The United States Men's National Team is up against it. The loss in Guatemala was a big setback, but the team is coming back to the dependably, satunchly partisan crowd in Columbus. Home, a packed house fully behind the Americans.
Ticket sales for #USMNT v GUA: 17,000. Capacity is 24K— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) March 28, 2016
There was some of the usual handwringing about attendance. Is it fans rebuking a struggling United States team or is it a soft market that struggles to turn out for a non-marquee game? Both answers are unsatisfying given recent history.
Columbus and the U.S. faced a very similar situation in 2012. A shock loss in Jamaica on September 7th left the 2014 World Cup qualifying in serious doubt. The team was struggling and just had one of the ugliest losses in recent memory. The early Klinsmann era was under a severe test with Columbus serving as a lifeline.
Four days later on September 11th, a Tuesday night, they righted things against the same Jamaican team in front of 23,881 with a 1-0 victory. The crowd was fiercely partisan and in full voice. The Americans were on the front foot from the start before going ahead in the second half and locking down the vital win. It was an atmosphere as raucous as any U.S. vs. Mexico tilt.
The answer may be more prosaic, ticket prices. Fans have been rebelling against rising ticket prices across Europe and in the United States. The soft attendance might have more to do with the cost of going than any statement.
Columbus has traditionally had strong attendance for Men's U.S. National Team games. The U.S. vs. Mexico matches are legendary for their full tilt atmosphere, whether in the dead of winter or the heat of summer. American fans have turned out.
In smaller games, the stands have been full, including a well above normal capacity crowd for a Third Round Qualifier against Jamaica. This year, against Guatemala, the U.S. Soccer Federation is finding tickets a tougher sell. A comparison of prices explains why.
Section 207 is upper level, near the midfield line. That same ticket the night before Tuesday's game is retailing for $90 from TicketMaster. A considerable increase.
Again, a Third Round Qualifier against a second tier opponent and the prices have shot up in four years.
Alex Stanek shared his ticket stub from the 2012 game. A supporters section ticket averaged around $40.
The supporters sections now are $55. A lesser increase than some of the premium seating, but still a jump.
It appears that the U.S. Soccer Federation is looking at this game as a premium event with premium prices to match. The Fed has often scheduled big friendlies in large stadiums to make money while leaving qualifiers in reliably hospitable MLS stadiums. Now the Fed is looking to have the best of both worlds and may have overestimated the market.
The supporters sections remain (relatively) affordable at $55 per ticket. Those tickets sold out quickly. American Outlaws and other supporters will be in full voice. It's the sideline tickets that are proving to be a harder sell. The premium buyer hasn't purchased as there are plenty of tickets available on the sideline sections.
With U.S. Soccer looking to cash in on their growing profile, they've now given up one of the key advantages of a hosting a qualifier, a large and loud partisan crowd behind the Americans. With the U.S. suddenly staring at a must win game and keeping a clear path to qualification on the line, the idea to get a little bit more money may seem a bit short sided with the stands not filled to capacity.