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Criticism, negativity may leave Seattle with few rewards for their hosting efforts

Jun 11, 2013, 3:48 PM EDT

centurylink

SEATTLE – Last word on Monday had 36,000 tickets sold for tonight’s match. Some were saying 38,000. That’s out of 42,000 tickets available at CenturyLink. Or is it 45,000? Amid all the discussion, dissention, jabs and pointed fingers, real numbers have been difficult to nail down.

As much as Tuesday’s qualifier has become about the horrible pitch U.S. Soccer’s imposed on the venue, Seattle’s long-awaited World Cup Qualifier is serving as the platform for a great attendance debate. On one side is an advocate purporting a crowd that will rank among the largest in U.S. Soccer’s qualifying history. On the other is a prosecutor who’s reading a list of broken promises.

Those broken promises are figurative, of course. But it is fair to say the Seattle fan community talked a big game in the three years that led to this moment. Shortly after Sounders FC began setting Major League Soccer attendance records, we heard about the potential advantages of the U.S. playing at “the Clink.” They were endless, and in fairness, they weren’t only coming from Seattle. That would be a real home field advantage, the missive went, the implied assumption being massive crowds would come.

But on Tuesday, they won’t, a result with a myriad of factors contributing to what even some Sounders fans confess will be a disappointing turnout. The match is mid-week, a 6:30 kickoff (as opposed to a later, more manageable time). Season ticket holders weren’t given a chance to buy their seats, the prices are much higher than normal Sounders games, and casual fans who might have otherwise come may have chosen to attend the cheaper rivalry match on Saturday. All that, and there’s the perception U.S. Soccer was late giving Seattle a qualifier, creating a sense bitterness among a small but hardcore faction of the fanbase.

Make no mistake about three things, though:

  • First, except for the bitterness angle, none of these issues are unique to Seattle. Ticket prices for qualifiers are always higher, some season ticket holders don’t get preference, and U.S. national team matches often fall within the context of the local home schedules. These aren’t good explanations for failing to deliver on the implied crowd.
  • But if this does reflect a divide between the Sounders brand and being a fan of soccer at large, there’s nothing wrong with that. Sounder fans need not defend their preferences. Nobody is obligated to choose country over club, particularly when country took so long to show up. Soccer in the U.S. need not revolve around the national team any longer.
  • Finally, the crowd is still going to be huge. With a small, late surge in sales, it will be one of the top ten most-attended home games in U.S. qualifying history. Sure, Seattle could do better, but in an absolute sense, it’s still a huge number, potentially delivering the atmosphere U.S. Soccer sought.

The difficulty for Seattle soccer: They’re not being judged in absolute terms. They’re being judged against a standard of their own creation, and rightfully so. When the whole premise behind your qualifying bid is the ability to produce as-advertised crowds, you deserve to be judged against your talk. So if Seattle can’t produce near-42,000 for Tuesday’s match, it should be noted: They didn’t walk the walk.

It also deserves to be noted that the soccer community’s own standards may have been a bit unfair. Yes, people could have ultimately just bought tickets. They could have fought through all the mitigating circumstances and just showed up, just as people from all over the country did in travelling to Seattle. How do you really tell somebody flying in from New York that a $50-plus ticket kept you from going to a game in your hometown?

But that doesn’t mean real people didn’t have real life circumstances that kept them from the game. If you get off of work at 6:00 p.m., the 6:30 p.m. start time matters. If you bought season tickets for four and now have to fork over in excess of $200 to take your group to the game, that’s significant. Perhaps the Seattle community didn’t take these things into account when making their promises, but in the face of these on-the-ground factors, it’s understandable their promises couldn’t be kept.

It would mistake, however, to judge Seattle’s game as a failure based on the numbers. Make conclusions about the field conditions, if you want to. Or question the logic about flying cross-continent in a short window. That’s fine. But don’t see 36,000 and think that’s anything but a positive. The fact that Seattle could do better shouldn’t be used as a reason to dismiss the people who’ll  show up.

And that may be the most disappointing part of this debate. Many people across the U.S.’s broader soccer community have taken this opportunity to throw Seattle’s under-performance in fans’ faces, often exaggerating the actual significance of those 4,000 empty seats. ‘You didn’t deliver’ is a valid critique in light of the last three years’ dialog, but sentiments like ‘this is a disappointment,’ ‘what was the point,’ or ‘not as strong as you thought you were’ are distortions. The picture’s slightly more complicated than that. Slightly more interesting, too.

In reality, the issue isn’t really the attendance. The more compelling point is about the standards against which we’re judging Seattle’s soccer community. For any other market in the country, Tuesday’s number would be trumpeted as an amazing success. In Seattle, if fails to meet expectations. Is there any greater compliment you could give Seattle soccer than noting  their numbers put them in a class by themselves?

It’s too bad many ardent followers of U.S. soccer won’t see it that way. It’s backlash, possibly envy, or maybe it’s just a natural counter-balance to the slew of pieces that have guffawed Seattle’s crowds. But this discussion has become so distorted, you can’t help but wonder what Seattle’s getting out of this qualifier. A large group of fans are going to be able to see a qualifier – the first one in Seattle in 36 years – but the legacy of this game will be criticism, petty jabs, and possibly an unfair depiction of Seattle’s soccer scene.

All of this was unforeseeable when Sounders FC made their late 2012 U-turn on qualifiers. As of last fall, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer felt bringing in grass to host any match was no longer with it. It cost too much for too little benefit. Yet after getting feedback from fans during last fall’s vote authorizing his new term, Hanauer changed course. If the fans wanted a friendly, he’d fight for it.

After this week, however, you wonder if he regrets not following his friend Merritt Paulson, sticking with the Portland Timbers by insisting any games at his venue be played on the field’s regular surface. At least then, Seattle probably wouldn’t under this tilted microscope.

With high ticket prices and an organizational cost of a couple of hundred thousand dollars to lay down the much-maligned sod, will all this negativity be worth it? Seattle seemed to be doing fine without U.S. Soccer.

  1. dhagentj - Jun 11, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    I just wish the match would have been on a weekend. The top 10 crowds for qualifiers that you mentioned were almost all on weekends, save two (one was on a Wednesday, the other on a Friday). That probably accounts for 5,000 people or so. More people that could have traveled in, more that could have made it from here.

  2. charliej11 - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    Very few in Seattle get off work as late at 6:00. Weekdays, sure, make it a lot tougher. It is dissappointing crowd…for Seattle. Thought there would be more. Tickets were dang expensive for the 300 level and that is where the crowd will not be.

    There is only one reward that this one part of Seattle cares about, and that will happen in 5.5 hours.
    Enjoy the game at home, I will be enjoying from close up.

  3. brimab - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    I work literally across the street from the Clink. The wife and I looked at buying 3 tickets when they went on sale. We thought they’d go fast. We usually pay @ 35. each for Sounder games. When we found that the cheapest tickets available were 60+ we balked. Sorry folks, we just couldn’t justify paying that much for this game. I’ll still take a stroll down there tonight after work to see if I can find one on the street for $30-35. But if I can’t I’ll watch on T.V. You can tell me I’m not a “real fan” or whatever if you like. But money is tight, I have to prioritize. I think you could fill that stadium if you had tickets at a $20 – $30 price point. But what do I know?

  4. perrinbar - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    As far as I can tell the price is really what it comes down to. It’s unfair to compare the crowds for games that cost maybe $20 a ticket to games that are more than $60 a ticket. Regardless of whether or not this is the standard price of World Cup Qualifiers, you can’t be surprised when people don’t shell out 3x the amount for the game.

    • kegger206 - Jun 11, 2013 at 7:56 PM

      More like 5-6x normal prices

  5. jgarretson76 - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    That’s a lot of excuses for the first WC qualifier in 36 years.

    Compare the comments above to the scene in Denver from earlier this year. Tickets went on sale and were gone in under an hour. Yeah, they were more expensive than Rapids games; significantly more. Denver has been an also ran in the US Soccer world and Seattle is the golden child. Yeah, I know March in Denver is the snowiest month of the year, but I tried to get tickets and so did tens of thousands of other people.

    Denver delivered. Seattle has you know what the bed.

    • perrinbar - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:53 PM

      Wow, that’s some terrible arguing there. You are saying that despite the fact there are going to be 2x as many people at the game tonight, somehow Seattle has failed to deliver? That’s a really good point. Next month, I’m holding a world cup qualifier at my house. There are literally no tickets available. And it hasn’t even been officially announced yet. Looks like my house delivered and Denver took, was it an hour you said?
      My house delivered. Denver has you know what the bed.

    • florean - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:55 PM

      Congratulations, you got well less than half the attendance of what Seattle’s going to get for a Friday night game.
      If Denver could really deliver, they would have had it at Mile High and tried to reach the Seattle numbers.

      • facebookuser111 - Jun 11, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        So what you’re saying is Seattle crapping the bed is worth twice what Denver could do? I guess you summed up the article nicely there.

    • yoshou - Jun 11, 2013 at 5:15 PM

      LOL.. What? Seattle sold 27,000 tickets before the game event went on sale to the public. If we used a stadium as small as the Dick, there wouldn’t be a discussion about how “disappointing” this attendance is.

  6. dreadpirate82 - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    While I followed the USMNT before 2001, the April qualifier against Costa Rica that year is what turned me into a die hard. 8 of us drove 4 hours from my college in Iowa to attend the game in Kansas City (a Wednesday night, I believe). Tickets were a bit pricey, but they were worth every penny. We sat (stood) in the Costa Rica section with their enthusiastic and very friendly supporters. It’s a memory I will never forget. I hope people are able to fill in those additional seats. I won’t be mad at Seattle if they don’t. The crowd will be fantastic regardless.

  7. mlsconvert88888 - Jun 11, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    So Denver apparently sold out in under an hour? Right on, that’s great that 19,374 people were down to shell out the cash and brave the weather for that Friday night game, and I really mean that. My disconnect though is I don’t understand how someone can then turn around and criticize Seattle for falling just short of doubling that attendance mark, on a Tuesday.
    It just seems to be sour grapes from people who wish their area of the country cared about soccer like the pacific northwest cares about soccer, and so they want to hypocritically sling some mud.

  8. dfstell - Jun 11, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    I’m amazed at how Seattle fans can’t smell their own body odor.

    The reason you’re getting blowback is because for years your fans have kinda implied that everyone should shut up about the fake field because if Seattle got a qualifier it would have 60K fans and awesome tifo. Oh….and there was also kinda a promise that there wouldn’t be any Central Americans cheering on the away team too. And the Seattle fans were kinda obnoxious about it in pointing out how rinky-dink all the other stadia in American are and how the other fanbases suck compared to Seattle fans.

    So, even though Seattle is turning out a great crowd tonight, you’re only giving “us” about 70% of what you promised in terms of crowd AND it looks like your field sucks (as predicted). They better cheer loudly.

    I really don’t want to hear about the start time. I’ve left work early plenty of times to go see or play a soccer game.

    • mlsconvert88888 - Jun 11, 2013 at 6:50 PM

      This is exactly the sour grapes I was talking about.
      So you’re gonna trash a city for having one of the biggest turn outs ever for a USMNT WCQ match, because they didn’t surpass the mark that some Seattle fan “kinda” promised? That probably isn’t the first, and certainly wont be the last, time you heard hyperbole from a sports fan about their franchise.
      And don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a visiting fan in the CLink and so I’ve witnessed first hand the obnoxiousness of certain Seattle fans, but the objective fact is their turn outs do dwarf the turn outs for any other club, and since they’re the only team that plays in an actual NFL stadium, it is also an objective fact that any other MLS stadium would be less impressive by comparison. To get upset and sling mud over that just seems like small man syndrome to me.
      And it does sound like the field conditions may suck, which to me means that all the people who say that bringing in Sod is better than playing on the FIFA approved artificial turf actually don’t know jack. Maybe in the future bringing in that craptacular sod won’t be a prerequisite to getting the match in the first place.
      And just for grins, I would like to point out that when hipsters hang around in big groups, olfactory fatigue cancels out the body odor smell.

    • florean - Jun 11, 2013 at 7:56 PM

      Care to cite any of those kinda implications and kinda promises? You seem to be castigating a wide swath of people over some troll comments you read in a forum somewhere. You should come out here. We’re really nice.

  9. kegger206 - Jun 11, 2013 at 7:53 PM

    The ticket price issue is really the issue….. Yes, National team games are rightfully more expensive, but they are way to much…. I am willing to spend 50-55$ for a ticket to tonights qualifier, but that is not enough… To get my normal season ticket holder seat($18 normally) I would have to spend $75+, tell me the the Mexican National team, or any other national team gouges its fans like that. USMNT limited the number of seats for tonight’s qualifier, and then jacked the prices up since less seats were available, and that is just plain wrong. If anyone is to blame for Seattle not reaching expectations on the crowd tonight, the blame falls squarely on USMNT’s shoulders…..

  10. phredicles - Jun 11, 2013 at 8:29 PM

    This is kind of ridiculous. I certainly agree that Sounders fans can be irritatingly full of themselves. But charge some non-obscene ticket prices, and I’m sure the USSF would be more pleased with the results.

  11. mvktr2 - Jun 12, 2013 at 1:58 AM

    You guys (davis & farley) harped on this stuff for a week and beyond. Give it a rest already!

  12. Tyler Haggerty - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:34 AM

    All of you Seattle trash talkers look really stupid right now. Nothing but incredible praise from everyone about the crowd.

  13. enumclaw - Jun 12, 2013 at 5:00 AM

    It’s not just “normal” WCQ ticket prices. US Soccer Secretary General Dan Flynn admitted that they jacked up the prices even by normal WCQ standards.

    “He did say ticket prices were higher than what U.S. Soccer usually charges for a qualifier”- from http://www.socceramerica.com/article/52048/usa-panama-ticket-sales-still-impressive.html

    So my $21 Sounders ticket turned into a $78 ticket with the mandatory fees added on. Over half of the lower bowl was priced at $100 or more.

    And yet, it was still one of the top ten crowds and was an awesome atmosphere. Supporters from Portland and Seattle, as well as from all over, worked together to Unite And Strengthen.

    Well done by all.

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