“I’m Sounders ’til I die, I’m Sounders ’til I die. I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m Sounders ’til I die.”
That song is chanted over and over by rowdy fans at the top of their lungs during the 74th minute of every Seattle Sounders FC home game. Soccer may not be incredibly popular in the United States yet but don’t tell Seattle Sounders fans that. The team is a huge success in the Emerald City and it isn’t just by chance.
The average attendance for a Sounders game at home is just above 37,000, which is 14,500 more people in the stands than the next closest team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, when it comes to attendance in Major League Soccer. How in the world is a gap like that created? It doesn’t hurt that the Sounders just clinched a spot in this year’s MLS playoffs, that they will be playing in the championship game of the US Open Cup and that they are currently at the top of their pool in the CONCACAF Champions League, but I think it’s more than just putting tallies in the win column that is creating such a loyal and dedicated fan base in Seattle.
In Seattle, the Sounders fans are made to feel like they are just as much a part of the team as the players and management are. The Sounders are the only professional sports team in the US that allows a member organization made up of fans (the Alliance Members Association) to have a say in team matters including a vote of retention or lack of confidence regarding the team’s general manager every four years. When the team first expanded to the MLS in 2007 fans were given the opportunity to vote on the team name. In the eyes of the management the value of Sounders fans does not stop at the ticket box in the form of dollar signs, it extends into the areas of business and the general livelihood of the team as well.
Another important part of the Sounder’s success is that the Emerald City Supporters understand what it means to be a soccer fan. They don’t necessarily go to a game to be entertained solely by the players on the field; they know how to actively entertain themselves. Between all of the loud chanting, crazed signing, flag waving, instrument banging and scarf raising, the fans in the stands might not even need to watch the game to have a good time. This seems to be a very un-American way of viewing a sporting event, but trust me, it makes the game infinitely better because you become so invested not just in the team you’re rooting for but in the people you’re rooting with.
From a business perspective, you could make the case that the mix of empowering customers to democratically engage with a brand while at the same time allowing them to connect with a community that is just as passionate about the brand as they are is a winning combination. From a psychological perspective you could say that we as humans want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and that when we connect with other people who are also a part of that bigger thing we enjoy it much more. From whatever angle you look at it, you cannot deny the fact that by capitalizing on these ideas the Sounders have turned their club into a huge success.
I get so frustrated when Americans make the argument that there’s not enough scoring or action in soccer. Those people don’t understand that what’s happening on the field may only be a small part of the experience at a soccer match as a whole. It’s not always about having an exciting score line, it’s about having an exciting group experience at the stadium.
Why do you think the Sounders have been so successful thus far in the few years they’ve been in the MLS? What are your thoughts on being an active fan versus a passive spectator at a game? And of course I have to ask it, what do you think it’ll take for soccer to really catch on in the US?
Go Sounders Go!