The Vancouver Whitecaps have been given a reality check with the news that season ticket sales and other ticket plans are down 17% from last year.
The start of a new football campaign is a time for excitement and dreams. It’s no different with the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are hoping that 2020 will be a special year for a club embarking on their 10th season in MLS. However, the club was given a wake-up call ahead of Saturday’s home opener against Sporting KC. And it came courtesy of their very own fanbase.
As reported by Harjeet Johal of Pro Soccer USA, the Whitecaps have only sold 8,800 season tickets. Combined with other types of ticket plans for 2020, sales are down 17% from last year. The news was confirmed by recently appointed CEO Mark Pannes, during a conversation with the media on Friday. This leads to the question: How concerned the Whitecaps should be?
Last season’s average attendance for games at B.C. Place was 19,514, which ranked 11th out of the 24 MLS clubs. This represented an 11.1% drop from a year earlier when the average attendance of 21,946 per game was ninth among 23 MLS clubs. (This was prior to FC Cincinnati joining the league).
While it would be understandable if the Whitecaps are worried by the declining attendances, they have not yet reached a critical point. In addition, it is still within the club’s control to turn the situation around and bring the fans back into the stadium.
Consider that last year represented the second-worst MLS season for the team in terms of league wins and points, ahead of only their inaugural campaign in 2011. As a result, they finished at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, while only FC Cincinnati scored fewer goals.
In many respects, it was fitting that Pannes was the person who announced the ticket sale issues to the media. After all, one of his many roles as CEO will be to build up the fanbase and accelerate the club’s growth.
With a resume that includes being CEO of Serie A club AS Roma, Pannes has the experience and confidence to bring supporters back, and it shows in his ambitious plans. As reported by Johal, he said:
"“Tickets are available and I’m not used to that. That’s something that we’re going to work hard to make it a tough ticket in town. Our magic number is 22,120…We’re trying to reach that number for opening match and then every match after that until we can get enough tickets sold far enough in advance that we can say, let’s try and open upstairs, and really turn this into a big house.”"
It’s entirely conceivable the Vancouver Whitecaps will have a good crowd size on Saturday evening. However, this is almost to be expected when considering the buzz that surrounds a new season and home opener. As such, even if the attendance is anywhere close to Pannes’ magic number of 22,120, it will still not provide a realistic barometer. This will only come several home games into the 2020 campaign.
In truth, there is really only so much Pannes can do to reinvigorate the fanbase. The reality is that it will mainly come down to how the team performs on the pitch. There is some reason for optimism here, courtesy of the new additions to the roster. Chief among these is undoubtedly Lucas Cavallini, who should significantly bolster the offensive potential of the Whitecaps. Colombian Cristian Dajome is another exciting addition on the wing. There is also a lot of intrigue surrounding Canadian Ryan Raposo, who was selected fourth overall by Vancouver in this year’s SuperDraft.
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Of the returning players, the physical and pacey Ali Adnan stands out after an excellent first season with the Whitecaps that led to a permanent deal, while Maxime Crepeau is underrated in goal and Fredy Montero will always be a threat up front. With all this in mind, there is every chance that the Whitecaps will produce better results in 2020 and, while some critics may argue this wouldn’t be too difficult to do after last year, it provides a justified reason for Pannes’ optimism in improving attendances.
In respect of an improved product on the field, Axel Schuster has also shown his importance during his short time in Vancouver. Hired last November as the club’s sporting director, he has helped bring in the new additions to the roster.
Pannes made sure to give Schuster the appropriate credit when speaking to the media on Friday. Overall, as reported by Michael McColl of Away From the Numbers, the CEO has every belief in bringing the fans back to B.C. Place:
"“We’re all focused on the same thing, which is putting the best environment in place for our fans, for our players, and to make the toughest home pitch to come to and play against the Whitecaps, and hopefully deliver a winning product. And when we do that, ticket sales will take care of themselves.”"
For the Vancouver Whitecaps, then, ticket sales are down and optimism is low. But there is one easy way to change the narrative: win, starting on Saturday against Sporting KC.