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The Sports Page: Crew is Winning, Fans not Attending

 Corey Barnes The Sports Page: Crew is Winning, Fans not Attending
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The Columbus Crew justified their first place slotting in the Eastern Conference on Saturday with a 3-1 home victory over the New England Revolution. Though the Black and Gold went to halftime down by a goal, they came roaring back and with some defensive help from the Revolution were able to get three points at home.

New England drew first ink in the 45th minute thanks to a goal by Benny Feilhaber. He blasted a line drive from the top of the box past a sprawling Will Hesmer to give the visitors the edge. Yet the Crew did not fear the halftime deficit. In the 54th minute, Revs keeper Matt Reis lost his clean sheet thanks to an own goal by defender Kevin Alston. A Columbus pass was popped by Alston over Reis’s head for the first goal.  In the 75th minute the Crew had another opportunity with a corner kick. Josh Gardner delivered a strong pass into the box where Julius Jones was waiting with a header. Not content with a one goal advantage, the Crew added a third goal in the 81st minute thanks to Emilio Renteria’s fifth goal of the season. Robbie Rogers’ assist pass through the box was approximately as deceptive as a kickball rolling at the family picnic, so Renteria squared up and hammered it home. This was a good win for the Crew, especially considering that stalwart Eddie Gaven did not suit up to play due to a right leg contusion. Columbus is now 2-0-4 when trailing at halftime, has 37 points in the year, and sports a record of 10-7-7. The Crew is 3-2 in their last five games and faces a crucial matchup with the second place Philadelphia Union this Saturday. The question is, will anyone be there to see it?

Major League Soccer is doing quite well for itself. The number of teams has ballooned from the founding 10 to 18 (soon to be 19 with Montreal), a premier market has been found in the Pacific Northwest, and the most recent television coup is a possible game changer. Earlier this month Major League Soccer announced a groundbreaking national TV deal with NBC Sports (formerly known as Versus) beginning in 2012. Forty five MLS games will be broadcast during the 2012 season – two regular season and two playoff games on NBC, 38 regular season games and three playoff contests on NBC Sports. This is a shot in the arm for a league that is already showing healthy growth. The record for highest average attendance for a season is being rewritten this year. All arrows are pointing up. So why am I concerned? The Columbus Crew rank dead last in attendance this season. The league is overall averaging 17,444 fans– their highest in their history – but the Crew is the low end of that column bringing in 10,882 patrons every home game. Last year Columbus averaged 14,642 people per game which means this season’s numbers are a 26% drop from 2010. On average the stadium is only 53% full. Those are Florida Marlins numbers. That is a shame.

Now, I am trying to be realistic about this. I know that Columbus will not be outdrawing Seattle anytime soon (their stadium holds 35,700). I realize that the team no longer has that new club smell and the polish of a fresh franchise may have dulled a bit. Additionally the Black and Gold have struggled mightily on the field for much of this year which may have turned away the casual fans. But the play is picking up. The Crew is back in first place. Also, this is a growing city and the only other game in town is the Clippers. Where is everyone? The Nordecke is always filled to the gills but they cannot carry the team financially. This is a squad only three years removed from a championship, don’t forget that. The Crew is getting primed for the playoffs; it would be a shame if you just learned their names in November.

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  • jpizzow

    Maybe if they hadn’t jacked their ticket prices up to $32 for upper deck. I mean they almost doubled since the championship year. I brought in four soccer newbies to the Portland game and despite $1 beer night (which was kind of a joke) I doubt they will be returning anytime soon. The reason given to me by two of them – the ticket prices. I mean really, this is SOCCER…..in COLUMBUS. We are not a huge market and anything other than the Buckeyes have trouble keeping afloat. Then there are the Clippers. Do you know why they fill their stands to the brim almost every home game. It’s affordable. The Crew games are no longer affordable. And, that’s why attendance is suffering. Lower the ticket prices and the fans will return.

  • Howye

    I want to support the Crew, but respectfully, their ticket prices are too high. Last Saturday I was looking to take my family of 4 to a sporting event. Tickets to the Crew game were at least $28, after fees and in the Nordecke, or $30 in the upper deck. Those were individual ticket prices. By the time I added in parking and food, I was unwilling to take two kids to an event that was costly and that I was unsure they would have any interest in. By comparison sake, I was able to purchase $5 tickets to a Reds game, and the total ticket cost was $28, the same as one ticket to a Crew game. To be sure, food, parking, and souveniors drove that price up, along with gas cost for the drive down. Total expenses may have been a wash between the two choices, but I feel like I got much more for my dollar.
    I don’t suggest that Crew prices should be low as $5. I would suggest that a base price of $26 for upper deck seats and no other incentives might be keeping families away. Had there been a ticket incentive deal, buy 4 tickets and get 4 hot dogs and sodas, I might have acted differently.

  • jpizzow

    The $10 parking is pretty ridiculous as well. Add in a $10 hot dog and a $20 beer and it just becomes too expensive. That goes for pretty much any sporting event anymore, which is unfortunate. The average middle class fan, which I would argue watch the most sports, cannot even go to a game on a regular basis. I would love to go to more Jackets games, but I cannot afford more than one or two tickets a year. Even then, they are upper bowl.

    It will only get worse as time goes on as players get paid more, outlandish stadiums/arenas are built, energy prices rise, etc. In the end, the fans and the players will suffer in way or another.

  • FSonicSmith

    Ditto. Prices are ridiculous. Wanted to take my son to a game and he met me there with two friends and asked me to pay for the four of us. When I saw the $180 receipt to my charge card for lower deck seats I was pissed. Charging $10 for parking in light of that kind of ticket price-just further insult. I won’t go back for a very long time. Someone in the Crew front office needs to lose their job over this before I will reconsider.

  • It’s already been said, but they raised the ticket prices, raised the parking prices, and let go of a lot of fan-favorite players.  I’m glad they’re doing well and have gone to several games, but it’s unreasonable to expect a huge crowd when it’s about $50/person after ticket/parking/food.  It may work in a lot of markets, but Columbus just isn’t there yet.

  • same problem as everyone else. I love soccer and love the Crew, but you won’t see me at games unless someone gives me a ticket. Can’t foot the bill.

    I also just don’t get it. Lower prices means more attendance. The marginal cost of extra fans is basically nothing. You still need the same number of vendors/ushers/other employees. They might not benefit on the ticket office profits, but surely their food/beer vendor contracts would be more profitable. Plus, long-term more people would pay attention to the Crew since they would be more accessible.

  • matchew

    I am not a big sports fan, but I go to several Clippers games a year because the $6/ticket price seems like such a value for the experience (beautiful stadium, downtown location). Even the Clippers food pricing is reasonable when compared to the Crew.
    If ticket prices dropped to $6 – $15 a game (like the Clippers), you would see the stadiums packed of soccer fans and non-soccer fans alike. It is a shame the prices were raised. A team cannot survive on “Family Special” days or promotional days. The base price needs to be lowered to dramatically in order to attract more fans.
    And $10 to park in gravel/grass is absurd. Even further discouraging attendance. You cannot park off property because the area is sketchy, so give your attendees a break! Such a shame to see a successful Columbus team not supported by the venue and management.

  • MattCooper

    I’ve never spent $50/person at a Crew game or bought a $20 beer at a match. I’m sorry to hear about your experiences. I’ve found the games to be a lot of fun and reasonably priced for a Major League event!
    The games are definitely more affordable with a little advanced planning. Here’s some info in case anyone is interested.
    Nordecke tickets can be had from Supporters groups (hudsonstreethooligans.com or crewunion.com for 23/24 bucks each, respectively). If you join a supporter’s group (typically you get a t-shirt and a patch for $20 membership) tickets are a few bucks cheaper than that.
    For those who love the Crew and would be interested in getting season tickets next year, the Crew has a great promotion going on now.
    If you purchase a season ticket before Oct. 12 you can get South Stand tickets for 12 bucks a ticket. That is a crazy awesome price. Clippers-like prices. Or Nordecke/North Stand tix (a better experience and worth it IMHO) for 17 bucks a game. Plus with the Crew’s trade in policy for unused tickets for STH its a great deal. Conceivably you could go in on a season ticket with a couple friends or take your family and go to a limited number of games together by trading them in.

  • Corey_Barnes

    Hey Columbus,

    Corey here, I’m very pleased people had so much feedback about this article. Let no one say there are people willing to speak up about Columbus sports. I did some independent research about prices around the league and found some very interesting information. Here is a list of all Major League Soccer clubs by ticket price. For the data I figured single match tickets purchased before the day of the game and counted all possible options (including the sky-high club seats):

    San Jose Earthquakes – $  30.00
    Columbus Crew – $  31.00
    Colorado Rapids – $  31.14
    Chicago Fire – $  31.25
    New England – Revolution – $  36.00
    Sporting Kansas City – $  36.33
    DC United – $  37.25
    Vancouver Whitecaps – $  37.38
    Chivas USA – $  37.56
    Portland Timbers – $  38.17
    FC Dallas – $  43.29
    Houston Dynamo – $  43.29
    Seattle Sounders – $  46.90
    Real Salt Lake – $  53.00
    Toronto FC – $  56.00
    Philadelphia Union – $  59.00
    New York Red Bulls – $  69.00
    LA Galaxy – $  73.89

    I’m not trying to make excuses for the organization, this is just some food for thought.

  • jpizzow

    The $20 beer was a joke/exageration Matt.

  • MattCooper

    aaaaand now i feel pretty dumb. :) sorry man, my bad! I’ll get my internet sarcasm radar checked out :)

  • deej

    I agree with a lot of what has been said, although Corey, I don’t know that it’s fair to say that “Nordecke is always filled to the gills.” If anything, I think the vacancies in Nordecke are symbolic of what we’re talking about: a number of season-ticket holders have lost faith in the front office to deliver value for their money. That said, I typically attend several games per season, and agree that with decent planning, it’s possible to find some deals. I’m also hopeful that increased interest in supporters’ groups and their establishments of choice (help keep Hooligans open!) will allow the Crew’s 2011 attendance trend woes to turn the other way.

  • ksturd

    As a previous Nordecke season ticket holder, I didn’t renew because management has been a total disappointment. I’m not impressed with how they’ve related to the fans, planned for the future or treated the players that the fans are loyal to.
    Management has a focus on bringing in new fans, not retaining the old ones. However, they traded or dropped every player that a person would know if they only attended a couple games a year.
    $10 parking is upsetting only because that price is set by The Crew, not the parking people.

  • Howye

    Matt – Thanks for the info. But for the casual fan or person who is curious, none of that helps. I am not going to join a group or buy season tickets just to go to one game. I need to be hooked first, then those options look good.
    Cory – Thanks for the follow-up. But I believe you give an average ticket price, which misses the point. There needs to be a cheap option for the casual observer. As an example, I am looking at Chicago Fire tickets for a randomly selected Sept. 25 match. I can get a $19 ticket, plus fees for a total of $25, in a lower deck corner as a part of Family 4 pack. For my $100 ticket price, I get 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs and 4 sodas. This appears to be offered at every Fire game. A lower per ticket cost plus food for the family. Even regular full price tickets with fees in the upper deck are $20.
    What the Crew needs is a lower cost option that is available for the average single game ticket buyer. No season ticket deals, no joining supporters groups. Put it on the website and let me buy it. But if there is no lower cost option, I can’t afford it and more importantly my kids won’t get a chance to see it in person. Get us there for a couple of games this summer and maybe we are buying a ticket package next year.

  • Howye

    Coming back to correct myself – I now see that there is a family pack promotion that lowers the per ticket cost to $26 after fees. But it is not available for purchase day of game, which is how I did not see it last Saturday. No game day purchase is reasonable. Still would like to see a lower individual ticket cost for some seats. But I am considering taking the family this weekend.

  • JulieJenks

    My family started going to Crew games last year and we are always looking for deals to get us to the game.  Tickets are available through many sources if you look around.  For example: My husband is able to purchase tickets through his employer’s activities association (already picked up LA tickets for $23 each), purchased tickets at a Charity Auction (Suite with 18 tickets for a great cause, high bid $210), and we’ve been getting notices from my kids’ soccer program for discounted tickets.  We choose not to eat or drink at the games, so we save $$ and we can survive a couple of hours without eating (we usually pick up Subway sandwiches on our way to the stadium and tailgate a bit).  We are seriously checking into season tickets for next year because of their current promotion, there are even youth rates if you ask about it.
    If you’ve never been to a game. . .just go! The team is made up of great athletes who are really good at what they do.  The play is fast paced and my kids never get bored.  I am not a fan of OSU, so it is nice to be able to support & cheer for a “home town” team.

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