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The Vancouver Whitecaps are on pace to have their biggest opening night crowd at B.C. Place in history when they take on Charlotte FC on Saturday, March 2, announcing they’ve already crossed the 25,000-fan threshold five weeks out from the game.
It still won’t be any closer to their biggest crowd of the year.
That, inevitably, will be when Lionel Messi and his band of former Barcelona FC buddies visit Vancouver with Inter Miami on May 25.
Single game sales went live on Friday, with the remaining pool of tickets quickly evaporating. The cheapest ticket as of 1 p.m. was $242 (including fees and a $50 jump from the morning), which would put you on the last row in the corner of the upper bowl. For those with more disposable income, there was a pair of tickets in the first row behind the visitors’ bench for a mere $12,100.
Estimated attendance for the game: between 49,000 and 50,000 people, making it the largest MLS Whitecaps’ crowd in history. The team mark was 60,342, set in the inaugural B.C. Place game in June 1983, in the club’s North American Soccer League era. Their biggest home-opener crowd in MLS came in 2018 and ’19, when they had a lower-bowl sellout of 27,837.
“This is a very special game and we are not very unique with that; you see that in all stadiums in MLS,” said Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster. “It’s obvious that this is a very special situation because … the best player in this game for the last 10 years is coming to our stadium. This is comparable with Taylor Swift coming to our stadium — it’s not happening very often and it is a special event.
” … But it’s different than to Taylor Swift — we have a chance to connect with those people, and hopefully at the end of the game, some of them go home and say, ‘Wow, that was amazing soccer, and I have to come back to see that again.’ ”
(Note: Tickets for Swift’s Dec. 8 Eras Tour show in Vancouver range from $1,346 to $15,485 each. Take that, Messi.)
WHY IT’S WORTH IT
Argument can be made that Messi is the greatest player ever, alive or dead. He’s accomplished feats most pros can’t fathom. Eight Ballon d’Ors — FIFA’s most outstanding player award — including last year, at age 36. Too many trophies to name, though the one that eluded him — a World Cup crown — he finally got in 2022.
His talents are sublime, and with him comes a trio of other legendary talents: Luis Suárez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba.
“He is obviously a very, very special player,” said Schuster. “And also people know that there’s not many years left where you can see him live. It was hard to see him live for the first part of his career. So as long as we are not getting a Cup final in Vancouver or we get the Champions League or League Cup into such a scenario, it is very unlikely that he comes into our stadium a second time. So it’s the one chance in a lifetime.”
WHY IT’S NOT WORTH IT
This all depends on your tolerance for risk. Messi is 36, the drum major of a parade of 30-somethings in Suárez (37), Busquets (35) and Alba (34). They’ve all already missed games with Miami due to injury or rest.
Now imagine shelling out to see the former Barcelona stars, only to find they won’t play?
By this point of the season, the Herons will have played a minimum of 17 games — possibly more, depending on their CONCACAF Champions Cup results. Then there’s the lengthy travel and the infamous B.C. Place turf. There’s a week between Miami’s home game and their first-ever meeting with the Whitecaps, but four days later they have to be back in Miami to host Atlanta.
The Herons play on New England’s artificial turf a month before on April 27, so betters might hedge their bets to see then. But a seven-hour, 4,500 kilometre international flight to play on a shaggy Polytan surface isn’t exactly appealing to star talents who’ve played in geographically compact Europe their entire careers.
WHAT MIGHT SWAY YOUR MIND
You can splurge on single-game tickets, but there’s another option: season tickets, or the Whitecaps’ four-game Golden Era package, which includes both the home-opener and Miami game, averaging under $100 for each. The four-game pack are all upper-deck seats, while season tickets (which start at $579) can still be had in the lower bowl.
The Caps are keeping tickets for both ticket options back until closer to the game. If Messi and Co. don’t end up playing in Vancouver, it gives the option of soothing the sting by seeing other matches. Included is also the club’s 50th anniversary match, against Austin FC on May 4, which celebrates the anniversary of their first game (May 5, 1974). There’s also the “revenge” match against Los Angeles FC, who booted the Caps from the playoffs last year.
The spike in the single-game ticket prices for the Miami match is an expected result of a capitalist system, likely causing Caps coach Vanni Sartini to bristle with socialist exasperation, but Schuster said they put great thought into their approach.
By including the Messi game in their season-ticket package — he said they have a base of 14,000 full-season ticket holders now, up 150 per cent from last year — they’re supporting those who are supporting them.
“Those are the people we care most about, because those who are coming on a Wednesday night and supporting us in every moment and have supported us over the years,” he said.
It’s been a long road back, and even if their average attendance last year was the lowest in team history, it also included their MLS-record 30,204 that watched their final game of 2023 against LAFC.
“We often have discussed that there have been things in the past that haven’t been handled very well before I arrived at the club. The club had to pay for that,” said Schuster. “The only thing that we can do is to consistently do better, and at some point to hope that the people come back that have been there before. And then if they come back, you have to prove to them (things are different).
“Now it feels like, ‘OK, we are at the point where things really are changing, and now we have to prove to those people.’ They give us a lot of credit with buying the tickets now and making this commitment, and now it is on us to deliver the product that they hope to see.”
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