Second chance: RSL aims to fix stadium woes that plagued home debut
The seats were empty and the concourses quiet this week at Rice-Eccles Stadium as Real Salt Lake prepared for its second home game, against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.
The scene stood in contrast to the one two weeks ago, when fans waited in long lines at ticket and will-call windows before the season opener, some up until halftime.
After the game - RSL's only victory - team officials received an earful from some of those who were forced to wait and criticism from others in the community. But they believe they've improved the ticket process and are confident this week bring fewer lines and less waiting time.
"I am certain that this week and all subsequent games will be much smoother," RSL general manager Steve Pastorino said.
Real Salt Lake cited first-time bugs associated with any event, a large and late-arriving walk-up crowd and not enough ticket windows as the primary reasons for the snafu. The team drew more than 25,000 fans for its first home game, but at kickoff, it looked like half that number were inside the stadium.
Real Salt Lake contracts out ticket-sales operations to Rice-Eccles, which had 22 windows open for the home opener. This week, they'll have 30 windows open, according to Mark Burk, the director at Rice-Eccles. They're doubling personnel at the will-call windows, which were also jammed, and adding extra ticket printers and credit card machines.
As many as 5,500 fans bought tickets a half-hour before kickoff, which, according to those involved in ticket sales, is too late.
"At 20 minutes to the event, our lines were not significant," Burk said. "And then it hit."
Everyone, it seems, is urging fans to arrive earlier to ensure they'll get in on time.
"We had a tremendous walk-up crowd on Saturday morning," Pastorino said. "And we continue to urge fans to come early and not show up in the last 15 minutes before kickoff and expect to get in."
Said Burk: "Please, please, please arrive
early. We can't process all those tickets in that short of a time."
When the University of Utah football team plays, many of the tickets are pre-sold, in season-ticket sales or to people planning ahead. Soccer, though, has a more walk-up type of crowd.
When the U.S. women's national team played Ireland at Rice-Eccles in 2003, the same thing happened, as fans got stuck outside of the stadium as the game played on inside.
"I recommend people arrive one hour before the game," Burk said. "We open the gates an hour to an hour and a half before the event. As soon as the gates are open, we'd prefer them to come in."
Real Salt Lake said it warned Rice-Eccles it was expecting between 23,000-25,000 people, and the stadium crew contends it was ready for that number, but not so many people at one time.
"We tried to warn them," Pastorino said. "I guess it's one thing to kind of mentally think you're ready and another to have all the processes in order to handle the crush. You spread that out over a couple of hours, you don't have a problem."
While representatives from RSL and Rice-Eccles have met throughout the week and both have said the ticketing issues have been adequately addressed, Pastorino remained skeptical about improvements to another of the last home game's snafus: concessions. Many stands ran out of food.
"I am not completely convinced we have all the answers figured out in concessions,'' Pastorino said Wednesday. "It's a different chain of command, and at this point, we're more optimistic that our ticket problems have been resolved."
The university's athletic department runs concessions at Rice-Eccles. There were long lines at halftime - the only break in the action in soccer - and by the end of the game, most stands were flush out of everything.
This Saturday, there will be two additional concessions areas open, and "hawkers" available to fans throughout the main seating areas.
"I don't know exactly what the communication was to the concessions from RSL,'' athletic director Chris Hill said.
"But every event we do, we need to do the best we can at it and we're going to expand it right now and go from there. We're trying to balance that line between not doing enough and doing too little."
Ultimately, though, the responsibility lies with the team, not the university or the athletic department. And Pastorino is committed to making sure RSL fans are happy with their experience.
"I'm totally open to bringing fans back as our guests if they feel they had such a horrible experience that they want their money's worth," Pastorino said. "But there aren't too many people that felt like that. We've had very good conversations with our fans on an individual basis. And we've told everybody, it's not just a ticket-sales issue for us. It's about the kind of service we want to provide."
RSL vs. San Jose
WHEN: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Rice-Eccles Stadium
TICKETS: utahtickets.com or 866-9-SOCCER