Soccer Is More Comfortable The Second Time Around

FC Gold Pride players and fans

Full disclosure time.

I feel duty-bound to immediately reveal that despite concerted previous efforts, I have never warmed up to the sport of soccer. I have a lot of respect for the worldwide popularity of the game, and for how taxing the game is to play. But I, like most Americans, have the carefully honed attention span of a tsetse fly, and have never found such a low-scoring game to make for compelling watching.

In 1994 when the World Cup was played in the U.S. I vowed to follow the entire tournament closely. I waited to be overcome with a new appreciation for the game…and waited…and waited. But when regulation and overtime play of the World Cup final ended with a score of 0-0 I was less than enamored. We still have a running joke in my house:

Me, flipping through channels: “Look honey, soccer’s on.”

The Bird, from another room: “Oh really – what’s the score?”

Me: “Zero – Zero.”

The Bird: “There’s a surprise.”

Then in 1999, in our landmark “could we live here?” trip to San Diego (answer: yes, definitely), we found ourselves in a sports bar in La Jolla Cove when the Women’s World Cup final was on. We shared with a bar full of strangers the U.S. triumph in The Game That Sold a Million Sports Bras, and honestly thought that we had witnessed the coming of age of women’s soccer in America. It didn’t work out that way. See, despite the drama of Brandi Chastain’s winning penalty kick, there was no way of getting around the fact that regular play ended with a score of, you guessed it – 0-0. That concept just doesn’t hold a lot of staying power.

But women’s professional soccer is back, enjoying the second season of play in a new venture – the highly self-explanatory Women’s Pro Soccer league. I figured if they could give it a second try, so could I. Which brought me to Castro Valley High School, the interim home of the Bay Area’s FC Gold Pride, for their regular season game against the Chicago Red Stars.

“A professional game staged at a high school stadium?” you ask. I had my doubts too, but upon arrival I was impressed by all of the work that had gone into transforming a high school venue into a professional one. Both the stadium and the turf field are only two years old and in immaculate condition to start with, and the Gold Pride did a great job of adding many touches that made you feel as if the team were already hosting you at their very own venue (which is to open in June).

For example, I contracted a severe case of Ticket Envy when I spotted the VIP On-Field seats, a row of director’s chairs (bearing Amway’s logo – kudos, sponsorship sales team!) literally just feet from the sideline. A ticket to these exclusive seats came with access to a VIP Hospitality spread in a private tent – but that was used so sparingly it was taken down with 10 minutes left…in the first half. OK, good idea, but you can only do so much to replicate a luxury suite without some sort of physical structure.

Oh, to be a VIP

For the second best seats, they attached separate logo’ed seatback devices to the numbered spots on the aluminum benches, creating an actual seat as opposed to a “spot” – like the one that I occupied in the cheap seats. If you can call $18 “cheap” for a (no offense intended) second-tier sporting event.

If you’re going to stake out a business model based on premium pricing, there are two things you must do. One, deliver a premium product – and from what I experienced, the FC Gold Pride does. The team is talented and the players are fan-friendly. And seeing what they’ve done with what they’ve had to work with in their temporary quarters, they create a great game environment, which I can only assume will be even better when they move into their permanent home.

The second thing you have to do is hold the line on ticket prices. While I personally did not see the value that would allow the team to charge $18 for their lowest price walk-up ticket and $25 for a standard grandstand seat, I might feel differently if I were more of a soccer fan. They did offer attractive group pricing for 15 or more, and a discount for advance purchases, but neither on the web site, nor on-site did I get any sense that they were giving away the farm to anyone. They are taking the high road and not trying to discount their way to prosperity, which is the kiss of death to so many sports properties. Bottom line – if somebody buys a ticket early in the season for a discounted price, chances are they’re going to expect that price later on in the season, all things equal. The Pride is saying “We’ve got a pretty good entertainment product, and we think you’ll agree it’s worth the price”. That strategy could make for some sleepless nights for team owners the NeSmith family, but from where I sit it is the only realistic pricing strategy.

And just as an aside: Any notions this Sports Fan may have had about gaining access to the game via a media credential were snuffed out pretty quickly. The “Media Inquiries” section of the web site specifically states that “Freelance journalists/photographers are not routinely issued credentials unless on a specific assignment from a recognized media outlet”. Ouch.

To be continued…

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