What Wanderers FC need to do to build a market in Halifax
Let’s say, for sake of argument, there’s a handy twelve-step program to answering the above, and building a successful CanPL team in Halifax.
If so, Friday’s ticket pricing announcement ticks off about seven of those points. There’s discussion to be had, but I like it on a number of levels. An off-centre season seat in the main north stand will cost about three hundred dollars, for 15 games. So about $20 – $25 a game, which puts Wanderers FC in roughly the same price bracket as a Mooseheads game, and at the lower end of what CanPL pricing we know so far.
Amongst Haligonian sports types, there’s a lot of love for Bobby Smith’s team, and the Moose draw some of the largest crowds in the non-professional QMJHL. It’s considered a great family event locally and it’s clear Wanderers FC are aiming to operate in that same tier. If so, it shouldn’t be too much to ask to fill the Wanderer’s Ground.
That, more than anything else, is going to be so important for budding CanPL markets, not to mention building local team culture and identity. This is about growing the game–accessible pricing matters. The youth pricing is critical. The general admission in the “kitchen”–home to the supporters–is critical, and something Canada’s MLS sides have had all kinds of difficulty implementing. Giving every season seat purchaser a free home shirt, that’s genius–opening day, there will be a wave of blue. And that kind of atmosphere will bring more people out.
We don’t have as much ingrained soccer culture in Atlantic Canada. I don’t mean to belittle what’s here, and I think we’ll see surprisingly good turnout from both Halifax’s soccer community and Halifax’s growing immigrant communities, and pricing plays a big part in that. But we don’t have very many star players from Halifax, at least not yet, and it’s a long way to travel if you want to take in a TFC or Montreal Impact match.
So far, though, the club has done a lot right–a stadium in a really great spot, visible marketing, a beer (this is Halifax), and now affordable ticket prices.
Every kid who comes out to a Wanderers game is a kid who grows up with a chance to fall in love with the game. Ask anyone who was there, or watching on TV, when Dichio scored TFC’s first MLS goal. (Or Hassli in Vancouver. Or Davy Arnaud in Montreal.) Dichio’s goal–and the ensuing celebration–made me a soccer fan. This is how a league takes root, and grows.
Single-game tickets will likely be slightly more expensive, but twenty bucks isn’t out of reach for the student community, who will likely do a lot of the heavy lifting in the supporters sections. It’s affordable if you’re driving in from Bedford (parking notwithstanding).
The Wanderer’s Ground is amongst the smallest stadiums in CanPL, and Halifax amongst the smallest markets. Filling it is really important, as is building grassroots trust locally. Bringing out diverse groups will matter a lot, and also contribute to what could be one of the more colourful on and off-field teams in CanPL.
Far better to establish regular, noisy crowds and make a case for the Wanderer’s Ground being a more permanent facility with, potentially, more seating. My worry, particularly with the smaller CanPL markets, was always where the financial line would have to be–see Valour FC’s ticket announcement on Tuesday, which isn’t that much higher than Halifax’s but in Winnipeg, at a mammoth stadium, it will make it that much harder to create energy and atmosphere.
Quality of the league will be important
Ticket prices in soccer generally correlate to player salaries. This is what’s meant when it’s said a league or team is “gate-driven”, and most are. Leagues like CanPL and MLS are a little different because of the business structure, but the general rule still holds. Tickets are the primary source of revenue for clubs.
Keeping fans, especially the less-soccer-savvy, is going to rely a lot on having an intriguing combination of players. We still don’t know what the league’s salary cap will be. It won’t be MLS-level players, but some of that intrigue can come from local talent as well, not to mention local flavour and atmosphere. Soccer is tribal at its heart–get fans in, and keep ticket prices accessible, and you can grow a team beyond itself.
If there’s a negative to Friday’s announcement, it’s that, based on gate revenue alone, you wonder whether Halifax will be able to compete on salary. That’s been a question since the start, and it’s one that can’t be answered solely on ticket pricing alone–the league’s owners have been open that it will take time to develop a money-making operation. Still, while the small size of the Wanderer’s Grounds and accessible ticket pricing are obvious boons, it will put a little more pressure on the club to unearth talent.
(There’s a whole post in that on Stephen Hart and CONCACAF connections, which I will write some time.)
Whatever shape Wanderers FC take, it will be a nice night out. The stadium backdrop is stunning. The surrounds are intense and likely to be passionate. Beer will flow. (Seriously, I really wonder how the club will manage ticket sales with the large standing area in the beer garden.) Growing up, I enjoyed more than few trips to the Metro Centre to watch the Mooseheads, win or lose. I vaguely remember watching both a young Marc-Andrew Fleury and a young Sidney Crosby dismantle the home team for Val D’or and Rimouski, respectively.
There will be success stories in CanPL. Wanderers FC have made sure people will be able to see them.