The Seattle Sounders fancy themselves the class of MLS. The Seattle Sounders play on old, fake turf. Clearly we have a problem here.
Yesterday I explored the civic cost of CenturyLink Field. Today I’ll discuss the utility and value of CenturyLink Field solely as a stadium; that is, as a building that hosts sporting events.
I don’t need to tell you that CenturyLink Field, along with being the home of the Seahawks and Sounders, hosts conventions, concerts, and even Amazon Quidditch. As long as us taxpayers are footing the bill, it’s great we’re getting so much use out of the stadium. However. The stadium was built, first and foremost, to host football and soccer games and it is not living up to its promise.
If CenturyLink Field wants to be a world-class sporting stadium, it needs natural grass. As Sounders fans, we often wring our hands over the lack of grass. The Seahawks allegedly love the turf, and they love it old and crummy. So as long as the Seahawks and Sounders are co-tenants, and First and Goal Inc. is the managing organization, the Sounders will always be second fiddle and getting grass is just pie in the sky.
First and Goal Inc., the little private company Paul Allen created to team up with the county’s Public Stadium Authority in the “public-private partnership” that funded the creation of Seahawks Stadium-Qwest Field-CenturyLink Field, openly stated that when Seattle was awarded an MLS franchise, if MLS demanded a natural playing surface, grass would be installed at the stadium. This old website from the early aughts still says so:
Why is FieldTurf installed in the stadium instead of natural grass?
CenturyLink Field’s playing field is covered with FieldTurf, an artificial surface that has received praise from the football community and has gained considerable acceptance in the soccer community. The PSA Board approved First & Goal’s request to install FieldTurf at the stadium only after FGI committed to install and pay for temporary natural grass for major soccer events. If Major League Soccer requires a grass playing surface, the field will be permanently changed to natural grass at the time that Seattle receives an MLS team. In the meantime, FieldTurf provides much greater flexibility in scheduling back-to-back events in the stadium.
First and Goal Inc. pulled the old bait-and-switch: “we’ll do FieldTurf now and when the little soccer team joins we’ll say we’ll get grass, but that’ll be like 7-10 years from now and we won’t really have to do it.” I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday… And sure, MLS never demanded Seattle play on grass, so no foul by FGI, right? But FGI also stated they’d install “temporary natural grass for major soccer events.” They’ve seemingly lived up to this, as we’ve seen sod laid down for the World Cup Qualifier against Panama and other exhibition games against European powers.
But now grass is being laid for a silly exhibition. The International Champions Cup (which is just a fancy way of saying “exhibition tour”) is coming to Seattle with Manchester United facing Club America at CenturyLink Field. Man U and America want grass, so they’re getting it. They’re getting it for a silly preseason friendly. Seriously can you imagine the Seahawks, Patriots, Eagles and Colts gallivanting around Europe charging fans in Hamburg and Amsterdam a premium to watch preseason games, and then calling it a major football event? That’s crap.
The Sounders play league games on turf. The Sounders play MLS playoff games, Open Cup Finals and CCL games on turf and yet, according to First and Goal Inc. these aren’t “major soccer events.” The Seattle Sounders want to be world-class, but their own landlord doesn’t consider them major.