Are we family or customers?

Like a lot of you, I received the disappointing news this morning that my tickets to Nashville SC games—at least for the first couple of games—have been moved to the very top deck.

Honestly, I had to sit for a few minutes and try to think through my reactions to this one.

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Am I disappointed that I won’t be seated exactly where I chose to be seated to watch and support my favorite team? Absolutely. Disappointed is an understatement.

As I thought a bit longer about it, did I understand why this is necessary? Well, absolutely. We are facing (and finally seeing the way out of) the first pandemic I have ever experienced. Not only is it wise to keep us distanced for a bit longer, but it’s mandated by the city. By trying to give everyone with a season ticket a seat, some of us were bound to be disappointed with the assignment and, importantly, with the lack of options.

Going further, is there a part of me that feels fortunate to have a full season live this year? Again, absolutely. Even with the social distancing of last season, I loved being there, being part of the community, watching and supporting the games live. I mean, without the audience, as Simon Critchley observes, it’s really not soccer at all.

Again, like a lot of you, if there is a hierarchy of who gets which seats, I should likely be far up that list. I’ve been a season ticket holder for the MLS side since the first day of purchasing, as was the case with the USL version and, going back, the NPSL version. I’ve always bought on the first day, and I’ve literally been a supporter since the team in any version was just an idea. Moreover, my ticket rep knows that I’m dedicated to purchasing club level seats when they become available. In other words, I—like a lot of you—could justify in my mind why I should have been near the top of the list.

I love this team. I always have. I always will.

That said, even though I understand that it was necessary to move our seats, and even though I feel fortunate to sit anywhere to watch these games lives, I do hope that the club (the front office) will take a leson away from the uproar this has caused in some portions of the fanbase.

Actually, I hope the lessons the front office learns from this are the most important thing that happens.

If Nashville SC is committed to understanding that the supporters are part of the club, that the community surrounding the teams is about “family” in a sense rather than about club/customer relations, then the ways in which the club “talks” to us and with us matters. And I think they dropped the ball on this one.

A Nashville SC representative confirmed to Broadway Sports that while season ticket holders have been moved out of the lower bowl, this was not to fill their preferred seats with single ticket sales, but rather to allow all of Nashville’s current season ticket holders to attend under Metro Nashville’s Covid-19 regulations. Additionally, the club was only made aware of these new protocols within the last week, meaning that they did not assign seats to season ticket holders knowing that they would be relocated.

From a public relations perspective, it would have been wise to soften the ground a little by explaining the circumstances and the decisions that were made, readily acknowledging that some people would not be happy and offering some options. Helping fans understand that Nashville has made an effort to include all season ticket holders, while other MLS clubs have had to turn some STHs away, may have helped soften the blow.

But this isn’t just about PR 101. This is more about how the community/fan base is configured in the mind of the front office. Are we all part of one big family, as Ian Ayre often reminds us, or are we customers? While in part, we are both, this is one of those moments when NSC—as a club—needs to treat us, as supporters. As family.

If you don’t have enough seats at the “big table” for Thanksgiving dinner, and you have to move some of your family to the living room, you explain why. You treat them like family. You let them know that you wish it was otherwise, that the ideal circumstance is to be together. That’s what family does.

While I’m happy to take my seats on the top level, and I’ll be there supporting this team, I’ll do so wondering why the club missed out on an opportunity to talk to all of us differently.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions above are those of the author, and do not represent those of Broadway Sports Media as a whole.

Ben Wright contributed to this story.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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