It couldn’t all pass without incident, could it?
Unfortunately for Toronto FC and MLS, much of the build-up to Saturday’s MLS Cup final has so far been overshadowed by a not inconsiderable number of TFC season-seat holders discovering they would not be able to buy their usual seats for the game.
Waking the Red has contacted Toronto FC and MLS for comment on the issue in the hope some explanation could be offered, but that has so far not been forthcoming. The club informed us on Saturday they will be releasing a statement at some point.
In the meantime, we have been contacted by a flurry of fans off the back of a single tweet posted on Friday asking to hear the accounts of those affected.
For those who have not been following the situation on social media, these season-seat holders were unable to buy tickets in their usual spots when the pre-sale for the final began over the weekend because MLS demand a certain number of tickets for themselves. We have asked the league to clarify how these are distributed, but a fairly safe guess is that they go to sponsors, representatives from other clubs and various other dignitaries.
As a result, Toronto season-seat holders not sitting the south stand - the supporters’ group sections - were told a short time before the tickets went on sale that they would not be guaranteed their usual seats. The longer your tenure - starting with those who bought season seats for day one back in 2007 - the higher priority you were given in the pre-sale through an earlier access time.
While some fans were able to login and buy their usual seats, others found them to be unavailable and were left scrambling to find alternatives. Those most affected, unsurprisingly, usually sit in the prime real-estate either side of the halfway line - we heard more complaints from fans in section 122, directly behind the home bench, the any other.
It’s an unusual situation, because where problems in situations such as this usually arise with the so-called ‘die-hard’ supporters found, in Toronto’s case, in the south end, on this occasion the club and league have drawn the ire of the fans paying for some of the most expensive season seats available.
That these fans choose not to sit with the supporters’ groups, however, does not make them any less dedicated, loyal or deserving of respect. Many have spent thousands of dollars through years of dreadful football and, when they left the stadium after the victory over Montreal, will have been excited and overwhelmed as anyone with the prospect of returning for one more game.
Now, they have found that they have been shifted to another part of the stadium, away from the little community in their section which anyone who has held season seats for any sports team will know of. One fan told us he will no longer be able to bring his elderly parents to the game, because they require assistance and his usual block of four seats were split up into two pairs in different tiers. A couple more told us they would reconsider their investment in season seats going forward.
Some have been furious to see seats in their sections appear on StubHub or other re-sale sites for hugely marked-up prices. A couple of the fans we heard from who sit in 122 have front-row seats, and at the time of writing there are two seats in that row being sold on StubHub for US$1,100 each. It is difficult to track down their source, but we have requested information from MLS on policies they have in place to ensure tickets they claim and distribute are not sold on for a profit.
I understand TFC were left in a difficult situation by MLS’ ticket demands. I understand they had little choice but to acquiesce as hosts of the game and did their best to allocate seats and priority fairly, and that some pain was going to be unavoidable.
I do think the club could have done a better job, however, of informing fans of the situation rather than dropping the bombshell at such short notice, causing a lot of anxiety and some disappointment when, inevitably, the system bugged out or crashed for some. The line some have put forward of people not wanting their club to talk about a potential final before they have qualified for it is not an excuse.
My contempt, however, lies with MLS. I am not willing to simply accept that this is a ‘league event’ and a condition of hosting the final - it is, or should be, a Toronto FC event as the team that has reached the MLS Cup final with the most points in the regular season, and therefore has earned the right to host the game. The All-Star game is a league event. This is the biggest match of the season between two teams whose fans have waited for this moment for years.
It is also typically counter-productive. One of the strengths that makes both Toronto and Seattle two of the most successful clubs in MLS - and their games such a spectacle - is the enthusiasm and dedication of their fanbases. I fear the irony of displacing some of those fans so the great and good of the league can enjoy that atmosphere will be lost on them.
The damage is done now - the tickets are now sold, general sale will follow and the match will be a sell-out and, we hope, a great occasion. The least these fans deserve, though, is an explanation as to who MLS judged was a better use of the seats from which they have cheered the Reds on all season.