SBD/September 19, 2013/Franchises

Sounders Touted As MLS Team That Can Make Soccer "Relevant And Popular" In The U.S.

A passionate Sounders fanbase was discussed at-length on "Real Sports"
The MLS Sounders were featured on HBO's "Real Sports" on Tuesday night, and HBO's Jon Frankel noted the franchise has been "called the greatest expansion team in American sports history" because of the tremendous fan support the team has received. Frankel said of the loud and enthusiastic fans at CenturyLink Field, "It's an atmosphere you might expect to see in England or Brazil, not in a country that has long regarded soccer with a collective yawn." Sounders Majority Owner Joe Roth said of acquiring the franchise, "I just felt like I could contribute something to the league which I felt was under-marketed and under-utilized." Frankel said Roth "felt the sport just needed a little bit of show business and fortunately, this is his specialty." Roth: "We made a business plan that said we'd average 12,000 people a game." Frankel noted, "Five years and 82 games later, the Seattle Sounders have sold every ticket they've ever printed and are averaging more than 42,000 fans per game." Frankel said the success and atmosphere for the Sounders has "sparked excitement beyond Seattle" and has the "lords of American soccer daring to hope that just maybe, their impossible dream is within reach: That soccer might finally become relevant and popular across the USA." But ESPN's Alexi Lalas noted that "just because one town has caught soccer fever does not mean it will spread," as MLS national TV ratings "remain low and show few signs of life." Lalas: "It's dangerous to say that what happened in Seattle, you just take that and pluck it down in other markets and that's how it's going to work. It doesn't work like that" ("Real Sports," HBO, 9/17).

PLAYING FAVORITES: In DC, Steven Goff reviewed the "Real Sports" episode and wrote, "The intensity, passion and commitment, not to mention counter-culture quirkiness, of the Sounders’ masses are captured in all of its march-to-the-match revelry." For casual sports fans "unaware of the Sounders’ success ... the episode enlightened, educated and entertained." However, the story "lacked context and short-changed the rest of the league." It portrayed Seattle "as the lone ship in tumultuous seas, carrying the precious cargo of American soccer’s hopes and dreams." The show implied that without the Sounders, MLS would "capsize like its alphabet-soup predecessors." MLS is "a much better place with the Sounders aboard." But while Seattle’s "in-market popularity is unmatched ... several clubs have succeeded in their own way" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/18).
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