By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
For the first time, the Sounders FC 2013 season-ticket package will include the 17 Major League Soccer regular-season games, but no international friendly.
Over their first four seasons, the Sounders have played host to international clubs Chelsea, Barcelona, Boca Juniors, Celtic, Chivas de Guadalajara and Manchester United.
On Tuesday, general manager Adrian Hanauer said such friendlies may continue to be scheduled, but they will not be part of the season package.
“We’ve listened to our fans,” he said. “We’ve heard – it’s, of course, mixed – but some of the feedback is ‘We’re way more interested in competitive games than exhibitions.’ … (So) we decided that we would just go with the 17-game season-ticket package. It doesn’t mean we won’t do a friendly. It’s still possible. But we would sell it as a one-off. Also, for us it helps a little bit not being locked in. If there’s a good opportunity with the right terms, we can do it.”
Hanauer said reaching acceptable terms could be easier if potential opponents don’t have the leverage of knowing that the Sounders already have sold such a game to their most-loyal fans. With that in mind, some visiting clubs have had more bargaining power when it came to dictating items such as natural-grass surfaces, game dates and times, and obligations within the community while in the region.
“It’s negotiating from a position of weakness,” Hanauer said. “We’d love to do those games in the future if the right team comes. But it’s got to be the right terms and the right situation for our club and our fans. We’re too proud and successful to not have more say in how the process plays out.”
In terms of attendance, the friendlies have been successful. Man U’s visit last season drew 67,052 – the largest soccer crowd ever in the Pacific Northwest.
This season, European champion Chelsea drew 53,309 to CenturyLink Field. However, that will rank as only the fourth-largest home crowd of the Sounders season, behind the 60,908 and 55,718 that showed up for MLS matches against Los Angeles and Vancouver, respectively, and less than the 62,000 tickets already sold for the Oct. 7 visit from the Portland Timbers.
The Sounders have led MLS in attendance in each of their four seasons and Hanauer said the club’s decision to drop friendlies from the season-ticket package makes it more likely that the upward attendance trend will continue.
“We think there’s a better opportunity by not requiring fans to buy into an 18th game that has a premium price on it to begin with and for which they don’t know what they’re buying,” he said. “We tell them to trust us, and eventually we get to a point where we’ve got a team to play against. (With three MLS crowds outdrawing) the Chelsea game … that sort of tells us that there’s plenty of opportunity to bulk up and improve with competitive games, not necessarily the friendlies.”
Before their 2009 expansion season, the Sounders announced that they would allow season-ticket holders and Alliance members to vote every four years on whether to retain the general manager. The club announced Tuesday that the first vote will run from Oct. 7 to Dec. 7. More information is available at www.SoundersFCVote.com. … Midfielder Mauro Rosales (quadriceps) trained fully on Tuesday and said he felt fine, according to coach Sigi Schmid. However, Schmid was not yet ready to confirm Rosales’ availability for the club’s Saturday match at Vancouver. The Sounders continue training for that match today.