Soccer In Seattle
Pro Sports Team of The Year. Not just the Pro Soccer Team of The Year – no, the best franchise in all of American pro sports. According to Sports Business Journal, the Rosetta Stone of the sports biz, the Seattle Sounders currently wear the crown of “Professional Sports Team of The Year”.
The award, given every year as part of SBJ’s “Sports Business Awards”, recognizes the pro team that has set the standard for sports franchise management and marketing. Chief among the criteria used in selecting the winner of this award is how well a team does in creating a passionate “community” among its fans, and the list of past winners includes the names you would expect: the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the L.A. Lakers. But a pro soccer team? In its first year of existence? Playing in a non-glamorous West Coast sports market?
I had read about some of the unique things that the Sounders have done for their fans: things like creating a ticketing system that allows fans to choose where they sit based on how they like to view games – from passive spectating to being an active part of a rabid European soccer environment modeled after the English Premier League.
Or refunding to its 32,000 season ticket holders the cost of an early-season game in which the team lost 4-0 and generally stunk up their home joint of Qwest Field. Granted, the refund came in the form of a one-game credit on next year’s season ticket package, so it is a tiny bit self-serving. But it still says something about the team’s desire to make its fans happy.
This I had to experience.
It was World Cup Final day, so the timing was right for taking in a live soccer game. And we were “in the neighborhood”, having attended the B.C. Lions CFL game the previous night in Vancouver. A quick jaunt down the coast, a wave to the U.S. Border Patrol…OK, make that a mind-numbing 90-minute crawl across 500 yards of cut glass to get back into our own country of residence. America, rest assured – your northern border is secure. At least that portion of your northern border where Canada Route 99 and U.S. Interstate 5 meet in an orgy of duty-free shopping.
But even as we edged slowly back to the States, increasing our carbon footprint to Bigfoot dimensions by the second, I was becoming more knowledgeable about the event I was to attend that evening. For when I purchased my tickets online, I received an email which consisted of a “thank you” for my purchase – and basically a User’s Manual for how best to enjoy the game that evening. So while careening forward at a 0.25 kph clip, I was able to read up on:
• Up-to-date alternate routes to the game, given current construction in the neighborhood
• The words to the songs and chants that Sounders fans join in on throughout the game
• How to take part in pre-game festivities such as the Soccer Celebration fan expo, the Sounders Pub Crawl, and the March To The Match – in which fans gather in nearby Occidental Park an hour prior to game time and walk to the stadium together singing and chanting the aforementioned Sounders fight songs.
OK, I’m not much of a singer or chanter of fight songs. Or a marcher, for that matter. But I do recognize that the March To The Match is part of a very successful effort to create an authentic European soccer experience. And according to Sports Business Journal, in one season it had become a “best practice” that other Major League Soccer franchises were attempting to replicate. For my part, having witnessed the passion of college football fans in the Southeast, I would think that the concept would take off there as well – although a more appropriate name might be “Stagger To The Stadium” (service mark pending).
A couple of things here. First, I can’t ever recall another time when I received a separate email thanking me for my purchase of a ticket to a sporting event. I think the USGA sent two burly guys in dark suits and reflective sunglasses to my door to “suggest” that I not even think about bringing a cell phone or camera to the U.S. Open, but that was about it.
Second, this email started out with “Now that you’ve got tickets for this Sounders FC match, it’s time for us to get you informed on the ins and outs of the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field” (my emphasis). Note the proactive assumption of responsibility on the part of the team to make sure I was maximizing my enjoyment. This is truly unique. And I certainly hope it catches on.
Now I know that the Seattle Sounders weren’t personally responsible for the fact that we were able to find FREE on-street parking within two blocks of the stadium that evening. Or that the sun shone brightly and the temperature was absolutely perfect at game time. Well OK, maybe I don’t know for sure that they weren’t involved – they seem to have everything else covered.
What I do know for sure though, is that I was a Sounders fan before I even entered the building for my very first MLS game. Now where did I put the lyrics to those fight songs?
To be continued…