When the Sounders aren’t filling CenturyLink Field, they’re honing their craft in Tukwila
Years before the Seattle Sounders FC entered the MLS as an expansion team or even played a match, the club — actually, the prospect of the club — was a major factor in a big development project that has since enormously impacted our region.
That influence took hold in the mid-1990s, when the possibility of a professional soccer club coming to town helped sell voters on a referendum to build a professional sports stadium. The belief: A one-sport stadium for the Seattle Seahawks would be a tough sell, but a two-sport stadium that would host a professional soccer club would better work economically.
The referendum passed, and the stadium, now known as CenturyLink Field, opened in 2002. The soccer team, now known as the Sounders, played its first match in 2009. Seven years later, the stadium fills with nearly 45,000 rave-green-clad supporters for all its home games. It has become clear the area is infatuated with soccer.
“I think the Sounders deserve a great deal of credit for the soccer culture (in the area),” said Bill Predmore, owner of National Women’s Soccer League team Seattle Reign FC. Starfire Sports in Tukwila was home to the Reign during the club’s first season. Now in its fourth year, the Reign plays at Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center, but its links to the Eastside still are strong.
Microsoft is the team’s sponsor, and the company’s logo is emblazoned across the players’ kits, thanks to Predmore’s connections with the Redmond company. Predmore, in addition to being a team owner, is the CEO and founder of digital marketing agency Pop.
“A sponsor at Microsoft’s level was massive for us,” he said.
The Sounders also have a strong presence at Starfire. The facility hosts all the Sounders’ first-team trainings and Open Cup matches, as well as second-team trainings and games, and all academy practices. There also are offices for team staff.
“With that, (the team is) here most days,” said Ben Oliver, vice president and general manager of Starfire.
And it’s not just the Sounders that Starfire hosts. More than 65 annual events like camps, state playoffs, tryouts for youth clubs, and more take place at Starfire.
“While there are many soccer tournaments here bringing in over 175 youth teams at each, there are also exciting events for other sports such as the high school lacrosse finals for both the girls and boys and multiple lacrosse tournaments through the year as well,” Oliver said. “We define Starfire Sports as the epicenter of soccer in the Pacific Northwest.”
Microsoft is a major sponsor for the Sounders, too, and has been since the team’s first season. Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, is a minority owner of the Sounders and led the 1997 referendum that authorized a public and private partnership to construct CenturyLink Field and its adjacent facilities.
Photos courtesy Starfire Sports