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Coming to a better understanding of why the Reign left Seattle for Tacoma

Bill Predmore clarifies the timelines involved in Reign’s move.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

By far the most important piece of news to come out of Wednesday press conference was the revelation that the Seattle Reign would be moving to Tacoma and re-branding themselves as Reign FC.

The Predmores’ wrote a thoughtful letter explaining much of the move and I would recommend you read if you haven’t already.

Here’s the TL;DR in case you don’t: The Reign started looking for alternative venues sometime in late 2017 when it looked like Seattle Public Schools might kick them out of Memorial Stadium to build a new high school. They looked at virtually every facility between Bothell and Tukwila and determined that none of them were going to work for a variety of reasons. Although they got a reprieve from the school district when it was decided they weren’t going to tear down Memorial in the near future after all, getting the stadium up to NWSL standards also proved to be untenable. That essentially left them with Tacoma, where they’d immediately be able to play in a modern facility with modern amenities that met all the NWSL’s requirements.

As great as that letter is, there were still a few holes I felt needed to be filled in, so I talked to Bill Predmore in an attempt to do that. I’m not here to tell you that you should like the move or that you are somehow less of a fan if you decided you can no longer attend games, but I do think this information will help you to better understand it.

Why did the Reign continue selling tickets if they knew they might move?

As Predmore’s letter made clear, the possibility of leaving Memorial has existed for more than a year. Still, they decided to go ahead and start selling tickets anyway in August when they were informed their Memorial lease could be extended into 2019, assuring them someplace they could play.

What about the NWSL requirements?

In August, Predmore seemed to think they’d be able to get Memorial compliant enough if push ever came to shove, and that the most likely place they’d be playing in 2019 would be there. Predmore insisted that up until they signed the Tacoma agreement that continued to be the case, and it’s at least possible the NWSL would have relented on its requirements if there weren’t other options.

Could they have played at Memorial for a final farewell season?

Due at least in part to the reality that the NWSL had not yet granted them waivers they’d need to play there in 2019, that doesn’t seem very possible. But even if they were able to get a one-year waiver, Predmore said they never seriously considered a “farewell season.”

“It wouldn’t have been a secret we were going to Tacoma and the ramifications of that are going to impact you immediately,” he said. “I think it would have been very difficult to expect the same level of support in Memorial when people knew we were leaving in a year. As a practical matter, why would you wait? When the opportunity came up, we spent months working with the group in Tacoma. There’s a certain momentum that’s required to get a deal like that done and you can’t just put things on hold for a year and expect it to still be there waiting for you.”

The views were amazing, but the stands were rarely full at Memorial Stadium.
Photo credit - MikeRussellFoto

When did they actually stop selling tickets?

The team’s website was taken down the weekend before the announcement was officially made, so they were at least passively selling season tickets up until then.

How many tickets were sold between deciding to move and announcing the move?

Predmore estimated that maybe 20 season tickets were sold during what was roughly a three-week period.

What happens to people who bought season tickets?

Anyone who purchased tickets prior to the announcement is being offered a full refund. They can wait to request that refund until after the first home game, which existing season-ticket holders are being invited to attend as a sort of trial.

How many people have requested refunds?

Being that it’s still quite early in the process, Predmore was reluctant to share the figure, but he said they were planning around the possibility of virtually everyone wanting a refund and that they’d make it as “painless as possible” to receive one.

“We went into this taking nothing for granted,” he said. “We assumed people were signing up to watch games at Memorial Stadium. They paid for that and that’s what they want. If we can’t deliver that, we’re happy to give them their money back. We’re hoping at minimum everyone else is willing to give it a shot.”

How are new sales going?

Again, citing how early it is in the process, Predmore wasn’t ready to divulge those types of numbers.

Are they going to do anything to help Seattle-area fans get to games?

Predmore didn’t share any specific plans, but he did say that they are looking into getting some shuttle buses.

“We want to make it easier for people to come out,” he said. “If there are things we can do to make it easier, we’re likely to do that.”

What’s this do for the Reign’s long-term viability?

I suspect the first year’s attendance numbers will fall somewhere between what they drew in 2013 at Starfire — about 2,300 per game — and what they drew during five seasons at Memorial — about 4,000 per game. But there are now so many more ways for the Reign to make money — from different seating options to concessions — that’s it’s not hard to imagine this helping the bottom line. Adding the Tacoma Rainiers and Adrian Hanauer to the ownership group, as well as the prospect of playing in a new soccer-specific stadium as soon as 2021, and it’s not at all hard to see how the long-term future of Reign FC looks as strong as ever.

Still, Predmore is clearly sensitive about the notion that this was a move all about money.

“This is not a profit-generating endeavor; it’s a cash consuming endeavor,” he said. “So the idea we were doing this for a profit motive, it is the complete opposite. We are trying to put the club in a position to continue to operate. If we broke even, I’d consider that a massive success. That’s what we look at being sustainable and achieving that allows the team to exist in perpetuity.”

Like most of you, I’ll admit that I have very mixed feelings about this move. On one hand, the Reign are no longer just a short bus ride away. On the other, I wasn’t exactly going to enough games to feel as though something I had invested heavily in is being taken away. For those of you who did go to games on the regular or were season-ticket holders, I’m sure this feels like a much more significant loss.

At the same time, I can’t help but a feel a little bit like this was a somewhat inevitable move. No team in the NWSL besides the Portland Thorns have ever averaged as many as 10,000 fans per game. That’s probably the bare minimum the Reign would need to draw to make CenturyLink Field remotely viable and I’m not sure that would even get them to the break-even point Predmore would like to see.

I suppose you could argue that if the Reign were averaging more like the 6,000 per game that the Orlando Pride — the third highest in the league — drew this year that there would have been more impetus to invest enough money into a Seattle facility to make staying here feasible. I’m not sure how likely that is. Of all the NWSL markets, Seattle is by far the most expensive to live in and certainly the most expensive in which to build. The only teams with anything like their own facilities are owned by men’s professional teams, and they play in much smaller stadiums than the Sounders.

I think the Reign probably deserve some level of criticism for how they went about unveiling this move. You can certainly argue that there was considerable room for greater transparency at least about the possibility of a move.

Still, if you’re a fan of women’s soccer, this improves the quality of the facilities in the short term and gives the Reign a real chance at being viable longterm. It should also be said that Tacoma city officials showed the Reign more love on their first official day in town than I think Seattle officials had ever shown them. The excitement in Mayor Victoria Woodard’s voice when she was talking about the move was infectious, while Megan Rapinoe was absolutely beaming about the possibility of playing home games on grass.

There’s the added bonus of a not-too-distant future in which they are playing in a stadium that at least has the potential to be selling out and is among the best in the league. Even as soon as 2019, the Reign will go from playing on one of the league’s worst surfaces to one that might be one of the best, and fans will be able to sit on seats that won’t give them splinters, while drinking a beer.

None of that will fill what I’m sure is a gaping hole in the hearts of many fans, but it should at least give you some comfort.

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