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Priority list another Sounders milestone, but room to grow

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Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In a huge announcement for American soccer, the Seattle Sounders declared they had sold the entire season-ticket inventory in the lower bowl of CenturyLink Field for the first time. It puts them on a heady pace to catch total MLS attendance records of the Fire, Rapids and maybe even Crew in 2016.

There's now a waiting list -- sorry -- a priority list for tickets. Something that is almost Seahawks-esque. But, there are also about 25,000 empty seats a game.

"The launch of the Sounders FC Priority List is a testament to our incredible fans and the momentum, passion and energy that they've generated for the sport of soccer in our community," said Sounders FC Owner Adrian Hanauer via press release. "We are humbled by all that's been accomplished since we launched the club in Major League Soccer in 2009, and we look forward to achieving new heights with our supporters. In the years to come, it's my belief that Sounders FC and its fans can continue raising the bar for soccer support in North America, and selling out CenturyLink Field's lower bowl and launching the Priority List is a major step toward that goal."

Those new heights are available. Right now, while the Sounders are very popular for a Major League Soccer team, they aren't very popular for a sports team in the State of Washington.

A recent poll of registered voters in the state shows that only 30 percent of registered voters consider themselves fans of the club. That's higher than the 2013 report from Nielsen/Scarbourough that said 21 percent of Seattle metro residents experienced a match. That was the highest in MLS by 3 percent and went up to about 25 percent in 2014.

But that number is pretty low when you compare it to other teams in the state.

Team Fan Percentage Youth Lean Hispanic Popularity
Seahawks 70% -4 69%
Rain 55% 26 68%
Mariners 54% -10 60%
NBA return 49% 12 70%
Sounders 30% 37 53%
Bigfoot 18% 21 27%
Canucks 11% 6 15%

That chart ignores the African American percentages because so few answered the poll, so it would be subject to wild swings based on a single response. "Youth Lean" is percentage fans for 45+ totaled and subtracted from the 18-44 percentage fans. Rain and Bigfoot are included because it's fun.

Some things immediately stand out:

  1. The Sounders aren't as popular as the idea of getting an NBA team back. The NBA has been gone as long as the MLS Sounders have existed.
  2. The Sounders are not the most popular team among Hispanics. While they do have a Spanish language TV deal, they are still making up ground on the teams with longer extended histories.
  3. Youth clearly prefer the Sounders at a higher rate when compared to older voters, but that number is actually highest among Gen X fans rather than Millennials.
  4. Buried in the data with some extrapolation is that those that don't like the rain tend to live east of the Cascades. Young people love rain!

While Seattle's MLS club is amazing compared to other MLS clubs, compared to their local sports entertainment competition they still lag.

Earning a wait list is a great step. It is not the success that Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer desire. In the annual End of Year Business Meeting (open to all Alliance members) Roth has been clear that his goal is a full stadium. Step one is filling that lower bowl.

A few times a year (four in 2015) the upper bowl will be fully open, but only eight times has the club topped 55,000 in attendance. This year's four full-stadium matches feature Portland, LA, Vancouver and Salt Lake. The Whitecaps have never met that mark when visiting. RSL only did it once. Visits from the Timbers are the three of the four highest attendances in MLS history, and the Galaxy in Seattle also appear three times in the top 20. San Jose visited for Kasey Keller's last game so they're on the list, but they clearly are not on par with those other rivals, and maybe they're not a Seattle rival at all.

When a team talks about being a global brand, as the Sounders have done, and are making progress towards becoming one, it doesn't need a lower-bowl Season Ticket Priority List. It needs to be as popular as the other teams in its region. It needs to regularly fill the stadium it shares.

Today's announcement is a great step towards their goals, but a season-ticket priority list alone is not going to fill the remaining 25,000 seats.