Professional soccer will once again be played at Memorial Stadium, as the Seattle Reign formally announced their move to nearly 70-year-old facility, which will also serve as their training home, on Thursday. A day earlier, the Seattle School Board approved upgrades the Reign had hoped to make to the stadium.
The Reign will be the first professional soccer team to call Memorial home since 2002, when the USL Seattle Sounders played the bulk of their games there. The Reign spent their inaugural season at Stafire Sports Complex in Tukwila where they had to work around the schedules of the Seattle Sounders, Sounders Women and various youth tournaments.
"For us, being a Seattle team it's ideal to be in Seattle and Memorial was honestly one of the only venues that was a good fit for us in the Seattle area," Reign owner Bill Predmore told Sounder at Heart. "We think Starfire was great for our first season. They really went out of their way to accomodate us. We came in very quickly. We were a lot of work for them to squeeze us in there. For the long term, being in Seattle was super important."
As appreciative as Predmore was of Starfire's efforts, the implication was that the Reign never really felt like they were at home. It wasn't even just about scheduling. The Sounders are obviously the complex's main tenant and the Sounders Women even have permanent signage. The Reign didn't even have permanent locker rooms at Stafire, instead repurposing a class room to use for pre- and post-game activities.
The Reign will effectively be Memorial's only permanent tenant during the summer months.
"We were looking for a home that we could call our own, make our own," said Predmore, who went to significant lengths to make it clear that he was happy with how Starfire treated the Reign. "Those branding elements are part of that. The practical reality of turning that into a Reign experience for our fans was just not going to happen.
"There's some nuances to our agreement, but for all practical purposes we'll be able to dress the stadium however we want with some very limited restrictions. Gameday should feel like you're at the Reign stadium. There won't be any elements that will distract focus from the Reign."
While fans won't necessarily experience it, the Reign will also have their own locker room. As part of the agreement with Seattle Schools, the Reign have agreed to upgrade both the home and visiting lockers. Also part of the agreement was the Reign's ability to contract directly with the stadium's concessionaire and they've promised to bring in several well-known food trucks to further expand the in-stadium dining options. One thing they weren't able to do was figure out a way to allow for alcohol to be sold on site. They'll also be limiting capacity to 6,000 and only opening one of the two grand stands.
One thing that, somewhat surprisingly, won't need to be upgraded is the field. The latest AstroTurf surface was installed in July 2013, which actually makes it newer than Starfire and it uses the same E-Layer that is featured at CenturyLink Field. The Reign also promised to remove all gridiron lines and to play on a pitch that is even wider and longer than the current soccer lines suggest.
"The pitch is exceptional," Reign head coach and general manager Laura Harvey said. "There were a lot of misconceptions about Memorial: The pitch needs changing; it's old; it's a carpet; it's not suitable. I didn't really know if that had changed until we walked through there. I was like this is great, it's a great surface.
"By the time we have our regular season start for sure, there won't be gridiron lines on it. We found a solution to that."
For all those benefits, it was the location of Memorial that the Reign feel will have the biggest effect. Located in Seattle Center, the stadium has easy access from public transportation and is within walking distance to plenty of restaurants and pubs.
"Seeing it for the first time blew me away, I've never been to a stadium where it looked so picturesque around it," Harvey said. "It became a no-brainer for us of where we wanted to be."