It’s inevitable that in going through a challenging time you reassess your priorities. A pandemic is, in the understatement of all understatements, a challenging time. I’m sure that each of us has experienced this exact thing over the last year, whether that means focusing on the relationships that nourish rather than drain you; choosing to pursue a particular goal while experience a change to your work life or career; or deciding that making sure you eat is more important than always trying to eat the Right Thing. The unifying factor is that we’ve all had to analyze where we’re spending our energy and deciding what things are most important.
For much of the MLS era of the club, the focus has been on being one of the league’s elite clubs as the organization strives to be a global brand. There have been plenty of trophies and packed crowds inside Lumen Field, and always the boldness embodied by the team’s signature Rave Green.
In that pursuit, the team’s brand sort of took for granted the city and region that it called home as it grasped for an audience beyond its borders. A number of the communities that make Seattle, the Puget Sound, and Washington state the vibrant and beautiful place that so many of us call home were left out in the process.
In COVID-19’s wake it looks like that’s changed.
The new kit has had plenty of digital ink spilt in praise of the design, the story behind it, and the rollout which celebrated the Seattle music scene, the individuals who made it famous and who keep it alive today. What hasn’t been discussed as much is what this could signal for the future.
In the last year, the Sounders organization has launched a coronavirus relief fund to support the businesses around the stadium impacted by the absence of games and events, announced a Social Justice Platform, and held events and programming that center and support the communities that often get ignored when we talk about “Seattle.” If this kit and everything surrounding it are a sign of things to come, this could actually be the route to the Sounders becoming the global entity they wanted to be, paradoxically by focusing inward instead of outward. A turn to make the team more representative of the city and the region in the way that it presents itself, and in turn embracing the city through outreach and action, could serve to drive future success.
With the exception of teams like PSG and Manchester City, who in so many ways represent the idea of “modern football,” the teams with the greatest reach in the world have fan bases built on what they represent. They’re community clubs who embody the spirit of the city or neighborhood where they reside, and the fans see themselves in the team.
That’s a much harder goal to reach when your club’s aim is explicitly to be a global entity, no matter how much the community is represented in the actual organization itself. Being more actively and substantially in the community — the continuation of the RAVE Foundation’s community pitch projects, events like the collaborations with Intentionalist, the Balls & Books program with the Northwest African American Museum, and whatever may come in the future are all great examples — while also doing more to make the beautiful humanity and culture of Seattle part of the identity of the club will go a long way to helping to create stronger connections to the existing fan base. At the same time, it will help to draw in those who aren’t already fervent supporters.
We’re all Sounders. Not only because we love the team, but because we are this place. The more that the same is true for the club, the better. And it just so happens that the best way for the Sounders to become bigger than their MLS standings is to go deeper rather than wider.