Jonathan Ellgen attended Minnesota United games in a pretty typical way back when the minor league club played at the National Sports Center in Blaine: He bought an about $10 Groupon deal for him and his mother that included a free pair of Zubaz.
That, combined with free parking, cheap concessions and quality time with his mom, convinced him to become a season ticket-holder then and there. But after three years, there might be an expiration date on Ellgen’s time as one of United’s original fans.
The new season-ticket pricing for 2019 — when the Loons move into the privately financed $150 million Allianz Field — has priced Ellgen and some other fans out of what they feel are comparable seats to their current TCF Bank Stadium spots. But that hasn’t deterred everyone, as United capped its season tickets at 14,500 about a month ago and already has a waiting list of just under 500 people, according to the club.
“The rhetoric that’s been passed around at all the season ticket-holder events and meetings and picnics and everything like that was really kind of the sense of how important the supporters are to the club and how they want to take care of their supporters, and they want to make things affordable for people,” Ellgen said. “We always felt that in the past. … There’s really a sense of community and family. But now some of these things like this increase in ticket price, it’s hard to swallow.”
But ire over ticket price increases for a state-of-the-art stadium, which promises improved views from those in the team’s two-season home at TCF Bank Stadium, are part of the growing pains for a burgeoning club and possibly exacerbated by United’s two stadium moves within three years.
Ellgen said when he first bought a season-ticket package about halfway through the 2015 North American Soccer League season, he paid $229.16 per ticket. In 2017 at the Gophers’ stadium, he paid $446 per ticket and then $520 per ticket for this season.
From where Ellgen and his mother sit in the college stadium, he said he anticipates the comparable purple section 35 in Allianz Field will cost him between $875 to $1,050 per ticket. That’s a significant increase for Ellgen, who works two jobs, and his mother, who is retired and living on a fixed income.
That, though, might be where the problem lies. The entirety of Allianz Field would fit inside the lower bowl of TCF Bank Stadium, said Bryant Pfeiffer, United executive vice president and chief revenue officer. And the design of Allianz Field, including the steepness of the stands, makes the views a lot better. In fact, the stadium architect firm Populous deemed the best seats in the stadium to be the first 10 rows on the east side second level, Pfeiffer said.
“Someone who is comparing seating charts might say, ‘Well, I’m in what appears to be the lower bowl of one venue, and I’m going to be in the second level of another venue.’ You almost think it’s a downgrade, conceptually,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s quite the reverse. So it’s really hard to compare the two stadiums apples to apples.”
If Ellgen, for example, wanted to continue to pay about the same $520 price of this season, he is left with choosing from three sections in Allianz — either on the end lines or upper-level corners — compared with four section choices at TCF Bank Stadium.
As of now, Ellgen said his tentative plan is to buy tickets in the green 36 section, which go for $655 to $786. He said he and his mother will probably do that for one year, to experience the new stadium and see his family’s name on the sculpture the club is commissioning to recognize the 11,842 original MLS season ticket-holders in the Itasca Society. But after that, he said, it will be a game-to-game basis.
Those single-match tickets, which for Saturday’s game against Vancouver range from $23 to $187, are also set for an increase at Allianz Field, Pfeiffer said, and will be harder to lock down. Pfeiffer said a lot of information and analytics goes into setting the pricing, which is reassessed every year. More than 40 percent of seats will cost fewer than $30 per game at Allianz Field, he said, and just more than 80 percent fewer than $50. The supporters’ section along one end-line has the cheapest season tickets at Allianz Field for $360, a price that has remained largely unchanged at TCF Bank Stadium. The section is meant for standing only.
Among the six professional sports teams in the Twin Cities market, United’s least-expensive season ticket ranks fourth, less than the Vikings and Wild. Using that same measure across MLS, it is the 11th cheapest of 23 teams.
Ellgen said for a team that let in a league-record number of goals last season and currently sits at 3-5, a price hike is hard to comprehend. But Pfeiffer said Allianz Field tickets will be worth paying more for, not just because of the team performance or improved amenities.
“We’re middle of the pack pricing-wise [in MLS]. Arguably, we will have one of two of the nicest stadiums in North America come April of next year,” Pfeiffer said. “So that coupled with just the general value proposition of an MLS experience … no matter where you’re sitting in that stadium, it’s going to be a great value proposition.”
While Ellgen said he’s happy to see the club he loves succeeding, it’s bittersweet to fear missing out on something special.
“It would be sad for me if they were successful two, three years down the road, and I wasn’t able to have those season tickets,” Ellgen said, “because I couldn’t afford it.”