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Coronavirus forces Sounders to find ‘creative’ ways to remain involved in community

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Sounders help out during Mariner-sponsored blood drive.

Sounders FC Communications

SEATTLE — The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has had predictable results on the field, as the Seattle Sounders haven’t played a game since March 7. And with MLS extending the training moratorium not planning to resume matches before “at least” June 8, the Sounders will go at least two months between games.

Of course, the impact of the pandemic has gone far beyond on field results.

The Sounders as an organization pride themselves on their contributions to the local community — especially through the Rave Foundation, the team’s charitable arm. Likewise, events such as annual Earth Day event and June’s Pride celebration showcase the team’s values.

Unfortunately for the Sounders, the stay-home orders, social-distancing protocols and suspension of games have put a hold on many of those events for the foreseeable future. That has forced the team, in the words of Vice President of Business Operations Taylor Graham, to get “creative.”

On Friday, that resulted in the Sounders’ involvement with Bloodworks NW, which had established a temporary blood donation center in a partnership with the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park in downtown Seattle. While the Sounders have their own partnership with Bloodworks through MLS’s Kids Kick Cancer campaign, the team did not have any official capacity in this project. But according to Graham, the team jumped at the chance to get involved.

“We found out through the Mariners, and we quickly realized that it made sense for us for what we do and who we partner with,” Graham said. “One, we already had relationships with Bloodworks with Kids Kick Cancer. There’s a huge need with everything going on COVID-19 related. So the opportunity to pick a day and support the Mariners was a no-brainer.

“Everyone’s trying to do their part in different ways. Social distancing is mandatory but that doesn’t mean we can’t leverage the infrastructure to be able to support the community.

The Sounders were able publicize the event on social media and get their staff, fans and several players to donate blood. In addition to participating in a good cause, it allowed members of the Sounders front staff to see each other face-to-face, so to speak.

“It was actually the first time I saw staff since we started remote working,” Graham said. “So it was great to be able to sit in a recliner and give blood and talk with the people we’ve been talking [remotely] with over the last six weeks.”

Without a vaccine for the foreseeable future, and some level of social-distancing likely to continue to impact all facets of life, the nature of the Sounders organization is going through a major change, according to Graham. It has already substantially affected a number of initiatives the team was looking forward to.

“One of the things that was a pillar that we were planning on for the last 18 months was Earth Day,” Graham said. “The 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we had big, big plans to turn our April 18 match against Vancouver into the biggest Earth Day celebration in Sounders history and celebrate the fact that the we’re the first soccer club in North America to go carbon neutral.

“We had to pivot into a digital format. Partnering with [Nicolas] Lodeiro was a great story. Brad [Evans] talking with some of the fans who have consulted us in this process whose professional jobs; this was driven by fans, staff, corporate partners and community.”

With the earliest restart date for MLS games now pegged at June 8 — a date most see as aspirational at best — at least four Sounders home games will have been postponed. The earliest they would return home (under the current schedule) is June 27 against New York City FC. No matter when games resume, it’s unlikely the Sounders will be able to celebrate Soccer for All as they normally would, including in-stadium activities.

“May and June is about inclusion and Soccer for All, and the fact that soccer and the Sounders should be accessible to anyone — sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic background, you name it,” Graham said. “The next challenge will be how do we celebrate a club-value system of inclusion and do that in June, adjusting to all the real time information we’re reading across the world.

“The exact tactics of what the Sounders will do for inclusion in June, I don’t know, but we’ve got teams working on that, but I have no doubt they’ll be able to mobilize and pivot and celebrate our values.”

How the Sounders adjust to this new reality is still very much a work in progress. The financial crisis caused by the pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented strain on the economy, meaning resources are stretched for individuals and business alike.

“We’ve got to be creative, and it starts with understanding the wants and needs of our partners,” Graham said. “Because there are a bunch of events that are being canceled, some of their fundraising mechanisms are being cancelled too.”

Given the strained resources, the Sounders will look to get involved in other ways, in addition to their efforts through the Rave Foundation, which has raised more $550,000 through majority owner Adrian Hanauer and additional fundraising efforts such as the sports science seminar headed by Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Sean Muldoon.

“We’re open to any ways to support the community,” Graham said. “When others are doing stuff that we can get involved with, we will absolutely figure out whether we are able mobilize and support in ways that are consistent with our bandwidth and resources.

“The framework [leadership, service and investment] will stay the same, the tactics and the specifics of how it comes to life will be determined by the time frame [of the pandemic]. Until we know, we’re going to continue find ways to invest in our community in ways that are consistent with the framework we’ve already established.”