Hosting the MLS Cup final doesn’t pack nearly the economic punch of a Super Bowl, but there’s still plenty for Seattle to gain.
The biggest is how a strong citywide showing this week and on Sunday by roughly 70,000 Sounders fans could impact chances of playing host to World Cup matches in 2026. Seattle is shortlisted with 17 potential U.S. game sites that will be pared to 10 by FIFA come 2021 for this country’s joint hosting effort with Canada and Mexico.
“It’s already well-known that we have one of the best franchises in MLS,” said Ralph Morton, chairman of the Seattle Sports Commission. “But right now we’re still sort of creating an image of who we are. So by hosting the MLS Cup and creating a buzz where there’s a stadium packed with 69,000 or 70,000 people, it’s going to send a clear message of who we are as a soccer community.”
Vancouver, British Columbia, pulled out of contention, leaving Seattle as the only Northwest bidder. Los Angeles and Santa Clara, California, are the only other West Coast cities vying, and FIFA wants travel contained within regions, so it appears Seattle — as long as CenturyLink Field adds a grass pitch — could all but clinch its bid with an impressive MLS Cup display.
Morton figures the game and surrounding activities should draw not only Sounders fans, but soccer supporters in general from the Northwest and elsewhere. It won’t be as big as a Super Bowl — which Morton’s group has pushed for — but that’s mainly because the NFL picks those sites years in advance and organizes myriad events beyond the game.
There will still be about 2,000 out-of-towners flying in to support Toronto FC as well as league support staff and 300 assorted media members.
Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle, said the city’s hotel space is likely about 80 percent full, which is typical for a non-Seahawks weekend in November. But he’s encouraged, given the city added 15 percent more hotel room space since last year — meaning there’s been a significant “bump” from the game.
Hotels closer to CenturyLink Field are nearing capacity, he added, with partners reporting a heavy influx of Canadians and soccer visitors from “four or five” other countries. Norwalk said the game’s social-media impact — including shared photos of city landmarks lit up in Sounders green — could make this “one of the biggest events that the city has ever seen” from that perspective.
And that, he added, can’t hurt the city’s World Cup chances.
“I think we’re increasingly optimistic,” Norwalk said. “To the point where, ‘How could we not be included?’ “
Beyond some hotels and restaurants, the one group making a financial killing off the MLS Cup is anyone with tickets to sell.
The game officially “sold out” a week ago, leaving the secondary market the only buyer option. Vivid Seats spokesman Andrew Gretchko said Friday that the average cost of tickets already sold on the company’s website was $324 — well up on last year’s $262 for the Atlanta-based final and the highest in five years.
That MLS Cup amount is also beating the average purchase price on Vivid Seats for all NFL games this weekend, with the next-closest being $274 for Sunday night’s Vikings-Cowboys clash.
And as demand surged, the prices asked for some tickets — even if they don’t wind up selling for that amount — have skyrocketed.
As of Friday, Chris Leyden, spokesman for official MLS ticketing partner SeatGeek, said listings on its website averaged $569 — down from $622 midweek but still the highest MLS Cup and third-priciest Seattle sporting event the company has tracked behind the 2014 ($628) and 2015 ($588) NFC Championship Games.
There was some hope for fans wanting to spend less. While a scarcity of lower-level tickets was fueling the high prices, there were relative “bargains” in the upper deck.
TicketIQ, which tracks 95% of the nation’s secondary market — including SeatGeek and others — said Friday the cheapest CenturyLink Field seats fell 18 percent this week to $188, making it the lowest MLS Cup “get in” price ever. That contrasts with the overall MLS Cup asking price, which TicketIQ spokesman Greg Cohen said has actually risen since midweek from $868 to a $1,072 average on all websites.
For Sounders season-ticket holder Corey Brown, 54, those high prices for better seats represented an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Brown planned to attend Sunday’s match in the two Section 116 seats he’s held since the team’s 2009 inaugural MLS season. But after Brown paid $39 apiece to secure those seats for Sunday, a friend alerted him to the prices on SeatGeek, where season-ticket holders can resell without reprisal.
Within hours, Brown had resold his pair for $1,000.
“For $1,000, I can have a weekend in L.A.,” Brown, 54, said. “It covers the cost of my entire season-ticket package for next year.”
By midweek, four days after Brown sold his pair, the very same tickets had been relisted on SeatGeek for $1,320.