Just like Levis Stadium, I had been looking forward to this moment for a long time as today I was finally able to experience a Seattle Sounders game at CenturyLink Field and witness the incredible best practice fan engagement that so many of my peers have talked about in the past.
Staying nearby in Seattle’s Chinatown district, I started the day early with a pre-game walk around the stadium at 11am and it was good to see that while the Seahawks might be the bigger team in town, the stadium pays homage to both them and the Sounders with wall features and fan photo opportunities throughout the stadium’s exterior. Although with 55,000 fans here today it’s obvious that Seattle loves it’s sports teams.
The Occidental Road that the one of the main stands is on features no less than three merchandise stores and on game day sees local food trucks and Seattle food dominate the strip. Compared to an EPL game in the UK, one thing you’re always going to get in the US at an MLS game on a match day is better quality food on your walk to the stadium or around the stadium. This area would later see roasted corn, dumplings, BBQ meats, gourmet hotdogs and much more which is all allowed into the stadium and which is something that is not normally a given at stadiums around the world. A bonus for fans this might be but the food inside the stadium was equally impressive and tasty with garlic fries, hot pastrami sandwiches, BBQ Ribs and rice bowls all on sale.
After talking to some fans over some tantalising Washington craft beers at a local bar, I ventured back to the stadium to soak up the pre-game fan engagement that was on offer.
Today was going to be a pretty epic day in terms of fan engagement if the game day info note that the Sounders put out on Twitter earlier in the day was anything to go by. This is what the Sounders had on offer for fans today in terms of just giveaways:
Presenting sponsor of the match SUBWAY® Restaurants of Western Washington is giving away 10,000 SUBWAY® Sounders FC beanies and 30,000 SUBWAY® yellow cards at stadium gates (while supplies last). Additional Fan Appreciation Day giveaways include the following:
- Twenty (20) $15 Starbucks Gift Cards
- 200 adidas full-size soccer balls
- One (1) autographed Lamar Neagle jersey, provided by adidas
- 250 CenturyLink & Sounders FC scarves
- 250 Chipotle buy-one-get-one Burrito certificates
- Twenty (20) McDonald’s $25 Arch Cards
- Twenty (20) Starbucks $15 gift cards
- Twenty (20) SUBWAY® $5 gift cards
- One (1) SUBWAY® $250 gift card
- One (1) Tirebuyer.com $500 credit toward a set of new Continental Tires
- Two (2) Tirebuyer.com $150 credits toward a set of new Continental Tires
- 100 Free ‘zaw Artisan Bake-at-Home Pumpkin Patch Pizza Certificates
I was able to pick up a free Sounders shirt from sponsor Jeep, some free sunnies from sponsor Microsoft, a free coconut water and free lip balm as well as some free Sounders stickers all of which were added bonuses and mementos from what would prove to be an exceptional fan experience and day out in Seattle. The free shirt giveaway gave fans the chance to win a car by being chosen at random by wearing the shirt in the stadium.
I took in the talented Sounders big band ’SoundWave’ who performed to a delighted crowd outside the stadium and had a few good chats with fans about the fan experience here. Many fans noted that while they could watch the Sounder’s games at home and had done so in the past, coming here was better as ‘you’re feeding off everyone’s energy’.
Listen to the Sounders band, ‘SoundWave’ here:
At 3pm I left the stadium area and made my way to Occidental Park which was about three blocks away from the stadium. Here is where the whole culture of what being a fan is all about takes place. This is the epicentre of fan love for a team as it’s the place where the Sounders fans have their famous march to the stadium. I’ve participated in many team marches in the past from A-League and EPL teams however this Sounders march was something to behold. The noise was almost unbearable as I joined the march at the front of the line and started the walk towards CenturyLink Field singing songs that I was learning on the spot from a helpful fan who handed me a chant cheat sheet.
These are some of the nicest and most welcoming fans as they grab fans and get them to join in the marching and singing to the stadium. The march has become famous in the sports business and fan engagement world and I was grateful to finally experience this in the flesh. Banners were waving, kids were screaming ‘Go Sounders’ at the top of their lungs and smiles were on every face I checked as I wandered along in front of the pack.
Listen to the Sounders pre-game march to the stadium:
Listen to more of the Sounders marching to CenturyLink Field:
While the forecourt area around the stadium was pumping albeit in some wet and windy weather, it was now just after 3pm and I decided to make my way to my seat inside the stadium to lap up the pre-game entertainment. I could not believe that of all the famous Seattle bands, that Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready performed the US national anthem solo on electric guitar. Of all the national anthem’s I had witnessed in the past fortnight, this was the best. It was fun, it was unique, it was rocking! It’s these type of moments when fans are left with that unexpected but delighted look on their face. That money can’t buy experience that you can’t get at home on your TV screen. You had to be here to see it as it was fantastic.
Listen to Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready perform the US anthem here:
Inside the stadium there was an inflatable soccer field for the kids, a skills test wall where fans could try to slot a ball into the corner, a giant Sounders jersey useful for a photo opportunity, free programs which were being handed out along with a Subway ‘Yellow Card’ offer for a free meal. While I love the informative and lengthy £3.50 EPL programs, it’s always nice to walk into a stadium and be able to receive a free program and some other sponsor offers not to mention all the other freebies I picked up. Here’s a sponsor giveaway idea for stadiums…..a grocery type recyclable bag! My pockets were jammed at many of the matches I went to on this trip and a small recyclable bag would have been good.
Scarves Up! was the call and Sounders fans rallied together to raise and shake their scarves in the air as the team came out to play.
I purchased a craft beer (always good to see inside the US stadiums instead of the general beers) and noticed the fans purchasing food and beers with their Sounders ‘Match Pass’ which enables them to rack up points and use their membership card to buy drinks, food, merchandise and tickets. Fans can also earn points and redeem these for one of a kind Sounders experiences. Select fans were also given free stubby coolers (or Koozies as they call them here) with the use of a special Sounders and American Express card. The Match Pass Sounders app also lets fans view play by play and stats from each game which comes in handy for fans during the game.
As the pre-game entertainment started to cease before the match I thought it was great to see the crowd participation between the ground announcer and the crowd as he announced the Sounders team line up and called out their first name while the crowd yelled back the player’s surname. It was something small but it greatly added to the positive vibes and the decibels. The same could be said for when the announcer called out the Sounder’s goal scorers (The Sounders were up 3-0 inside 20 minutes!) and the crowd responded with the surnames. It was loud here and these fans, all 55,000 of them, were energetic, passionate and enthusiastic which all makes a teams job a bit easier on game day.
Listen to the ground announcer and fans here:
There were loads of fun fan engagement activations throughout the game. For instance, as a result of the Sounders scoring three goals, all fans were awarded with a free haircut from a local chain hairdressers. I’ve seen these sponsor led deals before however I’ve never been sure how they work. There were 55,000 fans here today, so do 55,000 fans get free haircuts on Monday? I’ll research this and update the blog but suffice to say I was not able to get mine due to flying to Las Vegas early the next day. Fans were able to participate in trivia and guessing games on the big screen, a fan was celebrated for designing the 2016 Sounders scarf design, fans were encouraged to donate a scarf to a charity appeal and the ‘Smile Cam’ was a cool take on the tried and tested ‘Dance Cam’ which focused in on fans smiles around the ground. This again illustrates that fan engagement can be as simple as focusing a camera on fans smiles and there’s nothing more positive than seeing a smile!
Fans were also able to participate in the cross bar challenge with one fan able to hit it which garnered a large applause around the stadium while other fans were awarded with prizes for being in ‘lucky seats’. Selfies from Instagram were also showcased on the big screens over the course of the day while the SoundWave band performed from their dedicated area to the cheers of the Sounders faithful.
Everything that I had heard about the Sounders fan experience and that of Bart Wiley’s exceptional leadership in this area proved to ring true. This was fan experience and fan engagement at its best from the Sounders. I’m grateful that I was finally able to witness the march to the stadium and experience the fan appreciation round which showcased the very best of the Sounders outstanding fan experience.
Listen to the fans cheering on the Sounders: