Closing Shot: Sounding Off
As Seth Bacon strolled around Pioneer Square just hours before the MLS Cup final in Seattle on Nov. 10 and saw thousands of fans marching to CenturyLink Field, he could see the look on young kids’ faces, which revealed a complete understanding that this was the biggest day of the year for a sport they loved.
“It was more of a sense of awe and amazement at how big this league is becoming,” said Bacon, the MLS senior vice president of media, who’s now been to six MLS Cup finals since joining the league in 2014.
The Seattle Sounders capped off their first decade as a member of MLS with the club’s second championship after defeating Toronto FC 3-1. The event featured a pre-match musical performance by Sounders co-owner Macklemore and crowd-generated artificial earthquakes measured on seismographs after each of Seattle’s goals. It set records for the largest crowd in Seattle soccer history (69,274) as well as for CenturyLink Field, which also plays home to the NFL’s Seahawks.
For Bacon, the atmosphere in Seattle was “one of the most fantastic sports scenes” he’d ever witnessed.
An average of 823,000 viewers watched ABC’s broadcast of the Cup, which was down nearly 50% compared to last season’s championship match televised on Fox and won by Atlanta United FC. The MLS Cup typically has been held in early December, when there’s less competition from other sports. But with this year’s shift to November, the event avoided going against college football by moving to Sunday, though it still had to go head to head with the NFL.
The match drew a strong local audience. Seattle-Tacoma averaged a 13.2 rating, making it the best MLS Cup rating on record for the market.
“It’s one of our best-performing markets,” Bacon said of Seattle, “and it still exceeded expectations. More people tuned in than we could have anticipated, and to set a record in a market like Seattle speaks volumes about how important and how meaningful that game was for people.”
Beginning this past season, MLS expanded the playoff field by two teams to 14 and implemented a single-elimination format. The change created a more compelling storytelling narrative, Bacon said, and provided a more “digestible and understandable” format for fans.
Said Bacon: “It’s only going to make that sense of urgency translate into the 2020 regular season even more because people will have seen the impact that home-field advantage and being positioned well for the playoffs can have on their club.”