The Mariners and the Sounders
I’ve been thinking about this coming season and the new team in town.
I may be one of their ideal target fans: I find some of my favorite qualities in baseball in soccer (really), in particular the unbroken action unfolding, along with some of what I like when I watch football. I can see how I’d be recruited into watching the first season. And it may be a product of where I work, but I know more people there who are soccer fans than follow the M’s actively any more. And the place goes nuts for the World Cup. I personally know more people who have put down money for Sounders tickets than I do remaining Mariners season ticket holders. All anecdotal, of course — and yet it was strange when I realized that.
Still, I’m not sure concern about possible M’s impact are justified. How much business could an expansion soccer team really be expected to pull off the Mariners, anyway? The M’s have drawn well when the Seahawks have drawn well, they did well before the NBA decided to stab the town in the back repeatedly.
But the Sounders season runs April through October. Their draft is in January, when the M’s new rebuild will be in full swing and I may have cranked up the USSM Labs server to start doing sims with Diamond Mind again. They have a broadcast deal in place to televise the games on KING or KONG. They’re entering the market at a time when the Mariners have been sucking, and sucking in a not-at-all-entertaining way, for years, with that season of false hope thrown in for extra soul-crushing measure.
And admittedly this will be anecdotal and probably say more about where I spend my days and who my friends are, but I know more soccer fans at work than baseball fans, and I know more people who have no interest in baseball who put season ticket deposits down for the Sounders than I know current season ticket holders for the Mariners. So Expedia’s soccer mad, and the M’s fans I know probably run towards the dissenting, but it was still shocking to realize that.
But LA only draws 26,000 a game and they’re huge in MLS terms. That didn’t hurt the Angels or Dodgers any. The MLS average is about 16,000. The lowest, Kansas City, was under 11k. Florida, the worst draw in the 30-team MLB, drew better than the average MLS franchise as they try to expand into lucrative, hospitable markets one at a time.
The M’s drew 28,761 a game last year to see a wretched team I’d only have sent people to one or two games out of five, and I’ll watch any baseball I come across. While they might see another decline, especially if they clearly shift into rebuild-for-the-future mode (and there’s some segment of the fan base that sincerely bought the yearly song-and-dance and purchased tickets based on that), it’ll be hard for them to drop below two million as long as Seattle has nice summer days for people to head out to Safeco Field and enjoy. And right now, as interested as I am to see how the Sounders fare, there’s no way I’d miss a Felix home start over a Sounders game.
But this is the Sounders’ opportunity: if the M’s don’t win next year after these miserable seasons, maybe novelty can compete for mind share, get coverage on the sports pages, and start to build something. Maybe some portion of the disaffected season ticket holders move over and like it. And then they’re competing in the same season for seat and box revenue, for media money, and eating into the M’s base. This may be the best chance a soccer team has: a unique opportunity to open new as a major sport franchise has left town and the one playing next door in the same season sees its fanbase erode over five years. We’ll see if they capitalize on the opportunity, but this is going to be an interesting year in Seattle sports.
Also, if Beane decides to go into soccer, I’m going to be absolutely fascinated to see what happens.