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>Sports Market Audit: Seattle

>Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where March Madness is back in full force. Oh, how we missed it.

I just had the idea to start using some blog posts to take a look at interesting sports markets around the nation, and the latest news/trends/topics coming from them. For my first Sports Market Audit, I’d like to take a trip to the Pacific Northwest and visit one of my all-time favorite cities: The Emerald City herself, Seattle. As any area regular will tell you, when the sun is out, there are few places more beautiful on earth. But when it rains, well, it’s downright gloomy.

To put it nicely, Seattle is in one of those rainy periods when it comes to its sports life. The Sonics packed up and moved. The Washington Huskies suffered through their worst football season in school history last fall (although their mens’ basketball team just won the Pac 10 regular season title). The Mariners lost 101 games in 2008, and I’m not convinced the return of Ken Griffey Jr. will lead to better things for the local nine this year. And let’s not forget the Seahawks, who fought injuries and finished 4-12 in the worst division in the NFL.

But, for me, here’s the real kicker (no pun intended): the Seattle Sounders FC, the city’s new MLS (that’s Major League Soccer, for the uninitiated TSA readers) franchise, is not just competing well with the Mariners for sponsorships and season ticket sales – they’re waxing the floor with them. Check out this interesting piece from the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Hmmm. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to argue that one league or one sport is better than another in this post. But how in the world does an expansion franchise in a fledgling soccer league from a city and surrounding region not exactly known as a soccer hotbed trounce quite possibly the most established player on the scene? Allow me to offer some potential reasons:

  • Just win, baby. The Mariners lost 101 games last year. The Sounders didn’t lose any. In today’s “What have you done for me lately?” world of professional sports, consider this a statement about which team area fans think will compete better in 2009.
  • Novelty. They’re the new game in town, and people/organizations want to try it on and see how it fits. Nothing wrong with that.
  • Winners prefer to associate with other winners. The Seattle area is home to several industry-leading businesses – the short list includes Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, etc. They all consider themselves winners in their chosen “game,” and they want that hard-earned brand of theirs to align with similar winning brands. At this stage of the game, the Sounders have more of a winning brand than the Mariners.
  • Marketing ROI. Fans follow winning teams more than losing ones – ticket sales are higher, mindshare is greater, etc. So naturally a company’s marketing investment in two otherwise equal teams generates greater ROI with the one that wins more. Simple as that.
  • Urban marketing/branding. This soccer franchise represents a new beginning for the Seattle sports marketplace, which has a bit of a black eye after losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City. Civic, business, community and other leaders in the city and region need the Sounders to succeed in order to prove/reinforce that the Seattle marketplace can continue to be a viable one for sports and broader business in the coming years and decades. They also desperately want to boost civic pride and show people across America that Seattle remains a major player on the national scene. So they’ve clearly chosen to invest in trying to make their new team a success. It’s uncanny sometimes how closely a city’s sports teams embody and reflect that city’s vibe and brand…so I think you can look at this as a marketing investment by the people and businesses of Seattle in their city’s long-term viability and relevance.

So what does this say about the state of sports in Seattle? I can’t blame folks there for trying to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel when it comes to their teams. But I think this shows just how desperate fans there are for a winner and a fresh start – and how badly sponsors and other corporate partners there want to be associated with a winning product. Time will tell whether the Sounders can deliver or not.

I’m out like all those Big East bubble teams from the NCAA tournament.

6 Comments
  1. >Seattle is a great sports city. It’s a shame what happened with the Sonics, but overall, great support from the city and fans. I think you touch on why the new found excitement for the Sounders. It’s new and not your traditional sport. Soccer seems like a “Seattle sport.” Let’s hope they can build off this. All in all, I think it’s a baseball city, but when you think of Seattle, you really don’t associate it with one specific sport. That’s what makes it unique.Great article.

  2. >I love Seattle also. However, the recent departure of the Sonics NBA team to greener pastures in Oklahoma City, makes me wonder about the viability of the market; and its ability to continue to support big-league sports. On the other hand, the Sonics wanted an overhaul of the KeyArena – a building that had already be renovated in 1995, and was considered to be one of the best arenas. Evidently, it didn’t last long.

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