Tom Sullivan has been attending Chicago Fire games since the team’s inaugural season in 1998 and became a full season ticket holder when the team moved to Toyota Park in 2006. Though already set to renew his season tickets for next season, the retired English professor was taken aback two weeks ago when the club released its 2011 season ticket holder pricing and benefits
It’s always good when 97% of season ticket prices stay the same but that wasn’t the story, it was the benefits which the club hopes will cause a dramatic increase in its number of season ticket holders going into the team’s 14th season.
Featuring free and reduced parking, a 12-month payment plan, food and merchandise discounts and a referral program, the incentives seem to be unrivaled by most professional sports organizations, with the free parking being the eye-opener with many.
“I heard from someone sitting a couple rows in front of me that we were getting free parking,” said Sullivan. “I thought that was a nice gesture on the part of the team when you consider that you’re dropping over $200 to park when you have a full ticket package.”
Previously, the $240 parking cost for those attending all matches was in some cases more than an actual season ticket. Recognizing the parking situation as a hot-button issue among Fire season ticket holders the club moved swiftly to improve the situation for its loyalist customers.
Having made his Toyota Park home in Section 107 since the stadium’s opening, Sullivan is impressed with the team’s unique efforts to attract more fans to Toyota Park in 2011.
“I don’t think I’ve heard of a professional sports team doing that for its entire fan base. I know it’s not customary so I certainly think there’s a story there. When you look at the time the team spent at Soldier Field, we put 20,000 people in there and it looked like nobody came. We put the same number in this place and it absolutely rocks. I think this will certainly help in getting more people out to game consistently.”
A club seat holder since 2001, Liz Scherer agreed with Sullivan on parking as well as the team allowing season ticket holders to pay off their balance over 12 months.
“It’s great,” said Scherer. “I’ve never heard of anyone in this city that’s given free parking for sporting events. I also think with the way the economy is, allowing people to pay their season tickets off throughout the year is an excellent idea. At the end of the day, it’s a lot of money – if you have it that’s peachy, but a lot of people can’t pay it off up front right now.”
Sullivan often brings people to utilize extra tickets which raised the question about whether he would try to make use of one of the other new benefits: the “Build the Club” referral program – a setup where the referrer receives a 20% credit of whatever their referral purchases and in turn gives a 5% savings to the new buyer.
“A lot of times I’ll bring people with me or give my tickets to people who I know are interested in the team,” he Sullivan. “The last home game I had a couple of free tickets so I had a young woman and her husband came as our guests. They were excited to come to Toyota Park and now that they’ve been they want to come back. I think our attendance should be much higher than it is and things like this should help it grow.”
Sometimes nostalgic about the club’s old days at Soldier Field, Scherer thinks the more people that experience a match at Toyota Park, the better the team will be in expanding its season ticket base.
“To me there is no atmosphere like Soldier Field,” said Scherer who recounts the club’s 2000 US Open Cup title as her best memory. “But Toyota Park is a beautiful stadium and for strictly watching the game you can’t beat it. For me, I’ve been hooked since 2000 – the Chicago Fire is it for me as far as sports goes.”
Certainly with the club’s new strategies, they’re putting an incentive on finding more loyal followers like Scherer and Sullivan.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.