seattle sounders fc – ownership gets it right

In the 2006 off-season, the San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston.

There were two reasons for the move. San Jose ownership struggled to obtain funding for a soccer-specific stadium and MLS wants to expand into the Hispanic community. So a move to Houston made sense.

That is until the name of the new team was revealed – Houston 1836. The Hispanic community was deeply offended by this name as it reminds them of a battle between the US and Mexico that took place in Texas in 1836.

Rather than bringing the Hispanic community to MLS, the name choice was a PR nightmare and less than 2 months later, Houston picked a new name [that I think is equally lame] called the ‘Houston Dynamo’. Houston promptly won the next two MLS Cups, in 2006 and 2007.

It seemed that history was going to repeat itself in 2008, when MLS announced that an expansion team would begin play in 2009 in Seattle. A few weeks after the announcement, 14,500 fans already plunked down deposits for season tickets.

There is a long history of professional soccer in Seattle. The NASL and USL both had teams in Seattle. The name ‘Sounders’ was used for both of these teams that combined for over 20 years of soccer.

So, with the announcement of the MLS team, the assumption was that the team would be called the ‘Sounders’.

Unfortunately, some corporate marketing drone thought “we need a new direction”. MLS Commish Don Garber chimed in, saying that ‘He did not support the use of the Sounders name’.

Fans were disappointed because one member of the star-packed ownership group, Drew Carey publicly stated that the fans would ‘have a say’ in how their soccer club is run – this is not uncommon in other countries.

In an attempt to follow through on this commitment, the Sounders decided to let the fans vote on one of three names. The trouble was that none of the choices included the wildly popular ‘Sounders’ name. They were terrible choices:

  • Seattle Alliance
  • Seattle Republic
  • Seattle FC

After an uproar from MLS fans, not just in Seattle, the ownership group included a ‘write in’ option.

This was a smart move because 50% of the votes went to the write-in option that included the Sounders name.

The ownership group settled on Seattle Sounders FC.

This was a significant milestone in the brief 13-year history of MLS. They have often cited that they are a league who cares about the fans. Well, letting your fans get a chance to create the new team name is stunning, given the world of uber-marketing that has become American culture.

Normally, a group of marketing drones would run around doing ‘focus groups’ to see which of the three [lame] choices were most acceptable. Instead, they took a leap of faith an listened to their impassioned supporters. In choosing a popular name, it will result in the team selling many, many more items with the name Seattle Sounders FC instead of ‘Seattle Alliance’.

The Sounders ownership gets major kudos for this bravery. Too bad more companies do not listen so carefully to their customers.

One thought on “seattle sounders fc – ownership gets it right

  1. Too true. This is a great example of a marketing group trying to spoon feed a demographic on the fact that they know better than their users on what the users want.

    Hopefully the MLS and future owners will continue to learn from these examples, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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