Guest Post: Seattle a Model Franchise?

Drew Williams is a Junior at Maryville University in St. Louis.   As part of his Sports Business Management major, Drew has been following Footiebusiness for a class project.  As part of that project, he prepared a blog piece about the Seattle Sounders.  His post is below.  Drew is also on the Maryville soccer team.

As the 2010 MLS season is coming to an end, the MLS community will begin to set their sights on the two new expansion cities for 2011: Vancouver and Portland. For the MLS to continue to be successful, it is vital that these start-up franchises are very successful and continue to bring new supporters into the league. In order to be successful the expansion teams must capitalize on good ownership and a great marketing plan. There is no better way to discuss this issue than to talk about one of the greatest success stories with an expansion team in possibly the history of sports, the Seattle Sounders.
In 2007 Major League Soccer announced that a 15th team would enter the league for the upcoming season, and that team was the Seattle Sounders. The team began play in 2008, and in their first two seasons they sold out every home match, set MLS records for attendance, and sold the most season tickets in the league. By 2010 the Sounders were announced the Professional Sports Team of the Year, winning the award against professional teams such as the New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia Phillies. This award, presented by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and Sports Business Daily, is awarded to a team who demonstrated excellence and outstanding achievement in the sports industry the previous year. With the Sounders’ unprecedented 15 regular season sellouts, 22,000 season ticket holders, and an average crowd close to 31,000, they emerged as the ideal model franchise for Major League Soccer.
This success began at the hands of the Seattle Sounders owners- Joe Roth (Hollywood Executive), Adrian Hanauer (Owned Seattle’s successful USL team before joining the MLS), Drew Carey (a TV actor and comedian), and Paul Allen (billionaire owner of Seattle’s two other professional sports teams). The combination of each of the owner’s diverse backgrounds brought differentiation to the management, which had proved very successful. The first thing the management did was land a big name sponsor, Microsoft, who signed a four million dollar contract for five years. This deal was highlighted by the “Xbox LIVE” logo that is seen on the front of both, their home and away jerseys. The Seattle Sounders took a very strategic approach in finding this sponsor, as the Xbox brand fits in perfectly with the club’s attempt to attract a young and diverse audience. The energy surrounding “Xbox LIVE” is also very strong in American culture, from its reputation for bringing people together to compete against one another on an entertainment level.
Additional success of the Seattle Sounders was found in their strong marketing presence throughout the city of Seattle. The team was more than willing to spend big bucks to get the Seattle Sounders name out to the public.

On a national level, the Sounders advertised on the home page of nationally renowned websites such as TIME, USA Today and ESPN. On a more local level, management painted the city vibrant green and blue- the official colors of the Sounders. Even the Space Needle had the vibrant green and blue colors cast upon it from time to time. Anywhere one was in Seattle, they could be sure to see a huge billboard, or even an ad for the team on the side of a public transportation unit. The management had also bought the front page of the sports section in Seattle’s newspaper as an advertisement for upcoming games. On top of all this, the club gave out thousands of free scarves’ to many of their fans and encouraged them to wear and hang the scarves around the city of Seattle.
With all of these great marketing strategies flooding Seattle as the team emerged, it is no wonder that they have become the ideal franchise for the MLS.