2002 Aug 21

From the South County Journal printed edition:

Sounders to Hawks stadium? Maybe

Soccer team still talking to First & Goal about playing there in 2003

By Mark Moschetti
Journal reporter

SEATTLE - Will Saturday night's regular-season finale in Seattle Memorial Stadium be the last regular-season game the Seattle Sounders ever play in that facility?

Too soon to tell. But talks apparently are progressing, albeit slowly, with First & Goal for the A-League pro soccer team to move into brand-new Seahawks Stadium starting next summer.

"There isn't a huge sense of urgency," Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. "My hunch is the longer they wait, they'll have a few Seahawks games under their belt, and they’ll understand their costs a little better.

"They're probably just moving slowly to make sure they don't make a decision they regret."

There's no question the Sounders would love to get into this new place and out of 55-year-old Seattle Memorial. If there was even a dollop of doubt, that was blown away on July 28 when the Sounders played the first-ever game in Seahawks Stadium, rolling to a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in front of 25,515 fans.

"We had a great time seeing them play here on July 28," said Suanne Pelley, the communications manager for First and Goal. "The event went well, and it seemed like the public responded well."

"I think it opened some eyes," Hanauer said. "Within our organization, we were pretty positively surprised, as well. It's clear, if the Sounders played there, there would be good support."

The Sounders had hoped to put their upcoming playoff games into Seahawks Stadium, but those plans broke down. And for a while, some were wondering whether they'd ever get to play there again.

But Hanauer is keeping his hopes up, while First & Goal is keeping its options open.

"I would hesitantly say chances are better than 50-50 (that something will be worked out)," Hanauer said. "We started the process early, so we're obviously a year or nine months away (from the start of the 2003 season)."

Added Pelley, "We have a proposal we’re looking at right now. But it's just too early (to say)."

To bolster their position, the Sounders stuck a brief questionnaire into their game-day programs earlier this month, asking fans if they would consider purchasing season tickets should games be moved to Seahawks Stadium. Hanauer termed the response "decent," but said the team hasn't followed up on it yet.

"I think we've got, at least on paper, commitments to the north of 500 season tickets," he said, adding that this year's total is just a few hundred. "If we can get to more than 1,000 season ticket (commitments), it starts to make sense for us economically to move.

"A lot of the feedback we're getting is people saying, 'Please, move to Seahawks Stadium.' Emotionally, we'd absolutely love to play there. But we can't go backward in our efforts to improve the long-term financial viability of our club."

Hanauer understands that the Seahawks need to go forward, as well, and that's why the Sounders aren't at the top of First & Goal's priority list.

"They can generate significantly more profitability through one or two other big events rather than a (full) season with the Sounders," he acknowledged. "I certainly am cognizant of their dilemma and their need to want that facility to make money."

* Midway soccer stadium: The Sounders' plans to build a soccer center — including a stadium, several fields and an indoor facility — on the site of the Midway landfill are also making slow progress.

"We're getting to that point over the next 30 to 90 days that we need to figure out who, if anyone, is going to pay for it," Hanauer said. "The City of Kent, the City of Seattle and the Sounders, everyone is making some compromises."

The estimated cost for the facility is $20 million.