Public tickets will go on sale for the Canada v Ecuador game in Toronto Wednesday morning.
News was already filtering in late last week – even before the pre-sale – that the Canadian Soccer Association was getting bombarded by calls from Ecuadorian supporters looking to arrange group sales and purchase sections.
More than one person involved with the ticket sales muttered the phrase ‘it could be worse than Peru’ to me this past weekend.
For those that have forgotten – lucky you – but despite one of the largest, organized displays by Canadian national team supporters in recent memory, they were dwarfed by a stadium of Peru mad soccer fans. The result went the wrong way and so it only made things worse to watch a Canadian home game once again transformed into an away match environment.
That is nothing new for those who have been carrying the Voyageur’s and national team supporters banner for the last generation. Every one of them has horror stories of being spit on, cornered or outnumbered by 10-1 while carrying the Canadian flag into their home stadiums. And it usually ends with them laying the blame at the feet of a CSA who hasn’t cared enough, or hasn’t even been organized enough, to know what to do about it.
It’s an ugly reality and one, now that the CSA is increasingly getting its house in order, that many across the Canadian soccer spectrum are discussing how to change.
Aside from taking hardcore measures like checking passports - which, even the most hardcore will admit is too far – there are few easy answers.
However, it’s in the interest of the CSA to start asking the question: how can we ensure we give the Canadian national team a home field advantage during the next World Cup cycle?
There is clear, tangible evidence to suggest creating that kind of environment for national team soccer in Canada could translate into future pro-Canadian audiences. Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps largely sold hockey cities on the idea of soccer by using just that kind of Ultras imagery and have turned them into financial family successes - even if the on-field product have seen mixed results.
What the public at large don’t want to see, what they won’t invest their money in, is watching an average product (let’s be real folks, we’re not world beaters yet with our 75th FIFA world ranking) and in an environment where they’re treated like second-class citizens.
So, how do you give the Canadian families who want to support Canada a chance to fill out the seats?
Things to consider might be starting to limit out of country group sales until the week before the game. Toronto FC fans will tell you how Vancouver allegedly dragged its heels to ensure they didn’t see a Columbus-like invasion. One hundred still showed but it could have been upwards of 500 if you believe some estimates.
Another option is to perhaps look at using staggered pre-sales that ensure that the local clubs can still buy large sections of seats in the lead up to games – the realities of family life can prevent even soccer people from buying tickets in April for a game in June.
Or, even go to the extreme, when it comes to the World Cup qualifying stages, bite the bullet a few times and paper the houses with Canadian-only fans. In the short term, yes, the CSA would take a financial hit, but in the long run, with the media exposure you’d gain from having a full stadium singing for O’Canada and the imprint you’d indelibly leave on the casual sports fan, it would surely be worth the future return.
These are just some ideas. I’m not pretending to have all the answers. Hell, even any of them.
But, simply put, it's reasonable to expect that this home friendly on June 1 will not be Canadian friendly, it's not reasonable to accept that any home World Cup qualifying matches in the next cycle will be hostile towards Canadians.
Get it sorted.