The Full 90

You're a member - just like everyone else - and that might be OK

Who's a "member" of Sporting Club? Well, if you've got a season ticket, you're a "member." And, well, if you've got a valid e-mail address and don't mind giving the team some "simple profile information" you can be a "member" too.

But, the only way you can gain access to the "Member's Club," is if you sit in the "Member's Stand." So, season-ticket "members" who sit in the East Stand can't go to the "Member's Club."

Um, what? If you haven't been obsessively paying attention to Big Soccer, this blog or Twitter, there might be some head-spinning.

I almost feel like there needs to be some sort of jacket to designate who is and who isn't a "member." Like this.

*If you were born after 1985, you might not recognize that that is a member's only jacket. See what I did there?

***

Does this talk of "member" and "membership" have you confused yet? Well, I don't think you're alone. But I also don't think the confusion will last.

The average sports fan coming into this stadium without a lot of knowledge of the team (which, honestly, will be quite a few) might be a little confused with a team employee puts a Motorola Xoom in front of them and asks them if they want to become a "member."

Heck, even some "members" are confused about how this will all play out.

I personally feel that most of the confusion stems from the club being too clever. I mean, really, how many things have the word "member" in them now? (I've already used the word "member" at least 15 times already.)

It's also a lot to process for many fans who will have trouble getting to sleep tonight as they twitch with anticipation.

Like the

parking situation

*, this will be confusing because it's new and it's different. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea or a good idea -- yet. It's just an idea that is unfamiliar. Will fans buy it? I think many will, but everyone surely won't.

Hey, kind of like the change to "Sporting Kansas City."

*Really, study and get to know that parking situation. It's going to be a parking battle -- so, arm yourself with information.

***

Let's break down "member" benefits. In fact, let's call just call it what it really is:

"Fans with Benefits."

According to the club, "Fans with Benefits" receive:

• Complimentary tickets to road matches



• Complimentary access to the Members' Section of the stadium for three SKC matches per season



• Access to the Sporting Explore mobile app that goes live Thursday



• Access to exclusive Sporting Kansas City content and invitation to members-only ticket pre-sales for concerts and special events



• Ability to purchase single-game tickets at a discount.

Most fans won't complain at all about the first benefit. Many -- myself included -- used that benefit to go to Chicago in March. I don't see many complaining about the third benefit; nor the fourth or fifth.

But many (there's a 15-page plus thread on Big Soccer titled " 'Members' Frustration") are a little bit peeved at benefit No. 2.

As part of the program, Sporting will have over "600 complimentary tickets to our members for our home opener next week." And, it is my understanding, there will be tickets available like this for ever home KC game.

The team distributed 200 tickets last Friday and offered 200 more tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis this afternoon. (If you go to the

Membership Portal

, you'll find more info.)

There will also be complimentary tickets available to the first 200 fans who line up at the "Member's Club" entrance tomorrow.

That's pretty cool. For the cost of only your email address, you can get to see the state-of-the-art Livestrong Sporting Park.

For free!

Why are they complaining?

Well, the general complaints have to do with the perceived idea that this devalues a season ticket purchase (and the extra tickets that many -- myself included -- purchased already for the home opener) and also that the free seats in question are in the generally rowdy "Member's Stand." (There are of course, other complaints. It's Big Soccer after all. I won't get in to those, just making a point about these two.)

The complaints are quite valid -- even if the loss of value is only in perception.

The team is listening to your complaints. They love fan involvement and, the impression that I get, is they truly want fan feedback on improving the experience.

But this is the primary plank of their grand idea of revolutionizing the fan experience in this digital world.

Meaning: You'll either adapt to it or ignore it.

***

On Friday, I tweeted

this

. Within minutes (literally), I was on the phone with Robb Heineman.

He told me that this is part of the team's good-faith effort to back the membership effort and was always part of the plan. Essentially, one of the benefits of being a member should be access to the game and to the club. Like purchasing a Costco membership grants you access to all the bulk paper towels your car can hold. Only, this is theoretically free.

I can't argue with the logic behind it. It's a brilliant way to boost your brand (who doesn't like free tickets?), your advertising rolls (what sounds better to advertiser: 11,000 season ticket holders or 50,000 members?), get people into the Midwestern Mecca for Soccer in hopes they want to go more often (why wouldn't you want to return to a cool stadium?), and also make people feel part of something bigger (doesn't everyone like communal experiences like Facebook, Twitter and Justin Beiber concerts?).

But I can argue with the timing. The news of 600 complimentary tickets (marketing word for "free") coming within a week (or a day!) of the opening game gives the perception of something curious. Like, the team was struggling to sell-out the stadium.

Heineman assured me that they weren't "seeding" the stadium to ensure a sell-out*.

*For what it's worth regarding the sell-out, at 12:30 p.m. today I found five seats available in the West Stand (Section 110, Row 24, Seats 14-18). Cost: $276.25 via Ticketmaster. According a team release at 7 p.m., only 200 tickets remain for the event.

Your perception of that statement, however, comes with how much you trust the person giving it. I believe him. I've dealt with him a lot, and he's been nothing but honest in our dealings. The team will do this all season to try and grow its membership. Part of being "innovative" is taking chances that not everyone really likes.

But the timing seems off to me because it feels as if the team is putting too heavy an emphasis on a confusingly-worded marketing strategy when Livestrong Sporting Park is a pretty strong marketing strategy all by itself.

***

On Wednesday, Sporting unveiled the new web portal that will guide potential "members" into "member-dom." You can check it out

here

.

It's pretty slick. The design is nice (reminiscent of the personal-finance site Mint.com) and the user-interface is fairly intuitive. I've only poked around on it for a bit though and I'll reserve judgment until I see everything it's capable of.

I've also seen tests of the mobile app (I think many people who are skeptical might enjoy it) and the iPad app that controls StadiumVision (those who read this who have suites, many will be envious). After talking with Kyle Rogers (the team's digital strategist) and Asim Pasha (the club's chief information officer and chief architect). They are both smart, savvy guys and I know that they have grand ambitions in the future. Those plans include more social networking and more interacting with the game going on. The web portal and mobile app are really only the beginning.

So, they put in the time and effort to make a usable and intriguing new product for the fans and they aren't afraid to think big when looking to the future.

But, will the "members" want to use it

tomorrow

? Is this a case of too much all at once?

***

I've been to the to stadium almost a dozen times now. It's glorious, wonderful, awesome, amazing and fantastic. The team are, justifiably, very proud of what they've accomplished.

But there are thousands who haven't been and who will likely just want to enjoy the stadium without worrying about how many "affinity" points they are earning or playing a trivia game on a mobile app -- both features of being a "member." They'll want to take in the sights, drink an adult beverage (of which there are several to choose from), buy a new shirt, eat a hot dog and enjoy a soccer game.

There are people who will love the added stuff and, with time, maybe the majority will dig what Sporting is throwing down.

I just hope a marketing strategy, some new technology and some confusion about the word "member" -- what it means and how often it's used -- won't interfere with fans enjoying the stadium and the action on the field.

It should/could/will be a tremendous night for Kansas City with the stadium filled with "members." Even if many aren't quite sure what that means. Yet.

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