First it was a new sponsor, Zulily, that united Seattle’s two largest professional soccer teams. On Wednesday afternoon, additional local partnerships were brought into the fold, as Reign FC announced a series of changes for the club in 2019 — including a move to Tacoma, new minority owners, and a slight name change.
The name is the easiest to explain. Given they will no longer be located in Seattle, the team is shifting from Seattle Reign FC to just Reign FC — and unveiled a new visual identity that retains the essential elements of its previous shield, with a few bold adjustments.
The rest of the club’s changes are a bit more significant and will take longer to unpack.
Beginning in 2019, Reign FC will play home matches at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, which also is home to the Tacoma Defiance — formerly of Sounders 2 fame. The move is similar in nature to the Seattle Sounders joint venture with the Tacoma Rainiers, which has allowed the team to operate their USL club in Tacoma.
“This is a special day for Tacoma, and speaks to what’s possible with great partners, and we should be proud of that,” said Tacoma Rainiers President Aaron Artman. “The addition of Reign FC to Tacoma matters, and shows the power behind great partnerships. We look forward to an exciting, and busy, 2019 in Cheney Stadium.”
Meanwhile, the city continues to advance plans to re-purpose Heidelberg/Davis Park into a soccer stadium, something that is expected to happen in 2021. Should this be completed, it would become Reign FC’s permanent home alongside the Defiance. Reign FC will also train at a to-be-confirmed location in Tacoma, with players moving a bit further south to be closer to their new home.
“Over the last year we spent a significant amount of time with the group operating the Rainiers and Sounders FC’s USL squad. We found their vision for growing the game in Tacoma extremely compelling,” owner Bill Predmore shared in a Reign FC release. “The more we talked, the more we believed Tacoma could be an ideal long-term option for our organization.”
With this move further south on I-5, Bill and Teresa Predmore welcome new owners into the Reign FC family. Adrian Hanauer and his mother, Lenore, will become minority owners — a personal move for Hanauer that is unrelated to his role with the Sounders. That means that despite this new location-sharing arrangement and expanded ownership group, Reign FC will remain officially unaffiliated with the Sounders and their USL team. For the Hanauers, the move is a natural step for a family that has had a lifelong connection to the sport, with Lenore also being a huge women’s soccer and Reign FC fan.
“On behalf of Lenore Hanauer, we are excited to make this additional commitment to soccer in our community and specifically to the women’s game in our region,” said Sounders FC Owner Adrian Hanauer. “With our partners at Reign FC and the Tacoma Rainiers, we look forward to delivering a first-class product on the field in the South Sound for years to come.”
The group operating the Tacoma Rainiers and Defiance — led by Mikal Thomsen, chairman and CEO of the Tacoma Rainiers — will also take what is described as a significant minority ownership stake in Reign FC.
“The renewed strength of the ownership group will provide long-term stability, support and strategic leadership that will ensure that Reign FC is able to achieve success both on and off the pitch,” the Predmores shared in an open letter to Reign FC fans.
While Wednesday’s announcement may feel sudden to Reign FC fans, it was the result of years of conversations the Predmores led with local partners to secure a long-term, sustainable home for the team. These discussions were made all the more urgent by newly enforced stadium mandates for NWSL clubs. While Memorial Stadium actually met a number of previously established league and U.S. Soccer Pro League Standards — like having at least a 5,000-capacity stadium — the field’s playing surface and “suitability for broadcast” fell below these standards.
The league and U.S. Soccer have granted exceptions in the past, but the mandates were pushed more firmly for 2019 — perhaps in response to the growing coverage of Sky Blue FC’s inadequate facilities and conditions for players, or the increased attention expected in a World Cup year.
With Memorial’s future uncertain last year — as Seattle Public Schools announced plans to build a high school and new stadium on the property — Predmore began to search for alternative options in the Seattle area that met all the league requirements, or had the potential to meet them with a few adjustments. That included looking into Husky Soccer Stadium and Husky Stadium; Championship Field, where Seattle University plays; Interbay, which is home to Seattle Pacific University; Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell; and both T-Mobile Park and CenturyLink Field.
The only stadium that met all of U.S. Soccer’s requirements was CenturyLink Field, and while Reign FC had plenty of conversations with the stadium’s operator, First & Goal, as well as with the Sounders, they just couldn’t make the cost and logistics work. Scheduling three teams and various events got far too complicated.
Despite promising news last fall that the Memorial Stadium project would not be included in the capital levy that Seattle residents will vote on this February, Memorial’s future still wasn’t a given — and the Reign FC owners determined it was not economically feasible to make the improvements to Memorial Stadium required by the NWSL. The stadium’s unknown future also made it hard to attract additional investors or partners.
For all those reasons and more, Tacoma was a clear, long-term alternative. In the immediate future, Cheney Stadium presents the club with the ability to create an significantly improved matchday experience, including a variety of reserved seating choices, such as box suites or a party deck, a well-maintained grass surface, better food concession options, a large and inexpensive parking lot, and the ever-coveted item that pairs perfectly with soccer: beer at your seat.
These improved field and matchday components also means Reign FC should see a Lifetime Game of the Week — or even two — hosted in Tacoma this season.
In a conversation with Ride of the Valkyries, the Predmores were quick to acknowledge their connection to and love for Seattle, and noted how much they will miss the “rustic charm” of Memorial. It has been a home for the club for the last five years, and fans have witnessed plenty of magical moments at the aging stadium.
“You — our fans and supporters — helped us fill the stadium with countless memories,” Bill and Teresa shared with fans. “Together, we infused Memorial Stadium with a renewed sense of purpose. In return, we were entertained and inspired by some of the greatest female footballers to ever play the game.”
The owners also noted they have no plans to make a complete departure from Seattle. The club will continue to run the Reign Academy in the Greater Seattle region and have ambitions to grow that program. They also plan to host a monthly public training session in Seattle that would be accessible and free to all fans to attend and would include autograph opportunities with players.
From a logistical standpoint, Reign FC will move its staff down to Tacoma but will continue to operate as an independent organization with autonomous staff. By entering into a venture partnership with the Tacoma Rainiers, the NWSL club will have the opportunity to leverage a joint ticketing system and merchandise sales — additional bonuses for an organization that lacks the resources of other NWSL teams which are tied to MLS clubs.
This means that the Reign are no longer partnering with Force 10 Sports, which last year offered a unified ticketing system with the Seattle Storm. Those who already purchased season tickets for 2019 should expect communication in the near future about how their packages will translate to the new location, and new season tickets for Cheney Stadium are now available for purchase at www.reignfc.com/tickets.
The word “uncertainty” has surrounded Reign FC for so many years when it comes to the team’s long-term stadium solution. Many readers have shared their desire to watch this group of world-class athletes play — just not at Memorial. Today’s announcement provides some much needed clarity for supporters and helps bolster the club’s ability to become a strong, sustainable force in NWSL well into the future.
As the Predmores concluded in their note to fans, “We truly believe the best is yet to come, and we are hopeful that you will continue to support Reign FC as we make this incredible journey forward.”