In 2004/2005, my wife and I traveled the country and saw a lifetime’s worth of concerts. Although we only occasionally travel for concerts now, we still see as many local concerts as possible. And through all of this, we, or more accurately – my wife – has become a Ticketmaster expert. Everyone we know comes to her when they need tickets, because she has a knack for getting great seats.

So when a presale code came across on Facebook, we didn’t hesitate to use it to try to get MLS Cup tickets. And no fan would. In those moments, the adrenaline is rushing and you are pushed by a fear that the seats will all be sold before you get a chance. You aren’t spending your time asking “was this code meant for me” or “where did this come from”. And if you say otherwise you are likely just being dishonest.

Our use of the code seemed to be validated when Real Salt Lake sent out a tweet instructing RSL fans which sections to select, but we would have used the code even without this. We had managed to get tickets, and we moved forward with travel plans just like other fans planning on making the journey to Kansas City.

This happened on Tuesday (11/26)  afternoon and later that evening we began to hear rumblings that the tickets were going to be invalidated, which later came true with this message from Ticketmaster.

This is not the kind of email we like to send. We had to cancel the tickets you bought for the following event because they were only available as a pre-sale with a password…but the password had not been distributed yet!
MLS Cup 2013
Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake
Sporting Park, Saturday, December 7th, 2013 at 3PM
Major League Soccer is requesting to fully refund any ticket that was sold at this time.
What do I need to do? The good news is you don’t have to do a thing – you should see the full refund posted to your account within 7 – 10 business days. Just discard the tickets we sent, they’ve been canceled and will not get you in to the event.
We want you to get tickets for Sporting Kansas City vs. Real Salt Lake when they officially go on sale.

Note: Onsale dates and times sometimes change so please check the event on for updates.

If you received tickets via our Ticket Transfer program, this email serves only as notification.  As you did not purchase the tickets from Ticketmaster, you will not receive a refund.
If you sent tickets to someone via our Ticket Transfer program, please be advised we have notified the current ticket holder.  All tickets are being returned to your account and the refund information posted above applies. If you need anything else, we’re always here for you – just hit reply and ask us or visit!

Thanks for being a fan!

Ticketmaster Fan Support

Since that point, a lot of finger pointing and blame has been placed. At first, the official SKC position was that it was possibly due to hacking.  The latest word is just that the code was “leaked” or “guessed”. The two respective teams fans have been in each others face about which team is worse because of this whole thing. I suppose they would have been arguing about who commits the most fouls, or red cards, or who plays in a better conference or anything else to assert their dominance had it not been this issue. That’s just a case of fans being fans.

However, here’s a couple of things that still bother me about all of this:

1) Official statements made by Sporting Kansas City that appear to try to put the blame on Real Salt Lake fans. “[Real] Salt Lake had a hold of it, some of their fans, and just circulated it. Once it went viral on social media, you can imagine what happened. A majority of their fans bought upwards of 1,000 tickets.” That’s ridiculous, especially when by their own admission it shouldn’t have been available to anyone. KC fans used the code when they shouldn’t have, and I know at least one MLS fan who doesn’t support either team that used the code. They also neglected to mention that it was circulated in a Kansas City newspaper in the comments section of an article. Nice try, SKC.

2) My fear is that watching the fiasco unfold is viewed by outsiders as ticketing amateur hour, and to have it occur with the leagues biggest game is a travesty because of all of the media attention on this game.  I hope that it doesn’t leave a black eye on the league and the sport as a result. I’m afraid that it gives those critics of the league further ammunition. I’m a huge supporter of this league, and want to see it grow but this just can’t happen if you want to put yourself on the level of other major pro sports leagues in this country.

3) This should be a huge learning experience, but I don’t see any signs of an investigation into what happened. Maybe these discussions are taking place behind closed doors (which would be appropriate), but there are no signals that this is taking place. Who decided to use a generic code? How was the code leaked? Why was the code active ahead of the presale? All of these questions need to be answered to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in the future.

In the end, things were corrected and restored to what was originally intended: SKC season ticket holders get first dibs on their seats, they then get a chance to buy additional tickets, RSL gets 1,000 seats allotted, and after all of that there is a general public sale. Unfortunately, there were a lot of negative emotions, a black mark on the sport and perhaps some financial distress generated. I assume that all of that can be worked through, and resolved in the coming days. However, will it all happen again next season?

Here are a few myths about this issue:

1) RSL fans who purchased airline tickets aren’t going to be able to attend as a result of this. Likely not the case. Anyone who had planned on spending near $100 for a ticket using this notorious code, can currently get a ticket for $140 on StubHub. When you consider a $400 flight, at least $250 in hotel cost, and $80-$100 or so on transportation – a few extra bucks for tickets isn’t likely a deal breaker, even though it might be disappointing.

2) RSL is not considering the fans with the allocation of 1,000 tickets. Rumors have been swirling about how many of the 1,000 tickets allocated are going to “true fans”. GM Garth Lagerwey indicated in a radio interview with ESPN 700 radio that:

1,000 tickets come to us as an organization. We are trying to accommodate player families, coaching staff families, our business staff. Obviously our owner Del Loy Hansen will be bringing some people to the game. I think it’s fair to say that 1,000 tickets isn’t a lot to start out with and I don’t think there will be many left over from that will actually make it out to the public.

Some have expressed concern over the fact that there weren’t many left over for the public. However, it should be expected that the groups mentioned by Lagerwey would each get their share of tickets. I have no idea of the split, whether these groups took 200, 500 or 700 tickets, but it’s hard for me to criticize such a split without the details. The problem is that the pool to begin with was just too small.

3) Sporting KC fans are just being greedy. That’s not the case. They are just playing by the rules as set by the league. RSL would do the same if the situation were reversed.

4) Real Salt Lake fans were trying to cheat or steal. Gimme a break! RSL fans did what any fan base would do if they had come across the code.

5) This is a conspiracy by Sporting KC to either embarrass the RSL fanbase or frustrate them and keep them away. Again, this notion is ridiculous. There is nothing that says that this was an intentional situation created by the SKC front office. In fact, if anything this ended up being a PR nightmare for them.

The real root cause of all of this isn’t an RSL fan base that got hold of a code and used it, or even a ticketmaster mixup.  While it may be true that the SKC front office wasn’t careful enough with a ticket distribution plan, that also wasn’t the real root cause of this issue.  The problem lies in the structure established by the league which puts tremendous pressure to distribute a precious few tickets to several competing constituencies: league partners, team partners, visiting staff and player families, and visiting fans. And all of this must be organized and executed within a very narrow window of time.

In general, I’m in favor of home field advantage, but it creates a few issues. First, this is the League’s premier spectacle, and to have 80% of the tickets go to season ticket holders of the home squad is problematic. It’s problematic for away team supporters, it’s problematic for fans of the league who have attended every single MLS Cup and may be unable to attend, and it’s problematic for league sponsors, sponsors of both teams, staff for the visiting team, friends and family of visiting players, home team fans who aren’t season ticket holders, holders of the league’s guaranteed seat licenses, and general league fans.

In addition, when you don’t have a balanced schedule how can you award home field advantage to teams playing in different conferences? In fact, RSL had 4 wins against teams in the Eastern Conference, and SKC had only 3 wins against the West.

However, all of that is better than having an MLS Cup that didn’t sell out which was often the case when the game was held in a neutral location.

So how can this be handled better in the future? How do we avoid a repeat of this in the future? My only hope…let’s move forward and learn from this. Finger pointing doesn’t accomplish that.

EDIT: Late breaking news seems to indicate that Monday’s General Public sale has been limited to purchaser’s with Kansas City billing addresses. Have not been able to verify that, although that appears to be the case from this generic statement on the Ticket Master site:

(venue name) is located in (city, state/province). Sales to this event will be restricted to residents of (geo-limited states/provinces or selected area). Residency will be based on credit card billing address. Orders by residents outside (geo-limited states/provinces or selected area) will be canceled without notice and refunds given. Delivery of all tickets will be delayed until 12/4/13 to allow for enforcement of 8 ticket limit.

EDIT #2: Confirmed by Real Salt Lake front office.

One Response to “TicketGate: MLS Cup Ticketing Amateur Hour?”

  1. aletheist says:

    As a fan of SKC, this is probably the most balanced and factual summary of the whole fiasco that I have seen. All of the “official” pre-sales for SKC Season Ticket Members required account-specific codes, not a generic one, and were limited to the number of seats owned for the regular season. The last such pre-sale allowed STMs to buy additional tickets, including SRO, up to that same limit; so if you had two season tickets, you could potentially wind up with as many as four MLS Cup tickets, but almost certainly not all together. Consequently, I doubt that there were very many (if any) tickets left for this morning’s geographically restricted “public” sale.

    Maybe now the furor will die down and we can all talk about the game itself!

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