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The off-the-field lessons to be learned from LAFC’s first playoff game

Ticket prices are just a byproduct.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles FC Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Football Club are set to play their second-ever MLS Cup Playoffs game on Thursday night, and their second at The Banc. While plenty of talk will revolve around the play on the field, especially in light of the opponent for this one being the LA Galaxy, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the lessons that can be taken from last year’s playoff game off the field, too.

Put simply, last year’s playoff game wasn’t just a disappointment because it was an upset loss. LAFC came in with a building supporter culture, work that was temporarily completely undone in a night.

Two main issues cropped up. First, people in the stands threw objects onto the field. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando, as the closest opposition player to the action, was targeted, and it became serious enough that referee Mark Geiger stopped the game temporarily.

Throwing objects onto the field can be a sadly common phenomenon in some countries, but it’s pretty much unheard of in MLS. I’ve been covering MLS for nearly a decade — that was the first time, in thousands of games watched, that a match was stopped because objects were being thrown onto the field.

And then this happened in two separate bursts, some in the first half and then again at the other end in the second half. The misbehavior was contagious, and it spread, and it was a big black eye for a club and fanbase that had done so well in the debut season.

Compounding this was the resumption of the unwanted chant during the game. LAFC’s first game at The Banc featured pockets of fans using the derogatory chant during goal kicks, something that is not universal but certainly common in many stadiums around MLS. But a campaign to stamp out the chant paid off quickly. It was a big success for the new club, looking to establish an inclusive culture.

And then it was undone in a night as it came back. LAFC has heavily promoted the fans and the supporters in The 3252, and when those in the stands turned out to misbehave in the biggest moment, it made everyone look bad. Anyone associated with the team was called “garbage” for days afterwards.

How did this happen, LAFC being a model of passion and fun support while also being inclusive, turning to pretty much the opposite in the playoffs? The likely culprit comes down to one factor: Ticket sales.

It’s impossible to parse how many who threw objects and said the abhorrent chant attended all the games prior, but in all likelihood the tide turned because a bunch of new people bought tickets for the big game, and then acted like jerks once they arrived.

This season, I’ve seen (half-joking) threats on social media by LAFC supporters not to sell their tickets on the secondary market to strangers, or else. And honestly, that’s likely what happened last time, people decided to recoup their season ticket investment by selling tickets to the biggest game.

Now, magnify that with a rivalry game, and Thursday’s game is seen as the biggest one in town, with stories breathlessly touting the tickets up for sale that are going for several hundred, on up to several thousand dollars.

If the same scenario unfolds on Thursday as happened last year in the playoffs, an unfortunate night could truly become a disaster. Here’s hoping it doesn’t turn out that way.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that the prices for the game are spiking for several reasons:

  1. It’s the playoffs
  2. It’s a rivalry game
  3. The stadium already has a relative scarce inventory based on size
  4. And people are probably being convinced to not sell tickets on the secondary market for this one, making those available even more expensive

We’ll only know after the fact, but I imagine The 3252 is working hard to keep as many tickets in the hands of responsible, loyal LAFC supporters as possible, and spreading the word as far as possible around the stadium to follow suit. There’s bound to be some interlopers, but if there are more people who “won’t miss this one for the world” than decide to cash out, then hopefully the potential for an embarrassing night, on and off the field, will be successfully avoided.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!