The Reign had played at Memorial Stadium in Seattle Center since their second National Women's Soccer League season in 2014. But declining attendance and conditions inside the venue prompted a move to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma and eventually a new soccer-specific facility there as well.
Five years after an ambitious plan to make this city their home, the Seattle Reign women’s soccer team is relocating to Tacoma for the upcoming 2019 season.
Reign owner Bill Predmore announced at a Wednesday news conference that the team is moving to Cheney Stadium next season and will play future games at a soccer specific venue in Tacoma once that is finalized. Predmore had moved the team from Starfire Stadium in Tukwila to Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center in 2014, but the relocation never had the desired effect in terms of attendance growth, facility conditions or revenue generating opportunities.
“We’re immensely excited to make the move down to Tacoma, to Cheney Stadium,” Predmore told reporters, adding that it was one of his easiest business decisions ever given the challenges at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a 71-year-old building and there were intractable challenges in that space that money alone wasn’t going to solve,” Predmore said.
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The team will keep the name Reign FC but is dropping the “Seattle” part of it and has no plans to incorporate “Tacoma” within it either. Predmore said he prefers a more “global” brand that appeals throughout the state and noted that world soccer powers like Juventus, Arsenal and Celtic manage just fine without identifying with any one city.
Among the improvements Predmore foresees are playing on a natural grass pitch, fans accessing reserved seats, ample parking and better food and beverage options.
The Reign, who won’t announce their schedule until next month, had their Memorial Stadium lease expire at the end of the 2018 season, though owner Predmore had previously insisted his team was staying put this year. He told reporters Wednesday the team was notified some time ago by the National Women’s Soccer League that stadium improvements were needed by this season but — after exploring possible Memorial renovations the past year — decided it wasn’t a worthwhile investment.
Other options explored included looking at CenturyLink Field, smaller venues in Washington and even a move out of state.
Among the issues at Memorial, owned by the Seattle Public Schools district, the stadium notoriously did not allow for alcohol sales in the stands at Reign matches. That hampered the team’s ability to draw fans and maximize revenue.
“There are certain things that you expect to do now when you go to a sporting event,” Predmore said.
Alcohol sales won’t be an issue at Cheney Stadium, home of the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers baseball team and where the Sounders’ second division United Soccer League squad played last season after moving from Starfire.
“Tacoma is a city on the rise,’’ Predmore said. “It has an understated charm, many areas of undeniable beauty and has incredible potential to be the next great city in the Pacific Northwest. It was exciting to consider our team playing a role in helping the city realize its full potential.’’
Predmore has written a letter to current Reign season ticket holders offering refunds if they don’t want to make the trek to Tacoma. He has also offered them a seating upgrade if they stay — a chance to pick from a reserved seat at Cheney as opposed to the general admission conditions that existed at Memorial.
The Reign averaged 3,824 fans per game last year in the 6,000-capacity Memorial venue, down 5.3 percent from 2017. It was their first sub-4,000 total since 2014 and not the boost a franchise with two Supporters’ Shields titles and that boasted national team stars like Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe had hoped for in moving to a central Seattle location.
Despite overall attendance growth within the NWSL, which the Reign became a founding member of in 2013, they were increasingly squeezed in a Seattle market crowded with various college and professional sports teams competing for entertainment dollars. Predmore said the Reign also missed out on having some games nationally televised because the aesthetics at Memorial weren’t up to network standards.
By moving to Tacoma, where the Rainiers are the biggest pro sports club, he hopes the Reign will have a better chance at long-term growth and exposure.
”We know that we might take a bit of a short term hit, but we know that in the long term this was the best move we could make,” Predmore said.
The Reign received added financial help Wednesday when it was announced that the group operating the Rainiers and the Sounders’ second division team had taken “a significant minority ownership stake’’ in the Reign.
Rainiers CEO Mikal Thomsen, the group’s leader, said in a release that “we welcome a new professional team into the fold and one that we know will inspire and entertain our community for generations.’’
Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer and his mother, Lenore, have also taken on minority ownership stakes. Hanuaer’s latest investment comes just months after he also became a minority stakeholder un Seattle’s incoming NHL franchise.
“My mother has been pushing me for years to do more to help the women’s side of the game,” Hanauer said in an interview after the press conference. “For a long time, I refused to get involved with any team beyond the Sounders until I was absolutely convinced they were on a solid footing and I could broaden out. I think we’ve reached that stage and that, politically, we are at an important time when leadership is needed on a bunch of issues — women’s sports being one of them. So, I’m happy to do my part,”