Sometimes speaking something into existence actually works.
Thursday’s surprising, if long-overdue, announcement that OL Reign will finally play an NWSL match at Lumen Field as part of a doubleheader with the Seattle Sounders has been a dream of many fans at least nine years in the making. The fact that on Aug. 29 the opponents of Puget Sound’s pro soccer teams will be their respective Cascadia rivals, Portland Thorns FC and Portland Timbers, could make it one of the most memorable nights in American club soccer history.
This doubleheader could very well establish the roadmap for the NWSL club having an annual match at the big stadium for years to come.
OL Reign have tried multiple times to get a match at Downtown Seattle’s NFL stadium. When then-called Seattle Reign FC were set to host the 2014 NWSL Championship, efforts were made to move it to the stadium formerly known as CenturyLink Field. Lack of an open timeslot for the TV broadcast and the time needed to convert the field for an NFL season opener were the roadblocks cited then.
For the 2017 season, an Aug. 26 fixture between the Reign and the Thorns was announced as the NWSL Game of the Week, to be broadcast on Lifetime when that network had national TV broadcast rights for the league. The hope at the time was that match would take place at TV broadcast-ready CenturyLink Field, with the Sounders hosting the Timbers the following day. Ultimately, that match remained at Memorial Stadium and the Game of the Week broadcast was shifted to FC Kansas City vs. Orlando Pride. While an explanation was never given as to why the match didn’t move to CenturyLink Field, sources indicated to Ride of the Valkyries that logistical challenges of a stadium where the primary tenant is a NFL franchise were again a factor.
In the Predmores’ open letter to Reign fans explaining the club’s relocation to Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium in 2019, the downtown stadium was mentioned as an option the club explored for its new permanent home, but the Reign couldn’t reach an agreement with First & Goal (again likely due to financial impediments) and the team opted to move south. We don’t know the exact numbers to rent out Lumen Field for a soccer match, but it’s safe to say it’s very expensive — at least in the six figures — and the belief is that the Reign would need to average at least 10,000 in attendance for the finances to make any sense.
The Aug. 29 doubleheader will undoubtedly clear that number, as Lumen Field is on course to return to full capacity this summer.
What’s clear is the Reign have made sincere efforts to get a game inside the big stadium in Downtown Seattle several times in the past, but forces outside of their control have thwarted them. It might have taken all nine years of the club’s existence, but they’re finally getting a game there. The name of the club and the name of the stadium might be different, but the reality is, in two months, a women’s professional soccer game will take place in Washington state’s biggest pro sports stadium.
Talking with Ride of the Valkyries after the doubleheader was announced, OL Reign CEO Bill Predmore shared some details about how the match is finally happening.
“I’d say the conversations about this game really fell out of a conversation last year, which was that our plan was to play our Pride match in June as a doubleheader with the Sounders. We had things pretty far along and absent COVID-19, that would have been our first match there. So that obviously didn’t happen last year, but we kept those conversations alive. Taylor Graham, Maya Mendoza, and Adrian Hanauer, of course have been very supportive, trying to find a way to make it work.”
Predmore said that it was around January of this year, when both OL Reign and the Sounders were finalizing their respective schedules, that they could revisit the conversations from last year about a doubleheader and line up the schedules along with the hope that gradually fans would be allowed back in the stands.
The dream will soon be manifested and it may not even be a one-off occasion.
The women’s side of Olympique Lyonnais (majority owners of OL Reign) play most of their matches at the Groupama OL Training Center Stadium (capacity 1,524 fans), in the shadow of Groupama Stadium (capacity 59,186), while league matches against rivals Paris Saint-Germain and some knockout-stage UEFA Champions League matches take place in the bigger venue. OL Reign have made Cheney Stadium their home as much as they can, and attendance has responded very well ever since they relocated there before the start of the 2019 NWSL season. Progress on the Heidelberg Sports Village stadium project has understandably paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc with city and team finances, so if the team plans to remain in Tacoma, OL Reign will likely continue to play at Cheney Stadium for the foreseeable future.
But what if the upcoming August doubleheader is enough of financial success that for the 2022 NWSL season, OL Reign can get a date at Lumen Field completely on their own to host another match against their Cascadia rivals? Or perhaps against one of the new clubs joining the league, Angel City FC or San Diego’s NWSL team? If OL Reign can replicate the setup used by their Lyon family members (and also used closer to home by the Washington Spirit, who now split their games between 5,000-seat Segra Field and 20,000-seat Audi Field), then perhaps a new tradition can be established.
“I think this is an opportunity for us to see what happens,” Predmore said. “I think many of us have literally dreamed about holding this match for years, and we haven’t known is what’s going to happen and in my dream, we’ve got 66,000 fans in the stadium for both matches. But the reality is we’re going to have to wait and see. Obviously the closer we get to 66,000, the more likely we’re in the situation where we’d want to do this again.
“A match like this puts a significant burden on the Sounders to manage, a burden on our staff to work through the logistics that we’re happy to take on, but we just want to make sure collectively we can pull it off.”
Understandably, after the high of the announcement on Thursday, there’s been angst about ticket availability for Reign season ticket holders. Where will those seats be? How much will they cost? How many Reign season-ticket holders will actually be able to get in on the pre-sale and not have to resort to the inflated prices of the secondary market? The truth is, until that pre-sale info is released, we just won’t know. Much like we won’t know how many people will be in the stands for both the NWSL match first and then the MLS match, versus how many will enter Lumen Field later because they just want to watch the MLS match. There are just a lot of unknowns here in June about what might happen in late August.
We know sports stadiums in this region and beyond want to return to full capacity.
We know that for years readers of this site and beyond have said that if the Reign had a match at the big stadium in Downtown Seattle, they would go.
Here now is that opportunity for soccer fans of this region to put their money where their mouth is.
What was a dream of perhaps just one match has now been spoken into existence. After a year of... all of this, maybe we can speak into existence a new tradition for the NWSL club and really show the world why this team has been and wants to continue to be a destination club.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a Reign fan near or far that wouldn’t be excited about marking their calendar for the big match at the big stadium in Downtown Seattle. Events like this become weekend trips, and after the year we’ve gone through? Yeah, we all could use a proper one.