back. There is no plan, outside of a search for 8-9 new players. This is a team that has run through 7 coaches in 6 seasons and 118 different players (plus the 8-9 new ones). Wouldn't it be unfair to ask fans to commit to the long term picture when the organization itself really doesn't have a long term plan of its own?
Before we go off the deep end with crticism, we should pause and admit that while there are whispers, there is nothing to substantiate any offer at this point. Until the offer is released, plans can change so perhaps it is fruitless to worry about how MLSE defines loyalty. Instead, when you consider the total package, I would ask you to consider how other MLS teams define it.
Amongst the 2013 season ticket offers that fans in various cities are mulling over, you'll find the following common to a variety of clubs:
- 10-25% discounts on merchandise
- Free parking
- Discounted parking
- Free concessions at certain price levels
- Exchange unused tickets for additional tickets to games you can go to
- Additional game tickets available at discount for you and your friends
- Interest free payment plans
- Loyalty points programs - as described above
- Bonus games which include playoffs
- Free jersey (no need to buy a card)
- Meet the team events
When you get your offer, which we are told we will find out about within days... well actually, we'll apparently find out when we will be told of the offer within days... evaluate it with the knowledge of what other fans receive. Remember that this is a revenue shared league and there should be no reason for us to subsidize the rest of the league. There is no reason for us to pay more than the average in other markets. There is no reason for them not to demonstrate that the fans are important to the future of this franchise.
MLSE, there is still time to edit plans. Reset the prices, treat fans fairly and give us more than just hope and hollow promises. Set this Club in the right direction off the field and in the seats. Now is your opportunity. I really don't know how many more opportunities you will have. This may be it. Please get it right.