Sounders FC locally have gone from phenomenon to a pleasant fact of sporting life in Seattle, where it’s expected that they will sell out CenturyLink Field at 38,000-plus for every home match. It now causes a minor buzz when a few hundred empty seats are visible.
Now that they they are off to the fastest eight-game start in their brief history, there is increasing discussion that the Sounders have upgraded their talent to not only survive injury and win a post-season series for the first time, but to take the MLS Cup.
Whether that happens, the affection for soccer here is undeniable, and cause for astonishment throughout the U.S. and the part of the soccer world that glances occasionally toward the fruited plain.
The Sounders devote an entire page of their game-day media release to comparative crowd counts. Summarizing, the average attendance of around 38,500 would rank seventh in the English Premier League, fourth in Italy’s Serie A, sixth in Spain’s La Liga and 13th in Germany’s Bundesliga.
More impressive locally, the Sounders are turnstile-slaying the Mariners, who last year averaged 23,411 and this year, before Wednesday’s game against Detroit, were drawing 20,618 (they have yet to see the traditional bumps from warm weather and visits from the Yankees and Red Sox).
It’s true that Sounders tickets are cheaper and the Mariners have been lousy for a long time, but still . . . the Sounders average, inserted into the 2011 attendance for MLB teams, would trail only the Phillies, Yankees, Giants, Twins (new park) and LA Angels.
Within the MLS, the Sounders average is more than double the 2011 league average of 17,872 (a record) and well ahead of expansion Montreal (33,752 in Olympic Stadium, capacity 56,000), Los Angeles (23,197) and Portland (20,438), the only teams above 20,000.
Sounders management makes no effort to hide its ambition to be not only the premier club in North America, but on a par with the best in the world.
While that goal is on the most distant horizon, what we want to know now is the local conversion rate. If you were not a soccer fan or didn’t have an opinion, has three-plus years of Sounders success influenced you to jump on the bandwagon?
We know how longtime soccer fans feel — their passion and numbers show up every game night. But who in those crowds are new to the church? Or if still outside the walls, are you thinking about attending, or do you remain defiantly among the unwashed?