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Our City: Orlando City is Selling Out Games, So What’s With the Empty Seats?

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Orlando City has the fourth best attendance in MLS and a season ticket waiting list that is thousands deep, so why are there empty seats at home games?

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Our City is a weekly column looking at the culture in and around Orlando City and Major League Soccer.

By every possible account the new Orlando City Stadium has been a success. Players, media, and — most of all — fans have loved the atmosphere generated by a downtown purpose-built stadium. Despite a few glitches one would expect in the opening of any new facility, things have been going fantastically for the club and the stadium.

The buzz and energy generated by the stadium design rivals any stadium I’ve visited in Europe. Building that cacophony of noise is generated by a full stadium of purple-clad supporters singing, chanting, screaming, clapping, stomping, and cheering.

Orlando City has “officially” sold out seven of its first eight home games. Anyone in the stands or watching on TV will notice that those sellouts feel a bit exaggerated. Most of the games have felt full, without feeling like actual sellouts. If this were any other sport in any other country I probably wouldn’t think much of this and enjoy the game.

But this is a soccer game in the United States and I’ve been conditioned to be worried about the only stat that matters, attendance. The team, to its credit has “sold” every seat for their sold-out games. The team is popular and doing well, so the club hasn’t had to give away massive allotments to sponsors and youth teams as happens at times in professional sports. With a season ticket waiting list that is evidently thousands deep, there shouldn’t be any available seats in theory. So if all the tickets have been sold, why isn’t the stadium full?

There are, of course, a lot of reasons for empty seats. Season ticket holders missing games, fans taking shelter from the elements in the concourse, and unsold resale tickets. This last one is what I want to focus on. Any visitor to the Orlando City Ticketmaster site will recognize the magenta symbol that represents their “verified resale” seats. Here is a view of the stadium’s available tickets for today’s Chicago Fire match. (Blue are seats owned by the club, magenta are those owned by verified resellers.)

Screen capture from Ticketmaster’s website for the Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire game as of 6/3/2017.

A resurgent Fire with World Cup winner and former Bayern Munich / Manchester United player Bastian Schweinsteiger should be an easy sell on a Sunday evening, but Orlando’s stadium looks absolutely plagued with unsold tickets, and the club can’t do anything about it. The club’s tickets are mostly sold, and the remaining few will most likely be sold by game time.

I’ve long been curious about just what a Ticketmaster verified resale ticket really was. Who owns these and why are they for sale? Looking deeper into that question, leads to no real answers. Certainly, some of them are fans like you and I. Summer vacation hits, you don’t have any friends who can take them, you can put them up for sale and send a fellow fan to the game.

But there are rows and rows of tickets being sold by one verified resale account. You can tell this by clicking on one available ticket within a row, and the entire row becomes available for purchase.

The Ticketmaster resale program was launched in 2013 as a fan-to-fan ticket program. This was ideally meant to give people buying tickets from other fans a secure way of doing so. At the same time, it would help Ticketmaster compete with sites like Craigslist, StubHub, and eBay for resale tickets to high-demand events with massive mark-ups from scalpers. So, these seats could be scalpers’ seats.

I’ve also heard the theory that these seats are the ones owned by tour groups. One of the big selling points provided by the owners of the club when it would have been a publicly funded stadium was the idea that tourists from Brazil and England would flock in tour groups to catch a game during a week of theme park hopping. Orlando would be sold as a “second team” to foreigners on vacation. So, these seats could be large swaths of tickets that have gone unused by tour groups who won’t necessarily use them weekly.

Finally, they could be corporate seats. Local businesses and large corporations often buy blocks of tickets to local sports to use to impress potential clients and investors, or to reward employees with a night out. So, some of these blocks of resale tickets could just be companies not using their allotment this week.

A positive sign for just how tickets are selling from the club, “The Wall” has looked full and sold out for every game this season. This section, standing room and general admission, does not seem to have a “verified resale ticket” option, meaning the club and the supporters groups can still control these tickets and make sure they get into the hands of fans. The fact this section has been sold out means, in theory, there isn’t a demand problem.

I’m a little unsatisfied that this article seems to have more questions than answers, and, admittedly, I haven’t reached out to club officials for their view. The overall point I want to stress, for you and I, for Orlando City, and for MLS, is that these unsold tickets have the potential to hurt the atmosphere that sells the game in a small market city.

Unfortunately, as these tickets are already sold, there isn’t a lot the team can do. If you are a season ticket holder, you may have noticed the new frequency of emails mentioning the resale option:

“Did you know? Tickets in your seating category (Corner 100 Level) sold on Ticket Exchange for an average price of $42. That's 61% above the price you paid as a Season Ticket Member!”

This could be a signal that the club at least understands there is an “unused” ticket problem, but is it fans not using their tickets or just scalpers?

Have you noticed a lot of empty seats in your area? Do you think it has had any effect on the atmosphere and game day experience for you? Have you used the Ticketmaster resale program to buy or sell tickets? What was your experience? Comment here or reach out on Twitter: @KevinIsHistory.