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Sounders seriously pondering future without Xbox as main sponsor

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Club hires agency to help find potential new partner after gaming-console’s deal ends following 2018 season.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Xbox has been an almost synonymous part of the Seattle Sounders ever since the team joined MLS in 2009. The Microsoft-owned video game console has their name splashed across the Sounders’ jerseys and CenturyLink Field’s playing surface, as well as on various promotions. They’ve even had the Sounders wear special jerseys when the new Halo game launched in 2015 and when the latest Gears of War came out last year.

That could potentially change.

The Sounders have hired WME | IMG to assist them in potentially finding a new sponsor when Xbox’s deal ends at the end of 2018.

“We’re excited to put the full force of an innovative company like WME | IMG behind us as we explore our future naming rights options," said Sounders FC Chief Operating Officer Bart Wiley said in a team release. “As we head into our 10th MLS season, we feel that taking a fresh look at the value of our top partnership assets allows our club to achieve further success on and off the field.”

Although specific numbers have not been released since the initial five-year, $20 million sponsorship was announced, the current deal is believed to be about $5 million. When the sponsorship renewal first came in around 2012, the Sounders enlisted CAA-Sports to help them find a potential new partner. At the time, then-majority owner Joe Roth was openly frustrated with the Xbox sponsorship. Although Emirates was briefly mentioned as possibly being interested, Xbox ultimately renewed. They renewed again following the 2014 season, which apparently had options beyond the original two-year term. For their part, Microsoft issued a statement to Geekwire saying “We remain focused on our existing partnership, which extends through the 2018 season, and will evaluate all future opportunities when appropriate.”

At nearly $5 million a year, this is still one of the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deals in MLS. But at least one sports business insider thinks the Sounders could potentially double what they’re getting now, while adding naming rights to the training to pitch to the package.

All of this comes at a time when MLS valuations are trending up significantly. The league just signed a deal with adidas that will pay the league $117 million a year, more than triple what they were getting previously. These numbers still pale in comparison to what the biggest clubs in Europe are getting, which only serves to underscore how much room for growth still exists.

“We have been very pleased with our partnership with Xbox over the years and certainly plan to continue discussions with Microsoft as our current naming rights agreement comes to a close,” Sounders FC Vice President of Corporate Partnerships Michael Shockley said in the team statement. "However, with the continued growth and popularity of MLS and our club’s sustained success on the field, we feel the time is right to explore all available partnership options to give our team every possible advantage going forward. We’re proud to be the first MLS club to work with WME | IMG and look forward to their expertise and guidance.”