Arace: League mangles ticket rollout for MLS Cup Final, Crew and fans provide first aid

A Columbus Crew supporter holds a "Save the Crew" scarf during the second half of an MLS Eastern Conference final game against the Toronto FC in 2017. Fans had a hard time getting in that November night because only one entry gate was open.
A Columbus Crew supporter holds a "Save the Crew" scarf during the second half of an MLS Eastern Conference final game against the Toronto FC in 2017. Fans had a hard time getting in that November night because only one entry gate was open.

The Crew fans who were integral to Save the Crew, and they are legion, flashed back to 2017 this week. They conjured the MLS Eastern Conference Final, first leg, when mighty Toronto FC visited the old Crew Stadium. Big game.

At the time, then-Crew owner Anthony Precourt was conspiring with league commissioner Don Garber to move the franchise to Austin. One or both of these geniuses, presumably with the support of their boot-licking minions, decided to close all but one entry gate to the stadium. Thus, at kickoff of the conference final, the line of people still trying to get into the stadium stretched deep into the Fairgrounds parking lot and numbered in the thousands. Crew fans waited to be funneled through one security check, like a downpour into a gutter.

What Precourt and Garber wanted America to see on national television was a stadium with thousands of empty seats for a big game. They manufactured a failed market for ESPN, which did not have cameras in the parking lot. Rights holders!

The people who eventually Saved the Crew did what they did for club and city, and when the job was done, all they wanted to do was spend the resulting years watching soccer. Tailgate. Hang out with friends. Be normal and whine about the referee. Yet sometimes it's been difficult. This week, it was difficult.

On Monday, tickets went on sale for the MLS Cup final. It will be the fourth Cup final the Crew have been a part of, the third to be played by the Crew in Columbus and the first to be held in the new Crew Stadium. It has been a remarkable year under new coach Wilfried Nancy. Last week, it reached a crescendo with a 3-2 extra-time victory in Cincinnati (Hell is Real). Saturday comes the denouement: LAFC, the defending champions, will face the Crew for the title at Field. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. and, presumably, all the entrance portals will be open. Big game.

The ticket presale was a disaster.

It was rolled out in echelon: MLS corporate sponsors had access at 9 a.m.; there was an allotment for visiting fans who also had access in the morning; Crew season-ticket holders were allowed to go online at 1 p.m.; and there were other releases at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. for other Crew fans, including 2024 season-ticket purchasers.

Here was the problem, as condensed by longtime Crew season-ticket holder Chris LaMacchia: “Crew fans, including Nordecke season-ticket holders, were not able to purchase Nordecke tickets.”

LaMacchia is the Nordecke communications director. The Nordecke is a group of the most ardent Crew fans who first organized in the championship season of 2008. The Nordecke (literally, “north corner” in German) also denotes the north stands of Field, which go straight up, almost toppling over the pitch, and is the home of the volunteers who create and install the large banner known as a tifo, the Nordecke Drum Corps, the Nordecke Brass, the capos with the bullhorns who lead chants and songs, the flag-wavers, smoke-bombers, Black & Gold militants of all ages, hundreds of veterans from Save the Crew, and so forth, and on.

Fans in the Nordecke raise a tifo prior to the Crew's 3-0 win over FC Cincinnati on Aug. 20.
Fans in the Nordecke raise a tifo prior to the Crew's 3-0 win over FC Cincinnati on Aug. 20.

You don’t have to sit in the Nordecke to be a member. In fact, there are plenty of pinky-raised folks who sit in club sections of the stadium who pay Nordecke dues. They understand that it is the soul of the “stadium experience” in Columbus. There are players who have, and still do, pay Nordecke dues. Defender Josh Williams, for one, is a member.

MLS Cup presale code for sponsors was leaked

What happened Monday was that the access code for sponsors to purchase tickets was leaked, and the secondary ticket market was flooded with Nordecke seats for sale – at double or triple their face value – before anyone from the Nordecke could sign in and buy a seat. By 1 p.m., when Crew season-ticket holders were able to punch in their access codes, the Nordecke was sold out.

“That clearly tells me this was poorly run, and they never wanted to get Nordecke into the stadium,“ said Kourtney Sullivan, a member of the Nordecke board of directors. “But they still want to have the same game-day atmosphere. How? With no Brass, no capos, no tifo … who do we get for game-day atmosphere? They didn’t let them in."

Sullivan flashed back to 2017.

“This is so sad,” she said. “The fans who create the atmosphere that the coaches and players feed off of, the people who create the home-field advantage that the team thrives on, have been shut out. Maybe this is what Don Garber wants. He wants nobody in the stadium booing him.”

You can’t blame her, or anyone else, for such a thought. When the caretakers of a public trust break the public trust, which was the mendacious intent of 2017, then trust suffers. Save the Crew may have saved the Crew, but scars remain, and sometimes they flare. I don't know why anyone messes with Crew fans. It’s simply not advisable.

My best read on the ticket snafu is the league screwed up. Period. There was a leak of the sponsors’ access code, which was probably not Don Garber’s fault (although one never does know with him). But the nut of the situation is the way LaMacchia described it: “Crew fans were not able to purchase Nordecke tickets.”

MLS commissioner Don Garber
MLS commissioner Don Garber

That should not have happened.

“What should have happened,” LaMacchia said, “is Nordecke tickets should have become available when the Crew season-ticket window opened.”

The good news is the Crew’s ticket office, in conjunction with the league and the Death Star, Ticketmaster, worked through Monday night to find solutions. At 10:36 p.m., the team announced through social media:

“Today’s password-protected presale for MLS Cup tickets was accessed by a number of unauthorized individuals. We have canceled orders made by these unauthorized parties. To accommodate Crew fans, we will open an updated presale window exclusively for season ticket members (Tuesday), ahead of the general public on-sale. We look forward to packing Field on Saturday. The public on-sale will now open Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 10 a.m.

The old Save the Crew folks, when Precourt and Garber were trying to steal their team, had a saying: “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”


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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: League mangles ticket rollout for MLS Cup, Crew and fans provide aid