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What have we actually learned about S2's move to Tacoma?

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Saturday’s announcement was a step in the right direction, but nowhere near the final step.

Image courtesy of Sounders FC.

It’s not very often that a MLS team owner comes onto the halftime show of a nationally televised game to talk about their USL affiliate. But that’s exactly what Adrian Hanauer did during Saturday’s ESPN broadcast.

The segment opens with Taylor Twellman saying “the move [to Tacoma] is now definite.” It was followed up by headlines in the Seattle Times and Tacoma News-Tribune that suggested a similar level of finality. Even our Tweet about the news used similar language.

While there’s now no doubt that the Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Rainiers fully intend to make this happen, after doing a bit more research I learned that there’s still quite a lot of work to be done before it becomes a reality. That isn’t to downplay Saturday’s announcement, but it bears repeating that until shovels are in the ground, things can change and we’re still a long way from there.

Given that, I felt it prudent to update the post we wrote last year titled “What we know about S2’s potential move to Tacoma.” It feels like answering the same questions is as good a place as any to start:

What's the timeline on this project?

What we said then: They hoped to have something firmed up in 12 months and thought they might be able to play games by 2019.

What’s new: It actually took them 13 months to get to this point, but the timeframe that’s now being thrown around in 2020. It could feasibly get done sooner, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see S2 playing some games in Tacoma before then, but 2020 seems entirely plausible and realistic for a new stadium to be built.

Is this actually going to happen?

What we said then: This sounds pretty serious and there’s even a government agency involved.

What’s new: It sounds more serious, I guess, and that government agency — Metro Parks Tacoma — is still involved. That agency, technically independent of the city, controls the greenbelt next to Cheney Stadium.

Does that mean public money will be used?

What we said then: It’s too early to know, but if this was part of a larger soccer complex, it would seem a reasonable guess.

What’s new: There was no talk of a larger soccer complex and there’s not really room for much more than a USL stadium in the immediate vicinity of Cheney Stadium. That said, we still don’t know about public money being used.

How much would a stadium cost?

What we said then: The Cheney Stadium remodel cost about $30 million, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds’ stadium cost about $10 million, and we figured this would cost somewhere between those two.

What’s new: The new standard for lower-division soccer stadiums is H-E-B Park, where the Rio Grande Valley Toros play. The 9,400-seat facility opened this year and apparently cost about $17 million to build. Of course, we don’t know how directly comparable this stadium might be, but it seems like a good reference point.

Coincidentally, RGV FC also are the rough model for the Sounders-Rainiers partnership. The Toros’ business operations are run by a group that also operates the local NBA D-League team, while the Houston Dynamo run the technical side.

Where would they put it?

What we said then: Near Cheney or near a population center. Metro Parks was leading a feasibility study.

What’s new: Okay, if there was one hard piece of new info, it was this. The release said the stadium would sit “on the footprint of historic Cheney Stadium.” Apparently that means somewhere in the immediate vicinity. There are parking lots on two sides of Cheney, but those are also used by the high school next door. There’s also a strip of green belt owned by Metro Parks nearby. Those all seem like reasonably good candidates.

What's the Rainiers' interest in running a soccer team?

What we said then: Presumably, they see some business upside.

What’s new: Same, with the caveat that they just announced they’d parted ways with the Tacoma Stars, whose brand they did an admirable job helping to revive. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see Rainiers staff working with S2 very soon.

What do the Sounders get out of this?

What we said then: Adrian Hanauer seems interested in getting out of the running-a-minor-league-soccer team business and focusing the club’s energies on player development.

What’s new: Same.

How does this affect the Sounders Community Trust?

What we said then: That nothing changes in the short term and everyone seems open to figuring out a way to keep it going.

What’s new: There are some potential wrinkles. The Trust recently put out a letter to its members saying it’s possible a transfer of ownership shares to the Rainiers could automatically trigger a liquidation of their 20 percent stake. Lawyers are currently looking into this to see if there’s a way around that clause and both the Sounders and Rainiers apparently want the fan-ownership arrangement to continue. I suppose it’s possible a new version of the Trust could be created if those shares were liquidated. For now, though, the Trust seems to think a move to Tacoma could be a good thing for them, but they are soliciting member feedback in meantime.

Where does this leave Starfire?

What we said then: The Sounders are probably going to keep training there for the foreseeable future but they’ve made noise about looking for a permanent training home somewhere else.

What’s new: Any talk of moving has subsided and the team is still exploring the possibility of making capital investments into Starfire. It’s still possible they’ll move away from the Tukwila facility, but that’s a separate issue from S2 going to Tacoma.

Will S2 rebrand if they move?

What we said then: It’s up for discussion and would make sense.

What’s new: There’s still no hints as to the name, but they’ve made it clear that a rebranding will definitely happen.

Would Sounders play Open Cup games in Tacoma?

What we said then: It’s up for discussion.

What’s new: Nothing final, but if there’s a a brand new soccer stadium in Tacoma, I’d be surprised if some Open Cup games weren’t played there.

Is this place going to have grass?

What we said then: It wasn’t ruled out.

What’s new: Admittedly, I didn’t even think to ask. I will go out on a limb and say that this place will probably have artificial turf. Chances are it will be used for more than soccer and this is still the Pacific Northwest where it rains quite a bit. A pristine grass pitch would be great, I’m just a little skeptical it will be a priority.

How should I feel about this?

What we said then: Everyone won’t love it, but it strengthens the organization.

What’s new: I don’t want to diminish anyone’s specific concerns — no matter how small the group is, some fans will be disenfranchised by this move — but my guess is that more fans will be interested in this team, more fans will attend their games and the Sounders will extend their footprint farther south. A recent poll on this very website suggested 82 percent of our readers are in support. Not only will the manpower drain on the organization be lessened, but there’s going to be more money available to spend on the first team. Oh, and the Puget Sound will have another soccer stadium, which is never bad. Also, if you’re going to try to compare this to the Sonics’ move to Oklahoma City ... just stop.

Anything else we learned?

It’s important to note that a Memorandum of Understanding, while a step in the right direction, is still not a legally binding document. We’re still talking about millions of dollars — perhaps tens of millions of dollars — that someone is going to have to spend to make this a reality. There’s possibly public land that might have to be re-appropriated. All the best intentions in the world don’t make those small obstacles. The analogy that was used with me was that if last year’s announcement put the ball on the 20-yard line — yes, it was a football reference — then the MOU was a first-down. In other words, there’s a lot more field to cover ... I can’t believe I’m continuing this analogy ... before the Sounders and Rainiers score a ... touchdown (I hate myself).

Poll

How do you feel about S2 moving to Tacoma?

This poll is closed

  • 80%
    Awesome, what’s not to love
    (2262 votes)
  • 5%
    I feel betrayed, this is a failure
    (167 votes)
  • 13%
    I’m here for the Sounders, not S2
    (366 votes)
2795 votes total Vote Now