Seattle Soccer History
By Carolyn Fishman
Unlike some of the other host cities for this year’s Copa America, Seattle’s professional soccer history does not date back to the early 1900s, rather it only dates back about four decades. The North American Soccer League (NASL) was created in 1967, and in 1973 it expanded westward. The Seattle Sounders were born in 1973 and in both their first and second seasons set record-breaking numbers for attendance across the NASL (Johnson) in their home stadium: Seattle Center’s Memorial Stadium. In 1975, the record that was set was 17,925 fans. In only their second season, the Sounders qualified for the playoffs. It is important to note that from the beginning, Seattle had fans showing up in mass quantities to support their team. It also makes the next statistic even more staggering. In 1976, the Sounders switched their home stadium to be the Kingdome, and their opening match was played in front of a sold out crowd of 58,128 fans! (Johnson). Absolutely unbelievable, but a number that was more than three times the previous record for fans in attendance. It was not a regular occurrence, but it did in fact happen.
In 1980 the Sounders went 25-7, the best record ever in the NASL (“History of Professional Soccer in Seattle”). However, the following year the team broke down, attendance decreased, and the end seemed near. In September of 1983 the Sounders ceased to exist, to be shortly followed by the NASL ‘suspending operations’ before the 1985 season could begin (“NASL …”).
The Sounders reappeared as a franchise in 1994 as part of the APSL (American Professional Soccer League). Between 1994 and 2007 the Sounders and the city of Seattle pitched multiple bids to become a part of the MLS (Major League Soccer) but were rejected (“History of Professional Soccer in Seattle”). Finally, in 2007, the Seattle Sounders were announced as an expansion team for the MLS. The first match was played in March of 2009, and since then the Sounders have consistently led the league in average fan attendance (“Seattle Sounders FC”). One of the things that helps draw large crowds with regularity is the success of the franchise. Its first seven seasons, the Sounders made the playoffs. In addition, the team boasts names on their roster like Osvaldo Alonso, Obafemi Martins, and Clint Dempsey (“FIFA 15 Player Ratings…”).
As was mentioned in the history section, fans have been showing up to Sounders games from the beginning. It helped that all of the games were broadcast on major radio stations, and most games were shown on television in the late 70s and early 80s, creating a large fanbase (Johnson). In addition to having a roster that contains what many consider to be the stars of the MLS today, media coverage remains important. It also helps that out of the four power leagues of national sports in the United States, Seattle only has teams in two: the Mariners for baseball, and the Seahawks for football, whereas there is no professional basketball or hockey team.
One study found that soccer fans from Seattle are ranked sixth in the nation (Bernardo) based on a combination of team and performance rank along with cost and fan engagement rank.
Within the stadium different fan groups have their regular seats. Four main fan groups exist today: the Emerald City Supporters, Gorilla FC, the North End Supporters, and Eastside Supporters (“Seattle Sounders FC Supporters”). In addition, the Sounders are the only team to have an official band, called the Sound Wave (Romero). The 53 person ensemble leads fans in cheers throughout the game as well as into the stadium before games to get everybody pumped (“The Band”). It is a tradition unique to Sounders fans.
The Sounders play in CenturyLink Field, what used to be known as Qwest Field. They have played there since their debut in the MLS. It is a large stadium that can be expanded to hold up to 72,000 fans, with 70% of the seating covered, and many easily accessible concession venues and bathrooms (“Facilities”). A fun fact about the stadium is that its main, original purpose was to serve as home of the Seattle Seahawks. However, one of the reasons taxpayers voted to pass the budget to build it was that they were told the stadium would double as a home for a soccer team as well (“CenturyLink Field”).
CenturyLink Field has played host to numerous exhibition games, with teams like Manchester United and Club America coming to compete (“International Champions Cup…”). In addition, the stadium hosted one of the group’s opening rounds in the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup as well as two matches from the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup (“CenturyLink Field”).
Copa America and Seattle
Seattle, while maybe not the first city a person might think of in terms of places to visit in the United States, boasts a healthy relationship with the game of soccer.
Reasons Seattle makes sense to host:
- The fans – you know they will come out just like they always do.
- CenturyLink Field’s capacity as well as ease of access to the stadium
- The luxury seating and overall aura of the stadium with its loud noise increase fan experience
- Adds a region to the Copa America
- No other Pacific northwest location could host, and Seattle has the right size stadium, fanbase, and other touristy things to do in the area that make it a great option
*Caveat – CenturyLink Field is turf. There have been many debates about grass versus turf, generally the consensus being that there is either no difference or that turf is much worse. Many women’s players (who played last year’s World Cup on turf fields) have lodged complaints, it will be interesting if men’s players in this tournament do the same, and if they do whether or not change will come about from their complaints as opposed to from the lack of change after the women’s complaints.
How to cite this article:
“Why Seattle?”, Written by Carolyn Fishman (2016). Copa America Centenario 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/copa-america-centenario-2016-guide/copa-america-centenario-2016-host-cities/why-seattle/ (accessed on (date)).
- Bernardo, Richie. “2015’s Best & Worst Cities for Soccer Fans.” WalletHub. Evolution Finance Inc. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-cities-for-soccer-fans/14207/>.
- “CenturyLink Field.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Apr. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CenturyLink_Field>.
- “Facilities.” Seattle Sounders FC. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://www.soundersfc.com/team/facilities>.
- “FIFA 15 Player Ratings – Top 20 MLS.” FIFA 15 Player Ratings – Top 20 MLS. 20 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <https://www.easports.com/fifa/news/2014/fifa-15-player-ratings-top-20-mls>.
- “History of Professional Soccer in Seattle.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_professional_soccer_in_Seattle#Seattle_Sounders_.28NASL.29.2C_1974-1983>.
- “International Champions Cup: Manchester United – Club America.” Seattle Sounders FC. 4 May 2015. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://www.soundersfc.com/internationalchampionscup>.
- Johnson, Heather. “Seattle Sounders.” HistoryLink.org. 20 July 2003. Web. 28 Apr. 2016. <http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=outfit.cfm&file_id=4219>.
- “NASL 1968-1984 | NASL: A Review of the Golden Era.” NASL 1968-1984 | NASL. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nasl.com/a-review-of-the-golden-era>.
- Romero, Jose. “Keeping It Official.” Sounders FC. The Seattle Times, 5 Dec. 2008. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://blog.seattletimes.nwsource.com/sounders/2008/12/05/keeping_it_official.html>.
- “Seattle Sounders FC.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Apr. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Sounders_FC>.
- “Seattle Sounders FC Supporters.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_Sounders_FC_supporters>.
- “The Band.” Seattle Sounders FC. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://www.soundersfc.com/matchday/the-band>.