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Ghosted: How Tickets to L.A.’s Biggest Soccer Match Disappeared

Photo by Ivan Fernandez

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he week before any kind of rivalry match is typically full of tension, nerves, and anxiety. This was especially the case with the build-up for El Tráfico de Los Ángeles: the L.A. Galaxy versus LAFC. The trash-talk and banter between fans, supporters, and even players eventually took a backseat on Wednesday night when the heartbreaking news of ticket cancellations for Friday’s match flooded social media.

LAFC supporters flooded social media with a copy-and-pasted message alleging that the Galaxy canceled hundreds of matchday tickets. These tickets, they claimed, belonged to LAFC supporters, fans, and also youth club soccer players.

Just 48 hours before the Derby and without any explanation @lagalaxy front office has cancelled hundreds of tickets for Friday’s match vs LAFC. Many innocent fans and youth soccer club players are now left without a ticket. #awaydays #saveLAfootballculture #mls pic.twitter.com/M6pNou3Tt8

— ⚒ (@BlackArmy1850) July 18, 2019

Just 48 hours before the Derby and without any explanation, the @lagalaxy front office has cancelled hundreds or possibly thousands of LAFC supporters' tickets for the match. This is anti-football, anti-culture, cowardly, and unacceptable. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/HJrpva6eT7

— Expo OGs (@ExpoOriginals) July 18, 2019

Rumors swirled nearly non-stop soon after and both sets of supporters lobbed insults, retorts, and conspiracy theories at one another for hours on end. Was this revenge for LAFC allegedly canceling a few dozen Galaxy supporter tickets to their away match at LAFC’s yard last year? As some Galaxy fans claimed. Was this move done in fear that Galaxy’s stadium would be inundated with an ocean of black jerseys by LAFC fans as their fans claimed?

We reached out to the Galaxy for an official statement regarding the allegations. The official explanation as e-mailed to the Taco by Brendan Hannan, vice president of marketing, of the Galaxy states: “A number of tickets were refunded in sections 124 and 321 due to safety and security concerns. The tickets were purchased and transferred to away supporters in the L.A. Galaxy supporter section. Due to safety and security concerns for all fans in attendance and an inability to relocate these buyers these tickets were canceled and a full refund was issued.

Those two phone calls within a 30-minute time span destroyed what two youth clubs worked towards for months: raising money to train and coach young soccer players in South L.A.

These sections are located behind one of the goals in the Dignity Health Sports Park stadium where the Galaxy plays. Part of section 124 is home to the Galaxians supporter group while section 321 is located behind and above section 121 where the Angel City Brigade supporter group sits.

Safety concerns are valid considering the tension that hangs over the LA rivalry but the Galaxy’s targeted strike against LAFC supporters turned out to be more of a scorched-earth attack that also resulted in Galaxy fans and LAFC fans unaffiliated with any supporter group losing their tickets.

Separate phone interviews with representatives from Laguna Futbol Club and Futbol Academy of So Cal, two youth soccer club programs in South L.A., revealed that the children in their local clubs and their families were also impacted by the Galaxy’s decision to cancel tickets. Laguna FC lost 400 tickets in sections 124 and 125 while Futbol Academy lost 200 tickets in section 320.

It was 5:30 PM on Wednesday when Robaire Romero, Vice President of Laguna Futbol Club, alleges to have received a call from a Galaxy representative accusing him of selling tickets directly to the collective of LAFC supporter groups known as 3252.

“The guy called me to tell me that our tickets were under investigation,” he says by phone, “saying that ‘your tickets have been under the 3252’ and I’m like, wait a minute, all my tickets are [sold] with the kids through my club!”

Half an hour later, Junior Almaraz, Coaching Coordinator for Futbol Academy of So Cal, received a similar phone call. “Yesterday they called me saying ‘hey, we have a hunch that you’re selling tickets to LAFC supporters,” he says by phone. “How are you going to go based on a hunch?! You have no proof!”

Those two phone calls within a 30-minute time span destroyed what two youth clubs worked towards for months: raising money to train and coach young soccer players in South L.A.

The money that Futbol Academy raised from tonight’s game was to pay fees towards renting playing fields, team uniforms, and other tournament costs. Meanwhile, Laguna FC planned to use their funds to cover travel expenses for their teams to play in a youth tournament in Mexico. Both clubs must now refund all of that money and look for other sources of revenue and donations to cover those costs.

Both Romero and Almaraz explained in separate phone interviews how the Galaxy sells tickets directly to youth clubs in the L.A. area before the regular season begins. The Galaxy selects a number of games to sell tickets to youth clubs at a discounted rate. These clubs then resell the tickets at a higher price and use the profits to fund their club operations.

Futbol Academy, for example, sold tickets to this year’s season-opening match between the Galaxy and the Chicago Fire. Tonight’s rivalry match was the third game they sold tickets for and was also the match where they raised the most money.

“It’s fundraising for youth clubs so a lot of teams do it,” explains Almaraz.

The Galaxy’s cancelation of these tickets has thrown these two youth clubs into disarray. The money that Futbol Academy raised from tonight’s game was to pay fees towards renting playing fields, team uniforms, and other tournament costs. Meanwhile, Laguna FC planned to use their funds to cover travel expenses for their teams to play in a youth tournament in Mexico. Both clubs must now refund all of that money and look for other sources of revenue and donations to cover those costs.

“Another problem is the backlash of the angry parents that have resulted from the poor explanation of why the incident occurred,” adds Sam Nemours, club administrator at Laguna FC.

This ticket mishap did not affect all youth clubs. Audrea Valadez bought tickets through her daughter’s youth soccer club (she asked that we not name the club as she wants to speak for herself and not on behalf of the club). The team’s manager purchased the tickets through the Galaxy in the same manner as the other youth clubs and they were quickly snapped up by family and friends of the club’s players who are Galaxy and LAFC fans. None of their tickets were canceled and Valadez plans on attending although she believes that this mishap added an unnecessary tension to an already hyped situation.

“I’m excited that our tickets didn’t get canceled,” she says, “But there’s a lot of tension going on between the two teams. I’ve never felt like this going to a game. I’m kind of nervous wearing my [LAFC] jersey over there!”

The issues first arose two months ago when Almaraz and Romero were contacted separately by the Galaxy concerning the possibility that tickets were being funneled directly to LAFC supporter groups from within the 3252.

“How are you going to tell these kids that you can’t go [El Tráfico] anymore [and] that you can’t participate anymore?”

In Almaraz’s case, the Galaxy wanted to cancel a number of tickets he sold to an individual who was also an LAFC supporter. Almaraz refunded the individual his money instead who then returned the physical tickets for the club to resell. The only issue was a number of digital tickets sold to the same individual. The Galaxy canceled the digital tickets and refunded Almaraz the money.

“I told the Galaxy that was my bad, that I forgot I had sold him those tickets too, so we got refunded after that,” explains Almaraz. “We had no problems after that. Nothing was going on.”

“I feel like they had this planned,” adds Romero who also received a phone call concerning the distribution of tickets. He made it clear to Galaxy reps that he wasn’t selling tickets directly to 3252 but to the families and friends of his players.

“If they felt like that,” he continues, “Why didn’t they do it before? Why did they wait two days before the game?”

Both Almaraz and Romero tried to keep ticket sales within the club by allocating tickets to each youth squad within each club and selling directly to parents, family, and friends. Even so, there’s no guarantee that rival fans will purchase tickets as each club has fans of both teams who wanted to attend the game.

“In my club, there’s LAFC fans and there’s Galaxy fans,” explains Almaraz. “I can’t tell them, ‘Oh, you can’t buy them if you’re an LAFC fan,’ but there’s also a difference between fans and supporters.”

“I have half LAFC fans and half Galaxy fans,” adds Romero. “The half that go for Galaxy are now saying, ‘I don’t want to go for the Galaxy anymore.’”

“Many of our players are very heartbroken by not being able to attend the game,” adds Nemours. “Many of the players we help have never been to an MLS game before and was looking forward to it.”

Hannan of the Galaxy explained that the team knows about the other sections and youth clubs that were affected and that they would refund both groups their money and “will work with those two clubs on future opportunities.”

That may not be enough to repair the partnership these youth clubs have had with the Galaxy for years.

“The start to the healing process,” explains Nemours, “Would be [offer us] refunds, tickets to another game and being able to play at halftime would be a start with possible donations such as soccer balls and other equipment we desperately need here to keep the kids out of gangs and drugs.”

But as far as Romero is concerned, he and his club’s partnership with the Galaxy is officially over.

“It was bad management on their part and we’re the ones paying the consequences,” he says, his voice dripping with frustration and sadness. “How are you going to tell these kids that you can’t go [El Tráfico] anymore [and] that you can’t participate anymore?”

The LA Galaxy will face LAFC at Dignity Health Sports Park at 7 PM. The tickets that were canceled are being resold for $100 each.

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