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Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama and the Sounders

Posted by on Mon, May 18, 2009 at 11:40 AM


Saturday's images of President Obama cheering on his daughter's soccer team reminded me of one of the more interesting theories I've heard for why the Seattle Sounders have become so crazy popular in this city.

In the long view, the fervor is a little mystifying; there have been serious soccer teams to watch in Seattle—and even at Qwest field—for quite some time. But something about the new Sounders is causing people who have never paid any attention to soccer before to start paying close attention, and leading to a run on tickets that has Sounders games sold out through the end of June. What is it?

At a party the other night a Sounders season-ticket holder (and proud soccer-dad) answered the question by floating a grand theory that concerned not just smart marketing by the team's owners but also our new president and what Obama likes to call "this moment"—a moment of re-engagement with the world (and, hence, the sport it far prefers to any other); a moment of new openness to things we've thought couldn't be done (like selling out nine straight soccer games at Qwest field); a moment for a high quotient of teamwork (which soccer provides more elegantly than football, more consistently than baseball, and without the number of self-obsessed primadonnas one finds in basketball).

It's a nice theory. You want it to be right. Maybe it is. Maybe Barack Obama did, in some unquantifiable way, help to create the cultural moment in which the Seattle Sounders could take off.

But I have a few other theories and I'll float some of them here on Slog this week. Meanwhile, if you have a better explanation for why the Sounders have become such a big fucking deal, I'd love to hear it.


Comments (35) RSS

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StillNon 1
Don't float your theories. Nobody cares, and it isn't that amazing that a small number of seats (a fraction of capacity at that field) have sold out.
Posted by StillNon on May 18, 2009 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Abby 2
The New York Times had a decent article on it several weeks ago, and I somewhat liked their theory- the idea is that it's based in Seattle's perception of itself as not quite the same as other American cities. I don't want to say more alternative because that sounds utterly ridiculous, but different. And an extremely visible way to set yourself apart from the rest of the country is to throw support behind a soccer team. That's not how stereotypical America does it, and that's why we want it.
Posted by Abby on May 18, 2009 at 11:48 AM · Report this
Because it's not football season.
Posted by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee on May 18, 2009 at 11:48 AM · Report this
boxofbirds 4
People like scarves.
Posted by boxofbirds on May 18, 2009 at 11:48 AM · Report this
1) all other sports teams in seattle suck, the sounders just happen to suck the least at the moment 2) the giant xbox logos
Posted by Swearengen on May 18, 2009 at 11:50 AM · Report this
Baconcat 6
There are people that like soccer.
There are people that will pay for tickets.
They intersect.
Posted by Baconcat on May 18, 2009 at 11:53 AM · Report this
spoiler alert 7
dads like watching their kids do ANYTHING. fact. i don't know jack about soccer, but i know about parents.
Posted by spoiler alert on May 18, 2009 at 11:53 AM · Report this
I am going to go with because its fun.
Posted by giffy on May 18, 2009 at 11:56 AM · Report this
Because Seattle is full of pretentious ass hats that think being liberal and progressive means liking soccer.

@2: Of course Seattle would like to think of itself as some European paradise. Except you have to ignore the fact that its a sprawled out mess with barely any public transportation sliding way behind New England as the most progressive area of the country. Just within the NW Portland has Seattle beat for being outside of the normal American feel.

It could also have to do with Seattle having only two other teams left and them both being subpar.
Posted by cbc on May 18, 2009 at 11:56 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
Yeah, we know, all you media types don't get why Seattle loves the Sounders and why we don't want to listen to your pathetic attempts to make us broke by going to NFL games instead of real football like the Sounders play.

Posted by Will in Seattle on May 18, 2009 at 11:58 AM · Report this
levide 11
Can we please stop calling it 'soccer' now?
Posted by levide on May 18, 2009 at 11:59 AM · Report this
Hernandez 13
@5 and 9

I've got to step in and point out the fact that your "all other Seattle teams suck" mantra ignores recent history.

Since 1999, the Seattle Seahawks have had 5 division titles, 6 playoff appearances, 4 playoff victories and 1 NFC Championship. That's hardly subpar; in fact, it's better than most other teams in the NFL over the last decade.

*sigh* the problem is that everyone here is a fair-weather fan, and thus loses all hope, enthusiasm and memory of past success as soon as a team loses a few games. I really hope that doesn't happen to the Sounders once they (inevitably) have a lousy season sometime down the road.
Posted by Hernandez on May 18, 2009 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Good Grief 14
They got off to a pretty amazing start. The tickets are very reasonably priced, especially in comparison to Seahawks or Mariners games, so they they sold a lot of season tickets.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season goes now that their performance has significantly leveled off.

At this point I am leaning toward not renewing my season tickets for next year just because I am tired of having to stand up for the whole game when virtually nothing is going on most of the time. That, and the jerkoff PA guy.
Posted by Good Grief on May 18, 2009 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Cascadian 15
@11, the word "soccer" dates to the 1880s, about 20 years after the sport was invented. "Football" refers to several different sports including American football, Australian football, and both kinds of rugby (and that's hardly an exhaustive list). In each country "football" is used to refer to the most common form of football played in that country.

If you want "football" to become the common term here for association football, you'll have to wait until it's more popular than that other kind of football. Good luck, you'll be waiting a loooong time.
Posted by Cascadian on May 18, 2009 at 12:11 PM · Report this
Abby 16
@12: yeah, Christiano Ronaldo isn't exactly known for his humility. I could rattle off a whole list of ridiculous international soccer divas, both who are amazing and who think they are. And @9, I was talking about the perception about Seattle that residents have, so your bitching is pointless. (And Portland can blow me.)

Also, going to games is a lot of fun. I'm going to my first away game this weekend.
Posted by Abby on May 18, 2009 at 12:11 PM · Report this
Hernandez 18
@10 Will, if talking shit about the Seahawks is the only way you can justify the popularity of the Sounders, then you're obviously not very confident in the long term viability of MLS in Seattle.

@11 No. This is America, we call it "soccer" here, because we already have a homegrown sport that we call "football".
Posted by Hernandez on May 18, 2009 at 12:11 PM · Report this
Cascadian 19
Also, of course Seattleites are fair-weather fans. We have a moderate climate and natural beauty of all kinds within easy reach of the city (and inside it). It's tempting to go cycling or hiking or skiing or sailing or any other number of active sporting activities rather than sit at home and watch a mediocre team on TV.
Posted by Cascadian on May 18, 2009 at 12:14 PM · Report this
Rotten666 20
At my pub a bunch of the regulars have become rabid soccer fans. They come out with their fancy scarves and whatnot. There is definitely a type that has embraced the sport, that's for sure. But this Obama theory is just liberal intellectual masturbation.l
Posted by Rotten666 on May 18, 2009 at 12:14 PM · Report this
Abby 21
And, also, it's just fun. The games are fun live, they're fun at a pub, etc. At this moment it feels inclusive and exuberant and enjoyable. It's new and interesting. It's for everyone- young drunks, families, respectable adults, etc. I do worry a little bit if Seattle's notoriously fickle fans can keep it up, but I do know that there's a well-organized backbone of support that should prevent us from becoming Dallas, and a smart management team who know how to make things work. People are always going to bitch, but why let them spoil the fun?
Posted by Abby on May 18, 2009 at 12:24 PM · Report this
I like soccer in general, I played as a kid, the tickets are reasonably priced, the schedule is easy on my schedule, the quality of play is reasonably high, the players are beautiful, the stand-all-game-and-sing type atmosphere reminds me of going to my college football games. Why the hell wouldn't I get season tickets (and have plans to renew next year)?
Posted by Sean on May 18, 2009 at 12:28 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 23
So when you putting up the seasons tickets for sale @14?

Lots of people would snap em up.

I'll just get in my jalopy with my bear skin coat and pork pie hat ... since we never change what we call games, right old chap? Have you heard about the new stick ball league - good show, that!
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 18, 2009 at 12:30 PM · Report this
I suppose it has to be said:…

Posted by on May 18, 2009 at 12:39 PM · Report this
The Pacific Northwest takes pride in "being a little bit different."

Own it.
Posted by PC on May 18, 2009 at 12:55 PM · Report this
How about the massive year long media blitz, early community buy in opportunities and the fact that another team left town? I'd say it's more a fact of a really effective marketing campaign and the vacuum created when the Sonics got sent off packing. No soccer team prior has done so much advertising or ran such an effective media campaign.
Posted by badempire on May 18, 2009 at 12:57 PM · Report this
kid icarus 27
When I lived in the Bay Area, I used to watch the Quakes all the time. When I lived in Chicago, I would go and watch the Fire play (at Soldier Field no less). Now that Seattle has an MLS team, I'm thrilled to have that part of my life back again. Not only is soccer the only spectator sport that I have ever enjoyed watching, but there's a lot more motivation to actively participate when a civic pride component is involved. It's nice to support a local team, get to know the players, and be a part of the fans in your own town.
Posted by kid icarus on May 18, 2009 at 12:58 PM · Report this
Seattle supported the original Sounders in a big way, and the Seattle area has more people per capita playing rec soccer than almost anywhere in the country. Those people like to watch higher level soccer. No grand theories needed.
Posted by Postureduck on May 18, 2009 at 1:04 PM · Report this
Oh, and the Sounders play in a downtown stadium, unlike most MLS teams, which have theirs out in the exurbs.
Posted by Postureduck on May 18, 2009 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Rotten666 30
@28 most of the people I see watching have never kicked a soccer ball in their lives.
Posted by Rotten666 on May 18, 2009 at 1:30 PM · Report this
@16: "And portland can blow me". I second that.

All the sounders success is due to Kasey Kellers Blog:
Posted by JoshMahar on May 18, 2009 at 2:12 PM · Report this
@35: some of us enjoy the sport AND like to watch cute boys run around on a field.
Posted by Sean on May 18, 2009 at 3:48 PM · Report this
I don't understand it. Roller Derby as represented by the Rat City Rollergirls round here has just as much teamwork as soccer, is experiencing rapid growth worldwide, and is far more cool rock and roll gonzo than soccer, but doesn't have nearly as many latte sipping fairweathers cheering it on.
Posted by neo-realist on May 18, 2009 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 38


oops, sorry, got caught up again, never mind.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 18, 2009 at 4:07 PM · Report this
#35 - the stadium has yet to sell out.
Posted by Reader on May 18, 2009 at 5:38 PM · Report this
Greg 40
@39: You're still on about this? Kill yourself, please.
Posted by Greg on May 21, 2009 at 8:34 AM · Report this
Roller Derby is great if you want to be surrounded by a bunch of people congratulating themselves and each other on how cool, hip and counter-culture they are. The term 'poseur' was coined specifically for such venues. What a joke!

The premise that you can somehow draw some broad conclusion about the city of Seattle which will in turn explain the ability to sell X number of tickets to soccer games is a bit daft from the start. I'm sure all of the offered theories explain away some portion of the ticket sales/fervor. Maybe Seattle is just a place that has a nice confluence of all those things in greater numbers that some other cities, but at some point the hype just feeds on itself and becomes something other. Whether it maintains its current momentum remains to be seen, but there's really no need to explain it or apologize for it. Moving 32,000 tickets to a weekend sporting event in a metro area with a population of over 3 million doesn't really seem that mystical to me.
Posted by rgh on May 28, 2009 at 10:56 AM · Report this

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