clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Why CenturyLink Field might be Sounders' best bet

New, 146 comments

When it's all said and done, chances are the Sounders remain where they are for the foreseeable future.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now that I've gone over each of the potential locations for a theoretical Sounders stadium, the obvious question is: Would any of these spots actually be better than just staying at CenturyLink Field? The answer, as it so often is, is... It depends.

What do you value? If you value location, the Sounders likely won't find a better venue than the one they have now. Located on the edge of Pioneer Square, CenturyLink provides matchgoers access to a thriving, vibrant bar and restaurant scene pre- and post-match. By virtue of its location and proximity to ample transit and parking options, your options for drinks and food are vast. You could easily get a pre-match pint or seven at Rookie's in Columbia City, get on the Light Rail, and be at the ground in 15 minutes. Or, you can drink at any of the myriad bars in Pioneer Square, or parts adjacent. It's really hard to beat, and I don't think any of the options presented here can really offer that, as it stands.

However, there is a lot more to consider than just this, and as far as the club are concerned, I think these things might be as, if not more important. Put bluntly, under the current agreement Seattle Sounders FC are a second-class tenant in their current building, and I don't think anyone would argue that. From the surface, to having to schedule around the Seahawks, concerts, and Amazon events (seriously, WTF?), it's clear that the Sounders just aren't the first priority.

If you have your own building, you set the agenda. The MLS schedule would take priority, and other events would be scheduled around it. You would control pretty much every aspect of the building, from the surface, to what food and beers are served, to what other events are allowed to take place. You would also expect to take a much larger cut of the revenue generated therein. This is a huge deal and cannot be understated.

There is also a major optics issue at play here. Frankly, the Club are being made to play on a second-rate surface, and that reflects poorly on both the Club and the League as a whole, whether you wish to believe that or not. In the eyes of the league, to have one of your marquee teams playing on turf is bad enough. Playing on a surface that looks and plays like ours is even worse. If the Sounders (and MLS) want to be taken seriously on a global stage, having their own stadium with a pristine, grass surface is of paramount importance. It just is. You can't have a world class club playing on a dime store surface. That's just how it goes.

Furthermore, I don't quite buy the concerns about the lack of bars and/or infrastructure surrounding the sites I've proposed here. You can bet your ass that if a stadium was going to be built in Seattle or elsewhere, bars and restaurants would follow. This would likely require some massaging of the existing zoning, but if we're going to assume that any of these jurisdictions would allow a stadium to be built on one of these sites, you can also reasonably assume they'd allow for changes to the surrounding zoning to accommodate it. As they say, if you build it, they will come.

Irrespective of all of that, with the proliferation of the light rail throughout the City (and surrounding region), it would be just as easy to pregame wherever it is you choose, get on the train as drunk as you like, and ride it to Bellevue or Tukwila for the match. I gather that people put a huge value on the pre-game atmosphere in Pioneer Square, and I understand that. As far as I'm concerned, instead of marching from Fuel to the ground, ECS could march from Fuel to the train, take it over, scare the shit out of everyone on it, arrive at the station nearest the Stadium, and march from there. This is easily the best part of away trips with a rail element, why not do it at home? (I'm kidding. At least a little.) To be honest, you probably couldn't replicate the pre-match atmosphere as it exists now in a place like Bellevue or Tukwila, but I'm pretty sure you could, in time, develop something similar in one of these locations, especially if you accept the idea of an LA Live-type venture. It might not be directly analogous to what we have now, but just because it would be different doesn't mean it would be worse.

In an ideal world, one of two things would happen - either the Seahawks build a new stadium and leave CLink to the Sounders, or the two sides come to some sort of agreement allowing the Sounder more input into how CLink operates. Of the two, I think most would prefer the first, and I find it more likely that the Sounders would achieve an outcome they feel is beneficial were they to be the sole tenant in the building. The timescale on this is likely measured in decades, so it would probably be in the club's interest to try to get some concessions from the Seahawks/1st and Goal if they can.

The problem is, there is no situation in which a grass surface will be permanently installed so long as the Seahawks are a tenant. It's not just that the Seahawks prefer turf, when it gets to the back end of the Sounders season, the Sounders would probably prefer turf too when compared to how a grass surface would probably look and play. Even if  grass could be installed at CLink, it doesn't fix the fact that it would be much more difficult to change the field lines over from soccer to NFL (and vice versa) on grass than on turf. It also doesn't acknowledge how much doing so with the required frequency would likely degrade the quality of the surface. (And let's put to rest the idea of having some kind of retractable grass field as that would almost surely require a massive reconstruction and be highly cost prohibitive, even if you could engineer a way for it happen.)

So, if the Sounders want grass, they'll either be waiting 15 or 20 years for the Hawks to move out, or they'll have to move first. I don't think the Sounders or the League are willing to wait that long. And even if they did, you have a 30-year-old building that will likely need extensive renovations (assuming they haven't been done already.) Not exactly ideal.

Putting all of that aside, the reality of the situation is that the Sounders will be playing at CenturyLink Field for the near future. In that case, what concessions could the Sounders seek to improve their lot without having to move?

The first is obvious; there needs to be some compromise regarding the surface. As I've said previously, the surface is unacceptable as far as the Sounders are concerned, but it's also not a huge ordeal to replace it. I think of all the issues, this is the easiest to fix.

They could also seek to have more input into the schedule. Obviously, they won't be able to dictate when the Seahawks have home games, but they could and should have more input regarding other, smaller events. In a perfect world, the club would be able to have some form of veto power on non-Seahawks events taking place at CLink during the MLS season. This probably won't happen, but a greater level of respect for the MLS schedule would be a good start. I'm sure there are other issues, but these are the two big ones in my opinion. They're also the most easily solved, so hopefully we'll see more collaboration in the near future.

Other odds and ends

The one place that I think might get a look from the Club were they to move forward with any stadium plan that I didn't address is Georgetown. It's not ideal from a transit standpoint - in fact, it's pretty much a transit desert, save for a few bus routes - but there is a ton of land that meet the other criteria in the neighborhood, and Georgetown is an up and coming neighborhood in the City that will likely be gentrified in the time period we're talking about here. You could easily convince me that a Georgetown site could work, it just didn't fit my main criteria here, so I excluded it.

On a similar note, I left out Renton and Kirkland because they don't have any concrete Light Rail proposals on the table. There was some chatter about a potential Sand Point to Kirkland crossing over Lake Washington, but as far as I can gather, that is no longer being considered. Which is a drag, because I think it's an awesome idea, but that's neither here nor there. There is also the possibility of the Lake Washington Water Taxi being resuscitated, which could make a Kirkland location more viable. In the event either of these becomes a reality, more analysis could be warranted.

For fun, we've also created a couple mock-ups of previously discussed locations. One that we didn't really get into was the possibility of simply taking over the land Chris Hansen currently has earmarked for a Sonics arena. There's no signs that this land is available but here's how it might look:

sodo stadium

The final location is the real pie-in-the-sky one that Sounders fans have always dreamed of. It's located at Terminal 46. Right now that land is not available, which is why I didn't spend much time on it. But if there's a significant shift in the way our port is used, this would be a rather glorious place to watch a match.

terminal 46

So there you have it, well over 4,000 words on where the Sounders might locate a stadium we're not even certain they are interested in building yet. Gun to my head, I would say that I prefer any of the first three Seattle sites, but I see a ton of potential in a Bellevue location if the Club were to pursue it. One thing is for sure - if they're going to do it, they're going to do it right. Never doubt the will of Adrian Hanauer and Joe Roth to get something done when they set their sights on it. After all, they brought us Clint Dempsey. What's a new stadium?