The Sounders FC shuttered their namesake Relief Fund, distributing more than $1 million in grants to those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Club majority owner Adrian Hanauer and his family made an initial $500,000 donation to establish the Fund in March when it became clear fans wouldn’t be able to attend matches at Lumen Field because of COVID-19. Major League Soccer shut down that month after its 26 teams had played two matches apiece. Both were home games for the Sounders.
The lack of traditional gamedays for the Sounders, Seahawks and Mariners, in addition to government restrictions on restaurants in particular, sent Pioneer Square, SoDo and Chinatown-International District businesses into a tailspin.
The Fund began issuing grants in April. A total of 134 small businesses and 785 individuals received a combined $1,104,340 overall without restrictions on use of the money.
“Many of those businesses were already experiencing losses by the time COVID hit us here hard in Seattle and shut us down just because of the blatant racism and rhetoric around the ‘Wuhan flu,’” said Maya Mendoza-Exstrom, Sounders senior vice president of legal and external affairs, of messaging from the White House. “There were folks that had no other means of getting relief. You’re talking about shift workers at hotels, janitorial service staff that’s contracted to clean CenturyLink Field, we’re talking about hot dog vendors … we were able to get to a lot of those people that didn’t have other means to get relief in that really critical time.”
Despite rising numbers of deaths and positive cases numbers, MLS is still planning a March start date for the 2021 season. The MLS Players Association made clear they would like the season pushed back to provide more time to recover from a trying year competing amid a pandemic and civil unrest.
Because newly approved vaccines won’t be available to the general public until the summer, the Sounders likely won’t have a traditional gameday in 2021. The club is selling tickets and notes adjustments will be made if needed due to health and safety protocols as was done this season.
“The world, other people have bigger problems than the Sounders do,” said Garth Lagerwey, the club’s president of soccer and general manager. “We took some massive financial losses. Unfortunately, I think those losses are going to continue into 2021 and continue to have impacts on us. That will have potential impacts on what we’re able to do on and off the field.
“But the thing we miss the most is the fans. I would drive into the stadium and watch the game and it felt like (the movie) ‘I am Legend.’ It was just barren in downtown Seattle and you pull your car into Lumen Field garage and there’s four cars there in a space that’s usually jammed. And you’re walking down long, massive corridors all by yourself and sitting in a section of the stadium and hearing the sound echo around. It’s a bizarre experience from a pro-sports perspective. … Man, I hope next year we get back to the point where we have 70,000 in Lumen Field again.”