Last week, I asked four Sounders season-ticket holders to gauge their level of excitement for the franchise’s sixth season. Here are their responses: “Low to none,” “low to medium,” “pretty none,” and “I don’t give a shit.” Judging from this small sample, Seattle’s affair with the Sounders appears to be cooling off.
And yet, on Saturday, the Sounders’ first game drew 39,240 to CenturyLink—the team’s largest opening-day crowd ever. Those who stayed despite heavy rain—including me—saw a thrilling last-second goal by newcomer Chad Barrett. The crowd’s deafening cheer, and the hugs and high-fives I exchanged with the fans in my section didn’t feel apathetic.
In my section, where I’ve had season tickets for all six seasons, I could see how the years have changed the fans. The 20-something Capitol Hill couple who sat in front of me for five years are now married with a kid and live in Richmond Beach. They left at halftime. In the next row down is a 30-something father who’d bring his daughter to every game. Now she’s a teenager and she was at the game with her own friends; you have to wonder how much longer she’ll want to match her social calendar with her dad’s, or even with the guys on the pitch.
2014 will be a particularly challenging year for the Sounders, for three reasons:
1) Roster turnover: Nine of the Sounders’ starting 11 in Saturday’s season opener have been with the team for less than two years. Will fans warm up to players they barely know?
2) Bad timing: The World Cup will yank soccer fans’ attention away from the Sounders from June 12 to July 13. Then, a couple of weeks later, Seahawks’ training camp begins. Can the Sounders compete for mindshare with the defending Super Bowl champions?
3) Mariners afloat: The Mariners’ new $2 billion TV deal and their signing of Robinson Cano signals a more competitive era for the franchise. Will fans looking for sun and booze flock back to the M’s if they start winning again?
Most trends don’t last long. A trend either dies out, like cowboy boots for scenesters, or it stays for good, like cowboy boots for cowboys. Were the Seattle Sounders a trend during an otherwise dreary patch for Seattle sports? In 2014, we’ll come closer to finding out. The Sounders will either cement their place in the Seattle sports pantheon or settle one step below.