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Seattle Reign FC will remain at Memorial Stadium for 2019 NWSL season

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Owner/President Bill Predmore speaks exclusively with Sounder at Heart about challenges to find a better home

Photo by MikeRussellFoto

The 2018 NWSL regular season is coming to a close and Seattle Reign FC is close to clinching a spot in the playoffs, ending a two-year absence from postseason play. After Wednesday’s draw against the Chicago Red Stars, Seattle has just two more regular-season home matches.

Even before a kick-off happened this season, we knew the team was on borrowed time with Memorial Stadium, their home since 2014. Their lease was expiring at the end of this season, and Seattle Public Schools — owner and operator of the stadium — announced last year a collaboration with the city of Seattle to renovate Memorial Stadium as part of a bigger revitalization of Seattle Center, which will center around the renovation of Key Arena to attract the NHL and hopefully a return of the NBA.

Not much has progressed since the announcement. The latest update was this past May, where most of the discussion was focused on securing funding for the project and giving an overview of the scope of the renovation project. Basically, we’re still a long way from seeing any construction cranes on the northeast side of Seattle Center.

So what about Seattle Reign FC’s plans for next season? We reached out to Seattle Reign FC Owner and President Bill Predmore and asked him exactly that.

It’s our understanding that the club’s lease with Memorial Stadium/Seattle Public Schools expires at the end of this season. Can you share any information about where the club will be playing for the 2019 NWSL season?

We have informed the NWSL that we intend to play our home matches at Memorial Stadium during the 2019 season. While Seattle Public Schools’ long-term plans for Memorial Stadium remain undecided, they have confirmed that they are willing to extend our lease through at least 2019.

We are excited to return for our sixth season in Memorial Stadium and are appreciative of the new scoreboard and other investments in the stadium recently made by Seattle Public Schools.

However, as all are aware, Memorial Stadium has many challenges that make it extremely difficult for us to provide a world-class soccer experience to our players and fans. These challenges also impact our ability to generate matchday revenue at a level consistent with many other teams in the NWSL, which is an issue that we must eventually address.

While fans and players have generally been understanding of Memorial Stadium’s rustic charm and history, we share their interest and ambition to someday play in a stadium capable of supporting a world-class experience. Our players and fans deserve it, and as the league continues to grow and evolve, a modern stadium will be necessary for us to remain competitive on and off the pitch.

Last year, there was the FourFourTwo article about the club’s future, which you responded to. The article mentioned increasing standards for stadiums across the league. Can you share what those standards are; what, if any, standards are increasing for next season and beyond; and if they have any factor to where the club is playing their home matches next season? Have those evolving standards narrowed or broadened stadium options for the team?

The NWSL is governed by a detailed and expansive set of standards collectively mandated by FIFA, by U.S. Soccer (Division I Pro League Standards), by rules implemented by the NWSL and NWSL Media, and by commitments made by U.S. Soccer as part of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with U.S. Women’s National Team Players.

These rules evolve each year, and in general, have required teams to spend more each year to keep up with the increasing standards. For instance, our cost to operate the team in 2018 will be nearly double what it cost us to operate the team in 2013.

We have always invested ahead of the curve as we knew it would be necessary to succeed on and off the pitch. As such, we have generally exceeded the collective set of standards mandated by the governing bodies noted above.

Without diving too deep into the details, I can say that Reign FC is already compliant with all material rules and standards currently in place or planned for implementation through the 2020 season, with two exceptions: the playing surface at Memorial, and Memorial Stadium’s “suitability for broadcasts”.

The NWSL and U.S. Soccer have made exceptions for both shortcomings in the past and we are hopeful they will continue to do so in the future, as overcoming both of these areas of non-compliance is a practical impossibility given the inherent limitations of a stadium that is more than 70 years old.

The obvious solution to the challenges at Memorial is to move to a new stadium.

However, any such move requires a venue that meets all NWSL standards, has 10-12 available weekend dates during our season, is appropriately sized and located in an area accessible by our fans, and is economically viable (meaning that rent and matchday operating costs are reasonable relative to the economic realities of the NWSL). Despite making a significant effort to secure a new venue over the past year, we have thus far been unsuccessful at finding a stadium that meets the criteria outlined above.

Our work to secure a new venue will continue, as full compliance with the collective set of rules and standards will at some point be a requirement. Furthermore, our long-term success requires a stadium capable of generating the revenue streams that will allow us to continue making significant investments in the club and that enable us to deliver the world-class matchday experience that our fans and players deserve.

We remain committed to our long-term vision for the club and are optimistic that our efforts to find a new stadium will eventually prove successful.

Of course, everyone knows of one venue in Seattle that would be a major upgrade for Reign FC players and Reign FC fans, and which would be suitable for broadcasts — CenturyLink Field.

We know there have been attempts to get a Seattle Reign FC match played at CenturyLink Field, specifically against rival Portland Thorns FC, which didn’t happen for one reason or another. We know holding an event at CenturyLink Field is not cheap. People have said if Seattle Reign FC played their home matches at CenturyLink Field, they’d go to more games, but tweets and comments as such cannot be deposited into bank accounts.

So, with two regular season home matches (Houston Dash on 8/21 and North Carolina Courage on 8/25) left, a home playoff match at Memorial Stadium is a good possibility for Seattle. If the Reign hold on to second place in the standings, they earn the right to host an NWSL semifinal. We asked Predmore if there is a plan set should Seattle be hosting one of the NWSL semifinal matches (North Carolina Courage will be hosting the other as the number 1 seed), since those games will be on broadcast television.

“We’ll share details about the timing, venue and broadcast plans when we get closer to the game being a reality,” Predmore stated.

The NWSL Playoff Semifinal matches are scheduled for the weekend of September 14-16. According to CenturyLink Field calendar, nothing is scheduled for Sunday, September 16. The NFL’s Seattle Seahawks are on the road that weekend and the first event in the days following is the midweek Sounders match against the Philadelphia Union. So, in theory, if Seattle Reign FC is hosting the other playoff match, it could happen on that day and there shouldn’t be any problem as far as suitability for broadcast. What would it actually take for that move to happen is anyone’s guess, but safe to say money will influence the decision.

CenturyLink Field’s calendar for September 2018.

You couldn’t ask for a better first Seattle Reign FC match at CenturyLink Field than a playoff semifinal with a spot in the NWSL Championship on the line. If that were to happen, it’s time for the Seattle soccer community to walk the talk.

If that is a possibility, however, one has to wonder if it would be preferred by the team. Playing a critical match on a field they have no experience on might not seem like a home-field advantage for Seattle, a team that has one of the best home records in the league season after season. Finding time to train on CenturyLink Field’s surface might be just as tricky as the theoretical logistics of operating there on match day.

Of course, with three regular season matches left to play, a lot can change with regards to this year’s playoff picture, which is the focus for the club. However, Seattle Reign FC fans have wondered over the course of this season about next year — and we can now confidently answer that, yes, they will have a home.

So, Seagultras, don’t worry, you’re not being asked to pack moving boxes. Yet.