There won't be any away supporters' section to speak of when the Seattle Sounders held the San Jose Earthquakes open Levi's Stadium today. It will come as little surprise that the Earthquakes aren't exactly broken up about this fact. It may come as some concession that the Earthquakes are hopeful that Sounders fans will eventually travel in the kind of numbers that they have in previous years.
Whether or not that happens is very much an open question, especially with news surfacing this week that the Earthquakes are at least considering the possibility of hosting the Sounders at Levi's Stadium. I figured it would be good to talk to Earthquakes President Dave Kaval and get his perspective on where he sees the rivalry with the Sounders going.
What's the thinking behind signing the five-year agreement with the 49ers that will have you play at least one game a year at Levi's Stadium even after you to open your own new stadium?
We want to draw the larger crowds, but also increase the profile of the club and the league. These are huge events in terms of media interest, TV ratings, they're nationally broadcast and they help show the growth of soccer in the United States.
It came out earlier this week that you were thinking about having the Sounders be the annual opponent for the Levi's game. What's the thinking there?
Some of it depends on how this game goes. I think we've done a really good job of rekindling the rivalry with the LA Galaxy by having the game at Stanford and I think doing something similar at Levi's with the Sounders -- especially since there's a rivalry between the 49ers and Seahawks -- it might be a natural thing to create more of an intense rivalry. Those kinds of derbies are good for our league and create more interest in the sport. Especially in the Bay Area it elevates our profile with the other pro sports teams.
It's not set in stone that the Sounders' game will always be played at Levi's -- we'll still be playing some games at Earthquakes Stadium, either way -- but that's probably the leading contender at this time.
Obviously the big concern from Sounders fans is the price of tickets. You've stated this is a "once-in-a-lifetime" event and the price is reflective of that. Going forward, should we expect ticket prices more in line with other games?
I think the first-ever sporting event at Levi's has really created a situation where the prices for this one game are a one-time thing. I'd be surprised to see the prices at the same level. It's impossible to say for sure because who knows where soccer goes in five years, maybe the prices go up across the board. But this is a very special event for this community. It's the first football stadium that's been built in California since 1967. This is a massive deal, the first event commands a premium. In future years it's very likely there will be a more reasonably priced ticket. Keep in mind there are still going to be games that will be played at our new stadium where away supporters tickets are priced at $25 apiece
Are you disappointed that ECS has chosen to boycott the game?
I think in general I do like having the two different supporters groups and the energy that creates in the stadium. But I also feel like this is such special day for our community and to have it be a completely home crowd, I don't have any issues with that either. I don't think anyone else in my shoes would feel different. Iff it was a similar situation wtih the Sounders I don't think they'd say it's horrible the Ultras aren't coming. I think having supporters from both organizations is a good thing for our sport and helps make it unique, but this one game is unique in its own way. It's a massively historic day for this area.
It should be said that Earthquakes fans definitely have mixed emotions about the decision to have two games a year at somewhere other than their regular home stadium, so Sounders fans aren't unique in their displeasure. Kaval, though, clearly sees games like this one as an overall value-add. Are the Sounders enough of a draw to justify continuing to play one of their games there? That very much remains to be seen. But if Sounders fans aren't willing to travel and help raise this game to the rivalry game Kaval sees as being a distinct possibility, I have to imagine putting this game at Levi's becomes less attractive. If, however, the 49ers -- who ultimately set the ticket prices -- can be convinced there's value in really welcoming visiting fans, maybe this game can rise in prominence.
For now, though, the Earthquakes seem far more concerned with creating something that allows them to stand out in the crowded Bay Area sports scene. This year, at least, they seem to have done that with or without the help of Sounders fans.