Seattle Sounders: How They Fill Stadium Seats

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Bloomberg's Jeffrey Hayzlett travels to Seattle to find out how an MLS franchise is filling an NFL stadium. (Source: Bloomberg)

How can we be successful in seattle?

We partnered with the seattle seahawks.

We are one staff.

What are you doing to put the butts in the feet?

It is what they are doing.

There are millions of kids playing in the seattle area.

It is cool to be a sounders fan.

20 years from now, the only way to get a ticket is you inherit it when your father dies.

I am jeffrey hayzlett.

I am on a journey inside the biggest brands in america.

I have been a cmo, a ceo and a bordering cowboy.

Now i am visiting the executives in charge of the most powerful companies in the world.

To see how they chuckle -- tackle the challenges of the c- suite.

[cheering] we are in seattle.

In undergrad music, caffeine, coffee shops, some of the major brands in history.

Mcchrystal croissant, starbucks, boeing.

We are here to talk to one of the newest additions.

The seattle sender and, based -- sounders, a soccer team.

They are moving more tickets than any other team.

They are doubling the attendance of the next best mls team.

That says something.

Are we had a major tipping point?

Are the kids that grew up on soccer and big enough audience to tap into?

I want to find out how they are doing it.

How are they beating the odds, filling an nfl stadium every single home game?

We are talking about soccer.

Not baseball, not football, soccer.

This isn't madrid, it is not barcelona, it is not manchester.

These guys are putting butts in seats.

When you look at the executive team, it is a crossbreed of the seahawks and the sounders.

How does that work?

Why aren't any other teams doing the same?

To build a fan base the a democracy.

The fans vote on the gm.

That is unheard of.

I want to know who is in that c- suite.

I want to talk to joe roth, a motion picture executive.

Soccer has failed here time and time again.

What are they putting in the coffee that makes it work in seattle?

I am headed to the seattle sounders practice field.

I want to sit down with the team's general manager and find out why soccer in seattle is succeeding today even though it failed here and in other american cities in the past.

When we look at the team, they didn't just start once.

It started a couple times.

This team has an interesting history.

It started way back in the 70's with the north american soccer league.

When we started the mls version of the sounders, there hadn't been high-level professional soccer for 25 years.

There is a really strong background in soccer here.

More kids per capita play soccer in washington state than just about every other state in the nation.

We are sitting here and behind us is a youth team.

How important is the development of that future fan base for you?

It is huge.

This is why we have gone all the way down to 13-year-olds in our academy.

There are millions of kids playing.

Many of those kids who started playing are now staying with it.

In high school, maybe they would try other sports.

It is part of the culture here.

It is cool to be a sounders fan.

It is important that we have support.

There was all this pent-up demand for that high-level of product.

The team of four really was a minor-league team in a major- league market.

With the partnership from the seahawks and that whole business group, the next morning we really were a major-league team.

That perception changed things overnight.

This partnership allows you to think bigger?


One day, we made the announcement, "and for people to sign up -- opened up the phones for people to sign up.

The sounders benefit from a partnership with the seattle seahawks leveraging the support of one of the most desirable brands in the world.

The nfl.

Good to see you.

Every business executive wants to be successful.

One of the steps you do to make that happen question mark -- to make that happen?

How can we be successful in seattle?

We partnered up with the seattle seahawks.

People in this building, most of them were seahawks employees working on the sounders side of things.

Do you have a time where you say, i am on the sounders side and the seahawks are doing things that are good for me?


that is the beauty of working in this building.

There is a very collaborative effort with smart ambitious people who actually care about soccer as much as football.

When i look at the jerseys here, i don't see a lot of american companies.

Yet we are trying to make it an american-based sport.

Is that difficult to sell?


They do a great job finding partners that want to work with an mls team.

Who are the folks in the operation that share jobs?

The majority of the organization from a record or partnerships to ticket sales, everybody collaborates together.

Where they really separate is on the technical side.

Scouting, training, staff like that.

That is where they are separate.

On the business side, from the president on down, we are one staff.

Where we have the most value is that we came in with a pretty robust database.

We came in with relationships.

If we have a relationship with a media outlet, those things are very helpful.

We didn't have to establish those.

Once we deliver the message, we try to be completely different.

There is no c-suite more revered than the sounders.

A group of investors planning their own franchise in oklahoma city have come to seattle to learn from the best.

What was the catalyst that got you to get on a plane and come to seattle from oklahoma to talk to these guys about looking at their model?

It was the organic growth.

We have been in this business for 15-20 years.

There is a lot of word-of-mouth about what they are doing here.

The partnership with the seahawks was crucial to the launch of the business.

Most mls teams -- we have more than that working on the sounders sitting in this building.

What was different than when you just started saying, we think it is going to be this and it turned out to be something different?

I think the sheer nature of an interest.

When we sat down to budget for season ticket holders, we had no idea we would get the 22,000. we now have 32,000. how are they connecting with their fan base?

The energy level and the traditions that go on within the game itself?

We have a thing called counsel.

Season-ticket numbers who get themselves voted on the council -- there are 41 of those people now -- they meet monthly and quarterly with ownership.

We think we have great ideas.

Those folks have often called us out on, what are you doing?

The more you can involve them and get them to buy in, the better off you are going to be.

Our key is to keep our fan base.

We decided every four years, my job is voted on.

I am on the line.

What am i looking at?

It is called the march of the match.

It gets very loud.

? a c-suite is responsible for success or failure.

For the sounders, one of the plans was handing over the brand to the fans.

It is a piece of the formula that works here.

We have season-ticket holders who get themselves voted onto council.

There are 41 of those people.

They meet monthly among themselves and quarterly with ownership.

They help us be the eyes and ears of the franchise.

If they think, i wish you would have involved us in season- ticket pricing for next year, let's talk to them.

Let's talk to them about, we are thinking about a price increase for next year.

We wanted our fans engaged.

We wanted to give them a true voice.

Every four years, my job is voted on.

I am on the line.

There are some other teams that do that.

Barcelona, madrid.

Innovation is partially creating new things and iterating on what is good from other organizations.

When we bought the major league soccer franchise back in 2007, there had been so much momentum at the league level, there were so many smart owners investing big amounts of money, we were sort of writing that momentum.

Then, we came into this market and just nailed a bunch of -- what are those things?

Other people about franchises and they are not on the same details.

Our key is to keep our fan base engaged and excited so that drives everything.

We have a forum by which we meet with our fans, representatives of the fans, to listen to those ideas.

Some of them are crazy and some of them are fantastic.

For instance, the march to the match which we do every -- before every game.

They came from our fans.

They had this idea and they wanted us to follow it.

Now everybody marches to the match an hour before the game.

Make some noise.

[cheering] a special night tonight.

First place is ours.

[cheering] it is game day and it is time to talk to the man whose vision spawned this entire sounders movement.

Majority owner, joe roth.

What am i looking at?

This is unique around the world.

Only for seattle.

It is called march to the match.

We have them before every single home game.

There is anywhere from 3000 to 8000 people.

From now on, it gets very loud.

[chanting] you basically brought a minor-league team -- a team that had been trying at a couple of different times.

What was the big change between the two?

I didn't pay much attention to the past.

I did my homework about seattle.

What i found out was it had the highest per capita youth soccer in the united states.

It had an oblique with 60,000 people.

Its minor-league team was growing -- drawing a thousand people while other teams were drawing 1000. we sell twice as many tickets as any team in the united states.

We are in the top 20 in the world.

Completely unique in the united states.

[chanting] ura bottom line kind of guy.

We are in business.

You have to make money.

What are the conditions of satisfaction?

The team is worth four or five times in value what it was when we started five years ago.

What would you peg the value at now?

Somewhere between 120 and 150. the galaxy -- they don't sell more than 20,000 tickets.

We sell 44,000. that is an advertiser's dream.

Stand right here, we will be run over.

[chanting] is part of what you are doing not just a business but creating some kind of culture around the sport?

It is completely their game.

They named the team.

They can pick their own seats.

We have nothing to do with this march.

It is what they are doing.

It has been growing organically.

The whole thing has been a viral effort.

Now, it is worth five times what we started with.

I had no idea it was going to be this big.

Now, i can see that soccer is generational.

20 years from now, this will be like the washington redskins.

The only way to get a ticket is inherit it when your father dies.

What advice do you have for the other c-suites that are out there?

We lost 4-0 my second year.

I was so angry i gave everyone their money back.

For you, is it the emotion that is a big part of it?

Do you feel like it you don't have that connection, you shouldn't be in the game?


If you're not connected in that way, not willing to stand up here and be part of everything, then you are missing something.

It is about filling this lace up.

We knew that making a big investment in a big player, an american hero, would reinvigorate that fan base.

? life can become located.

Only one question remains.

Will they come?

To hear the executive telik, sounder fans are part of the organizations c-suite with decision-making power at every level of the operation.

I will talk to one fan two to find out how about his voice is heard.

How did you get involved?

Did you grow up playing and now you're a fan?

I grew up playing soccer when i was nine.

That is why this has been so successful.

All of us played soccer when we were kids.

When we grow up, we are sounder fans now.

You are one of the councilmembers here.

Do you feel that the management here listens to what you have to say?

They definitely do.

It is a unique thing in sports.

Nowhere else can fans -- you are in the c-suite.

What is the one thing you would tell them to change or do?

-- we knew that making a big investment in a big player, an american hero, would reinvigorate that fan base.

Does someone sit there in that discussion and say, what do you mean you want to send $6 million.

It was probably made.

You raised the question, do we want to spend this kind of money?

What kind of conversation occurred?

This is where our ownership group is super functional and collaborative and smart.

We talked it through.

We ran some financial knowledge and -- modeling.

It was, look, we want to bring this guy.

How do we justify it?

How do we make it work?

Like any business.

You made a big investment with clint dempsey.

When you make an investment like that, what are you looking for to make it back?

In this case, our big rival, the portland timbers were going to be here in august.

Within two days, we sold thousands of tickets.

They got in the stadium and saw the atmosphere that existed.

What are you going to tell them?

I am very happy as long as i get this trophy at the end of the year.

Does it make you want to be more of a fan because you're involved?


You have to get 25 votes from other season-ticket holders.

That means you get more involved.

This place is packed.

What does it make you feel like as a c-suite guy?

As a national fan, i feel great.

As a business guy, it makes me feel better.

What is like for the guys setting up in the suites?

That is a big business in itself.

They are all sold out.

When you put all these butts in the seats, the start looking at increasing the price?

So far, we have been very flat.

I think the game is very price sensitive.

I don't want to be the one who raises it and it goes down.

When you thought of this idea, buying this team that has been down twice and bringing it back, did you ever envision that it was going to look like this?


I don't let myself think like that.

I think, if we get 12,000 we will break even.

65,000, we are much better off.

Where are you going to squeeze in more seats?

We can't but they'll keep coming.

I don't need more people than that.

Most businesses see success in pie charts and diagrams.

The sounders see it in the stadium.

A stadium packed with people who paid for tickets, or buying food and merchandise, who are promoting the brand organically.

The team's c-suite is savvy.

They set up shop in a city rich with enthusiasts.

It partnered with an nfl team.

They let the brand loose.

They gave it to the fans.

? . .

This text has been automatically generated. It may not be 100% accurate.


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