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9 things we learned from the Sounders annual business meeting

From Car Shows to ticket sales, the club is focusing on an improved 2019

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — While the biggest news at Tuesday’s Alliance Business Meeting was general manager Garth Lagerwey’s retention from the fan vote, here were some other tidbits that stood out from the evening:

1) Jersey woes; approval process is “ridiculous”

Remember that kit you didn’t love? Well, it turns out, the front office may not have been overly enamored with it either.

Seattle Sounders Alliance Council VP Stephanie Steiner had some strong words when asked about the kit selection process.

“Will the process for jersey selection change?” Steiner said. “I’m going to say probably not as long as the single entity is in place. I think if we had multiple companies competing then it might change. We’re allowed to throw in our ideas; I don’t think Adidas cares. If it were a different company, they maybe wouldn’t care either unless they had some competition…I think the time constraints on the club are unbelievable. I don’t think they had the opportunity to get all the people involved that they needed to get involved. I don’t think it’s fair on them. I think Adidas had their mind made up before the club even got to see it.”

Steiner went on to mention that the club had input on the neck tags (this year’s featured Sounder at Heart slogan “You Will Hear Us”) and the Jock Tag, which honored the 10th anniversary of the Alliance Council. Apart from that, it sounds like Adidas runs the show and that the individual clubs are given a very short window within which they must approve the jersey design, a timeline backed up by Sounders COO Bart Wiley.

2) Incoming jerseys to be a hit with the ladies

According to Wiley, the upcoming new secondary kit will be a hit with female Sounders fans, saying it had a unique look that would stand out from current trends.

“Every year we’re going to be introducing a new jersey. Next year there will be a new secondary kit. All this is on us to continue to push, poke and prod with Adidas to produce something that our team loves, that our fans love… It is an interesting process.

“We’re excited about the secondary kit next year. It is a unique kit. I will say that the women on council love this thing. I took it home; my wife loved this thing. I’m excited about the second kit.”

3) Revenues, attendance, partnership with SeatGeek not immediately what club had hoped for

The Sounders’ raw income numbers were lower than the club had hoped for in 2018, according to Wiley. Citing down numbers in ticketing, suite sales and summer camps (which were affected by heavy smoke from the wildfires in the region), Wiley said the club had cut certain expenses to make sure they came in on their budget.

The club also transitioned its ticket partnership to SeatGeek. Wiley acknowledged that there had been internal frustrations with the changeover.

“We heard positive stories, we heard not positive stories. We continue to work hard with our friends at SeatGeek in order to provide you with the best possible ticketing situation. It does nobody any good for our fans to have a hard time coming in to watch a game because of a ticketing (situation). They are making upgrades and updates as we speak. They are sending people to our office in the next few weeks in order to help us solve some problems. There are some challenges there, ones that we expected and ones that we did not.”

Wiley said that the club was working on establishing a zero-seller fees policy for season ticket holders trying to move their ticket before a game.

4) Full-stadium games may make a comeback in 2019

Wiley said that the club had tiered the stadium for matches the past few years, where matches against the most enticing opposition required more available seating (i.e. games against Portland are tier A matches, while games against Montreal might be tier C or D).

In 2018, though, the club did not see fit to open the full 72,000-seat CenturyLink Field, as they had done in previous year.

This will change in 2019, once the club examines it’s home schedule.

“Next year, we’re revisiting the full-stadium idea,” Wiley said. “We won’t get our schedule until late this year. Once we get that schedule, we’re excited to see where we can place an emphasis on full-stadium games. We saw great success with that in the past. As we think about ways to get attendance back to where we want it to be, we think of full-stadium games. There were usually two, three, four of those games.”

5) Collective fatigue may have been weighing players down

General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said that in exit interviews, players admitted to feeling “tired” after two consecutive MLS Cup runs.

“A couple of stalwart guys said they were tired,” Lagerwey said. “These are tough guys, these are mentally resilient guys. To hear them say that we’ve played almost three years with basically two months off, that’s a lot to ask of anybody. If there’s a silver lining to a gut-punch loss like that, I think next year lines up very well. I think it’s going to set us up for a lot of success next year.”

6) Good things coming for S2 on the near horizon

Lagerwey cited the expanded roster (including 10 young players from the Sounders Academy) and the completion of “phase one” of the Sounders’ player development plan in constructing a pipeline from the Academy to the first team.

Other members spoke about the impending S2 rebrand and upcoming news regarding the construction of a soccer-specific stadium in Tacoma (with news expected early in 2019 on both fronts) as evidence of a more wholly integrated USL side within the Sounders organization.

“Phase two is, can we work with our partners at the Rainiers, really establish our presence in Tacoma for that team and put those kids in positions to succeed. Specifically, you’re going to see us sign a more expanded squad with S2. We wanted to really solidify that training group, we want to accommodate all the kids coming through, in terms of signing them. We’re making S2 formally part of our Academy and we’re merging everything and calling it player development. You’re going to have player development and you’re going to have Sounders. We’re not going to have three phases anymore.”

Lagerwey said that they hoped within the next two years, players on S2 contracts would be signed to contribute significantly to the first team.

7) Sounders don’t expect another “car show” conflict any time soon

David Young, CenturyLink Field general manager spoke about the conflict between the Sounders’ second leg conference semifinal against Portland and the Seattle International Auto Show, which forced the Sounders match into a Thursday night slot.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback on this,” Young said. “I have Twitter. I’ve had some direct feedback as well. I get it. It’s not ideal. It’s not the game-day experience we want to present. It’s not the experience we want to present to the auto show either.”

Young went on to explain that the referendum that approved the construction of CenturyLink Field was done so with a joint mind toward consumer shows (home, auto, boat and RV) and sporting events. Young went on to list the Clink’s three primary tenants as the Sounders, Seahawks and the consumer shows.

“These consumer shows are on long-term leases with First & Goal (who operate the facility),” Young said. “We determine with the auto show and the other shows the dates of those shows way over a year in advance. The auto show historically has been in October. A couple years ago we worked with them to move them out of October and into the FIFA international break. That worked out great, until this year; FIFA moved the break back a week.”

Young called the occurrence a “one-time” issue, but said that the Clink is working to ensure that similar conflicts do not occur again in the future.

8) Club plans to augment training facilities

During the Q&A segment, the question was posed about whether the Sounders were thinking of upgrading (or creating) state-of-the-art training facilities, like other MLS clubs have recently invested in.

“We’ve been talking and working on plans,” majority owner Adrian Hanauer said. “That is something that we are likely to do in the not-too-distant future. We love our home at Starfire so all of our efforts have been focused on augmenting that facility. That’s priority number one, two and three. There’s a decent likelihood that you will hear news about that in the not-too-distant future.”

9) Sounders and Seattle Reign having conversations about a partnership

Another Q&A query asked after the club’s ongoing relationship with its NWSL counterpart, the Seattle Reign. The Reign, one of the NWSL teams that are not officially affiliated with a men’s professional side, play at Memorial Stadium in Seattle Center.

“Bill Predmore, the owner of the Reign is a friend of mine,” Hanauer said. “We talk weekly or every couple of weeks. We are having more real-time conversations lately about ways to possibly partner. The Reign have a difficult stadium situation with Memorial. There are not a lot of great options for four, five, six-thousand. We know that because we had a team called S2 that struggled down at Starfire. Super supportive. Trying to figure out ways to work together.”

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