In Part 1 of his article Sonics and the Sounders – Friendly Competition but Nothing to Fear looking at the consequences of NBA Basketball returning to Seattle, Prost “Other Sports” Correspondent Michael Ligot examined the logistics.
In Part 2, he examines the battle for hearts, minds and wallets.
Space in the Playground – The Battle for our Passion
If you can’t measure passion, that means there’s plenty of room for Seattle NBA and NHL fans to join in with the Sounders’ monstrous following, not to mention the Seahawks’ notorious “12th. Man” and, yes, even Mariners’ crowds in good years like 2001. Forget about cannibalization. Basketball and hockey love envelope Puget Sound, and shouldn’t affect the soccer fan base.
Roundball grassroots run deep here.
Area high schools boast strong traditions, from the legendary Garfield-Franklin rivalry to Mercer Island’s suburban dominance. Washington’s men point to a number of lengthy “March Madness” runs, the women’s team is a consistent national power, and Seattle University looks to return to the days when it beat the Huskies in cross-town classics.
The impressive roster of local prep and collegiate players who made good in the NBA include Clint Richardson, Spencer Hawes, Isaiah Thomas, Brandon Roy, and Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor. Oh, yes, the Sonics …
The Supersonics reintroduced major-league sports to comparatively small Seattle in the late 1960s, and in the face of the one-year baseball Pilots’ disaster, maintained the city’s sporting pride until the NASL Sounders, Seahawks and Mariners arrived in the mid-’70s.
The Supes also enthralled Seattle by winning the city’s first pro league championship since the Metropolitans, and that 1979 flag remains the most recent. Despite a scattered few off-years, the Sonics maintained strong crowds the next decades, particularly in the surprising 1987 Western Conference final playoff run and a return to the NBA Finals in 1996.
Only from 2006 to 2008, when it became clear new owner Clay Bennett intended to relocate the franchise to Oklahoma City, did Sonic attendance plummet, and you can’t blame the dispirited fans in that lame duck situation. With a fresh team, intelligent ownership (which Hansen seems guaranteed to provide) and a new arena, the Sonics fans could once again make it “Boom Time In Seattle!”
They would be welcomed back by other fans that never quite understood how the Seattle market was abandoned for Oklahoma City.
And then there’s hockey, a sport that drips passion from the players’ soaked jerseys and the fans pounding on the Plexiglass around the rink. The NHL is a clear fourth in America’s team sports geography, but intensity of the game’s following betrays the statistic. The league lost an entire season to a labor dispute, and yet the fans still returned! They’re even coming back after this season’s lockout, the third (THIRD!!) since 1994. Loyalty? You betcha.
Seattle’s passion for hockey? It certainly has the pedigree. (Here’s the 10-minute verison: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BROy2xyt0ik&list=FLlALuAJ5T8kk-jm-ym-qBcw)
The Metropolitans carried the flag for West Coast pro hockey in the pre-NHL days, and the beloved Totems often outdrew the Sonics while dueling the Portland Buckaroos, Oakland Seals and the like.
Even though the WHL Thunderbirds (neé Breakers) have enjoyed just sporadic success, they’ve given the NHL notable players like Patrick Marleau, Brendan Witt, Ryan Walter, and Ken Daneyko, who won three Stanley Cups and had his number retired by the New Jersey Devils.
And though they’ve toned it down in recent years with more kids and families in attendance, the fans can still replicate the volume of the days when they rocked the chain links around the tiny Seattle Center Arena rink and unleashed language that would shock the Timbers Army.
Locals pay attention to the NHL, and have pined for the league to come to the Emerald City. The league certainly should have noticed the impressively large numbers of youth and adult rec-league players for a city outside the circuit.
Don’t take this to mean that the Sonics and hypothetical NHL Totems’ fans wouldn’t have enough room for the Sounders. Despite the occasional snarky Internet troll and wiseacre sports talk host, the soccer team enjoys a prominent place in Seattle’s sports landscape.
The attendance numbers many European teams would kill for show that. The basketball and hockey people here know about the soccer atmosphere that’s so similar to their noise-filled palladiums, and sports fans know a good time when they see — and hear — it. Crossover will happen. There’s always time for another game, yes?
So, Sounders fans should not worry when the new boys ride into town. The games will rarely overlap, and the lovers of the hardcourt and the ice likely won’t siphon soccer attendance. Passion plays here.
And as for me … I know firsthand the Seattle hoops and pucks mania. I remember portable TVs set up at my Cub Scout troop meeting when the Sonics won it all in 1979, I’ve been to more than a hundred Thunderbirds games, and I’ve flown as far away as Miami to see the NHL.
Until the league comes here, let’s go Florida Panthers!