The future of S2 just got a lot more clear. The Seattle Sounders announced on Saturday that they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tacoma Rainiers intending to result in S2 moving home games to a new 5,000-seat soccer-specific stadium on the footprint of historic Cheney stadium. S2 will eventually be rebranded to something that reflects their new home.
“We are absolutely thrilled to be moving forward with the Tacoma Rainiers and City of Tacoma, progressing toward construction of a soccer-specific stadium,” Sounders FC Owner Adrian Hanauer said in a release. “Our vision of having players begin their time with the club playing at Starfire with the Academy, then move up to the USL team with matches in Tacoma, before finally getting the call-up to the First Team at CenturyLink Field – all while playing within the Puget Sound region – really reinforces our commitment to bringing quality soccer to the communities of Western Washington.”
The Sounders would continue to run the technical side of the team, while the Rainiers will run the business end. Effectively, it will be an arrangement commonly found in baseball with the parent club paying and choosing the players and coaching staff.
The move has been in the works for at least a year, when the Sounders and Rainiers first publicly announced their intentions to finalize something that was expected to look a lot like this. Back then, the two parties expressed hope to have an announcement within 12 months. They didn’t quite meet that soft deadline, but they came awfully close.
Although a new stadium could still be nearly three years away from being completed, it appears the Rainiers are planning to start working with S2 sooner than that. Just this week, the Rainiers announced they had “dissolved their operating partnership” with the Tacoma Stars’ indoor soccer team. The Rainiers had spent two years working with the Stars, helping them rebuild the brand into one that is surely the most recognizable in the MASL and playing a significant role in their drawing nearly 3,000 fans per game last season.
In the meantime, S2 will continue to play most — if not all — of their home games at Starfire Stadium. Even after the move, the entire Sounders organization will continue to use the Tukwila facility as their training center.
Perhaps the biggest unanswered question at this point has to do with the Sounders Community Trust, which owns a 20 percent stake in S2. The nonprofit still hasn’t fully transitioned to a member-run organization, but is in the process of doing so after holding its first-ever elections last year and gaining a seat on the USL Board. One possibility is that they'll simply continue to own a similar stake in what will surely be a rebranded team.
The move to Tacoma is one designed at least in part to get out of the shadow of the Sounders, who understandably suck up most of the soccer attention in Seattle. After drawing reasonably well in their inaugural season, S2’s attendance dropped about 25 percent in 2016 and they are now regularly drawing fewer than 1,000 fans to home matches. Tacoma is about 35 miles south of Seattle, which is far enough away to potentially reach a new fanbase. The Rainiers — the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate — averaged more than 5,300 fans a game during their 71-game home schedule last year.
How do you feel about S2 moving to Tacoma?
This poll is closed
Awesome, what’s not to love
I feel betrayed, this is a failure
I’m here for the Sounders, not S2