Seattle Sounders FC doesn't expect its Major League Soccer attendance records to last long.
The club has begun planning for next season, and every indication is that demand for tickets will again exceed supply – even an increased supply.
“It’s going to be big,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “The one thing I can tell you is that through some initial season-ticket polling, a very, very large percentage have said that they’re almost certain to renew. Many of those have said that they want more tickets. And we have a very, very healthy waiting list right now.”
Those renewal numbers and that waiting list of more than 6,000 has the Sounders leaning toward an expanded Qwest Field seating configuration.
“We haven’t decided 100 percent,” Hanauer said. “But the area of highest consideration is the Hawks Nest. If we increase capacity, I would say that is currently the most likely direction.”
The Hawks Nest is the wedge-shaped section of 2,200 bench-type seats in the north end zone. This season, that area has been covered by a tarp advertising X-box 360 Live, the club’s jersey sponsor.
Turning that area into seating would mark the Sounders’ second capacity increase since they started play in March. The club played in an expanded configuration on opening day, then settled in with an approximate capacity of 27,700. After 10 consecutive sellouts, the capacity was increased to the current 32,400 by removing tarp from six sections of the south end zone.
The sellouts continued, and MLS attendance records are tumbling. The Sounders have played to 14 consecutive home sellouts and are building on their MLS-record streak of 14 consecutive games drawing 28,000 or more.
They have drawn a total of 430,347 to 14 home games – an average of 30,739. When the Sounders return for their final home game against FC Dallas on Oct. 24 – which is already sold out – they will officially break the Los Angeles Galaxy’s MLS record set in 1996 for average attendance (28,916) and total home attendance (462,650 over 16 games).
Those are regular-season numbers and do not include the state-record soccer crowd of 66,848 for the Sounders-FC Barcelona friendly on Aug. 5, or the 65,289 for the Sounders-Chelsea friendly on July 18. Both were included as part of the Sounders’ 18-game season-ticket plan.
The club’s ticket package is probably going to offer 18 games again next season: one game against each of the other 15 MLS teams, and three yet to be determined.
The club has a handful of world-class clubs in mind. And the Sounders also could include the one guaranteed home game they will play in the 2010 CONCACAF Champions League – an honor they clinched by winning the 2009 U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s possible that could be part of the season-ticket package,” Hanauer said. “But we’re finalizing that right now. We wanted to get through the Open Cup, see whether we won. Now we know we have a Champions League game, and our director of ticketing is putting the finishing touches on the season-ticket package.”
The league schedule will be announced early next year – although the home opener is expected be announced this week.
The Sounders hope for a better-balanced 2010 schedule. Partly because the Sounders share the stadium with the NFL’s Seahawks, the 2009 schedule was heavily front-loaded with home games. Three of the first four games were played at Qwest. And while that helped the Sounders’ fast start, they are paying the price now. Their game Saturday at New England starts a stretch of three road games in the next four.
“We are hopeful that we are going to be able to balance it a little bit better,” Hanauer said. “That was one of our objectives with this next schedule is to not end up with (so many road games). And also, we prefer Saturday evenings as much as possible, so that will factor into what the schedule looks like. But we have a good sense of the Mariners schedule now, the Seahawks filling in, and now we can start to put it all together.”
Hanauer also spoke about a few MLS topics:
• On whether the sellout streak will continue through the playoffs: “I don’t know. No one’s come before us and really paved the way. Even Toronto, we don’t know what’s going to happen if they make the playoffs. I think we’re always adequately paranoid and humbled by what could or couldn’t be. But we’re hopeful. I think it’s pretty clear that our fans have a pretty strong connection and are passionate, knowledgeable and are following. We’re hopeful that if we make the playoffs, this thing is going to be even bigger. But you never know.”
• On whether a grass surface will be installed at Qwest: “I don’t think so. Given the use. Given the way the stadium was built and some of the challenges relative to sunlight and keeping the field pristine. Also the fact that obviously there’s a pretty big NFL team that plays here and their preference on surface certainly carries a lot of weight. We’re happy with the surface. We think it’s a great FieldTurf field. At the margins, is grass perhaps a little desired? Sure. But I’d rather play on this field than a mediocre grass field.”
• On the MLS decision to take a two-week break during group play of the 2010 World Cup: “I think it’s another step in the right direction for our league. It was a discussion at the competition-committee level and then the board of governors. I think it’s great. Those players that play can go without worrying about their club team. Staffs can actually go to the World Cup for a while and not leave things a complete mess at home during a bunch of games.”
• On why the league won’t break for the entire World Cup: “It’s just not possible in our current format. It wouldn’t have made sense for us to take a month-long break. You’d effectively have had to have a new preseason. We have too many games in too short a period of time to try to cram that many more into a shorter time period.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
CROWDED: A look at some key attendance figures for the Seattle Sounders:
14 Consecutive matches at Qwest Field with more than 28,000 fans, an MLS record.
30,739 Seattle’s average home attendance through 14 games.
66,848 Fans who attended Sounders’ friendly against FC Barcelona on Aug. 5.
2,200 Additional seats to be added for 2010 if Sounders open the Hawks Nest.