When the Seattle Sounders began Major League Soccer play in 2009, the club did not enter the pitch of a new and intimate soccer-specific stadium like many of their league brethren. Instead, what was known at the time as Qwest Field would be their home, a venue which opened in 2002 as the NFL Seahawks’ new home with a seating capacity of 67,000 fans.
This meant the MLS club would have lots of seats to fill, a tall task considering the Sounders USL First Division club averaged 3,386 at the 4,500-capacity Starfire Sports Stadium in nearby Tukwila in 2008, their final USL season. The USL club played from 2003-2007 at CenturyLink Field never exceeding season average attendance above the 3,693 it reached after the 2006 campaign.
In bucking the trend of moving into a more intimate stadium, there seemed to be plenty of confidence the club would draw many fans while playing under the MLS banner. Given the community’s intense loyalty and support for their NFL team, the Seattle Sounders would benefit from an atmosphere enjoyed by fans and visitors to Seahawks games, arguably among the best experiences in all of sports.
Still, being able to sustain high attendance at large seating-capacity venues has been historically difficult for Major League Soccer franchises in the League’s history. Among the teams who currently call a large NFL-sized facility home, DC United has gained average attendance of more than 20,000 just twice (in 2001 and 2007). New England has only exceeded average attendance of 20,000 just once (in 1997).
In the early years of the league, a few teams played in large facilities. The Los Angeles Galaxy started at the Rose Bowl in 1996 and exceeded average attendance of 20,000 in five of eight seasons with their best average of 28,916 reached in their inaugural campaign. The Chicago Fire played seven seasons at Soldier Field, but never exceeded average attendance of 17,886, reached in their inaugural 1998 campaign. The New York MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) played 14 seasons at Giants Stadium generating average attendance of over 20,000 in just two seasons, their best during their 1996 inaugural season when they reached 23,898.
And then you have Seattle, whose lowest attendance for any individual MLS regular season game was 28,548 in March 2009. The Sounders have never had a regular season average attendance less than 31,000 in their first five seasons. From 2009 through the 2012 season, the Sounders have averaged 31,203, 36,173, 38,496 and 43,144. With one game to go in the 2013 season, the club averaged 42,652. This number is nearly double that of the Los Angeles Galaxy which holds second place in average attendance with 22,522 in the 2013 season.
To date, the Seattle Sounders have led MLS in average attendance in each of their first five seasons. They also hold three of the top five highest attendance totals for individual matches in MLS history. The expansive mention of where the Sounders rank relative to these attendance figures helps to explain some of the magic in attending a game at what is now known as CenturyLink Field.
The size of the crowd does, in fact, make attending a Sounders game special, but there is much more. It is what the club and the fans do leading up to the game and during the match which make it one of the most rewarding game experiences in all of sports. There are the many subtle touches which make clear management’s consciousness of the details, promoting the brand at every opportunity, and adding value to the ticket holder’s experience. My advice on your visit is to arrive early, take it all in and participate. This review seeks to disclose all the details you will want to know to ensure a memorable experience at a Seattle Sounders FC match at CenturyLink Field.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are so many options and nice balance in what to choose from in the way of food and beverages. Quality is above average and while the price is also a bit above average, you get what you pay for here at CenturyLink Field.
There are quite a few things which are unique. One tip to start: Throw out the window any thought of consuming traditional foods on your trip to the stadium.
To start, try Ivar's clam chowder, a Seattle institution since 1938. Consider a cup, bowl or bread bowl priced at $5.75, $7.50, and $10 respectively. Unless you really like chowder, order a cup because there is a bunch more you will need to eat to make the trip complete.
Next and also from Ivar's, order a little later (so you are consuming this item while it is hot) go with either the 3-piece fish, 3-piece chicken, or clam strips basket, each served with fries for $10.25. I prefer the fish and clams to chicken, but you will be pleased with any of these.
Next, another Seattle original is Grounders fries, garlic fries with parsley. You can also get regular fries. Each order is 1lb. and costs $6. The portion is huge and you wouldn't want to eat one full order yourself or you will be trying to locate the first aid station.
One tip would be to order one of the aforementioned seafood or chicken baskets which come with fries and ask them to serve you the garlic fries instead (otherwise you would normally receive regular fries). Sometimes they will substitute it for you, other times they give you a cup of garlic and parsley to spread over your fries. Just be sure not to accept a cold basket of food which is always possible at stadium concession stands. This needs to be eaten hot so accept nothing less.
Now to the drinks where there are the basics as well as plenty of variety at hand. Bottled water is $4, and bottled soda (Coca-Cola products) is $4.50. Starbucks coffee (of course) and hot cocoa are $4.25. Domestic bottled beer (Budweiser, Bud Light) is $8.50, domestic draft beer (Rolling Rock for example) is $8.75 and premium draft beer (Red Hook, Shock Top, etc.) is $9.75.
To top it off, coat your belly with one final delicacy, a dessert at that, try Seattle's own Pinks Donuts at $5 per order.
There are a number of craft beer stands, gluten-free stands and standard fare including hot dogs, hamburgers, and Mexican food, also, but stick with my recommendations and you will be glad you ordered something other than just the ordinary.
One of the few MLS franchises to play in an NFL home, this stadium is one of the best in pro football. Chief among the elements which make it so great is the highly vertical rise of seating as opposed to horizontal depth which puts seats further back from the action. Fans feel like they are right on top of the action as levels extend more upward than outward. The intimacy in such a large structure is uncommon and makes attending events here so much better.
The Sounders benefit from one of their minority owners, Paul Allen, the owner of CenturyLink Field's other tenant, the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. Due to this blended alliance, the Sounders pay no rent and share in the ticketing functions, financial operations, and marketing/promotions. The Seahawks offer one of the best game experiences in all of sports and it is no wonder why the experience at a Sounders match is also one of MLS' best.
On match day, the field takes on the title of The Xbox Pitch at CenturyLink Field, part of a sponsorship deal with Seattle's own Microsoft. In 2012, the field itself was updated to FieldTurf and has since been certified by FIFA with a 2-star quality rating, the highest possible score. If Major League Soccer determines at some point all playing surfaces need to be natural grass, the field will be replaced.
As an added benefit not found in most venues which share the field with another sport, CenturyLink Field applies a field paint for markings which can be easily removed when changing over from one field layout to another. The result is one with consistently applied soccer lines which do not compete with football sideline and gridiron markings.
In determining where to sit, consider the following relative to the size of this venue. While generally all seats are right on top of the field, there are some seats which are far removed from the field. While not experiencing the intimacy found at most modern soccer facilities, you still feel like you are part of the crowd and these seats are available at a good value. For most matches, the first four or five rows of the upper deck are open. Behind these rows, large, decorative tarps merchandise the club and their title sponsor.
These seats provide a top view of the pitch at a lesser price than others in the stadium. An added feature in these areas includes less traffic at concession stands and restrooms. Still, the hike upward is all by walking ramps, no escalators, and to be clear, once you get up to this level, you are staying there until after the end of the match. The upper deck sections of 306-312 offer a view of both benches and face west for $30, a nice value to get plenty of space away from the crowds.
Should you want to be deeply immersed in Rave green and Sounder blue, consider lower level ends and the middle rows of the lower level sidelines.
In the lower level south end, sections 118-126 put you in the largest area of supporters clubs. If you are in section 119, it puts you right where the players enter the field, a good view down the east sideline facing north and a view of the goal and benches to your left. It essentially provides you the best in-seat experience for the price at a Sounders match, just $29 a ticket.
If you want to sit a little higher, more to the middle of the field and facing the benches, consider the east sideline sections of 107-111 in row Q or higher. This gives you a view of everything from midfield with the Hawk's Nest to your right behind the north goal and a large swath of supporter's clubs to your left behind the south goal. Tickets in these sections run about $47 each.
There are premium field level seats along the sidelines with table seating right up along the sideline signage rail. There is a second premium suite level separating the upper and lower levels and finally, suites behind the goal line as well.
A large video scoreboard is supported behind the south goal high above the sections and at the base of the upper deck. A smaller video scoreboard can be found at the top of the Hawk's Nest behind the seating areas. Ribbon matrix board rim the upper level showing score and time into the half, nothing more.
Visiting fans should note, like a number of MLS venues, the experience of attending a Sounders match starts long before the opening kick. Plan to get there early for the fun outside and leading up to the stadium. It comes from all different angles and from a variety of sources. It is also good to have a perspective on a few things you might not ever know without reading this review before attending a Sounders' match.
One option before the game is to meet at Occidental Park at Pioneer Square and take part in the March to the Match. The park is just north of the stadium. Along with hundreds of supporters and the Sound Wave marching band, the large crowd makes their way to the stadium reaching it about 30 minutes prior to kick-off. It is a pretty neat experience.
If you choose to head right to the stadium instead, Soccer Celebration awaits you just inside the ticket area of the northwest corner near King Street and extending through the east side of the main concourse along Occidental Street. If ever there were a perfect way to set the mood, this is it. Keep in mind, to get to this area, you must surrender your ticket as you are inside the stadium complex at this point. Consider what you might want to do around the stadium before entering.
Upon accessing the North Plaza gate area, you are overwhelmed with the first sight of a giant inflatable Sounders jersey. In this outdoor area, there are nine distinct stations providing visual elements, soccer activities, contests, food and beverage stations, and a merchandise kiosk. As for activities, choose from the soccer dribble and the kick-to-win contest. Once finished in this area, proceed to the NW VIP entrance for the indoor activities of Soccer Celebration.
At the north end of the field, the seating area all to itself known as the Hawk's Nest, is adorned with MLS team logo flags which rise along the outer edge railing flying in the brisk wind which often accompanies Seattle weather. The added touch is just one of the many elements creating a first-class experience. Speaking of weather, it is possible I was the only visitor to the game in late September WITHOUT rain boots. Of course fans wear either green or blue. I wore Nikes and had wet feet by end of match.
There are a few more things to know leading up to first kick; a stop at the main merchandise store, Autograph Alley (for kids 14 and under), the Golden Scarf Ceremony and the highly impressive Grand Welcome of the players as they enter the pitch.
In the west side main concourse, the large team store can be found. Among the many things there are to purchase is the traditional soccer scarf. What you find in this store is anything, but traditional, though. No visit to Sounders FC match is complete without the purchase of a scarf.
When you get to the store, make your way to the Scarf Wall (image can be found in this review gallery) to choose how you will show your spirit. It can be found just inside the main entrance from the concourse and to the left. Choose from several dozen and wear it proudly.
For kids 14 and under, make your way to Autograph Alley prior to the match near the southwest entrance of the stadium. Prior to each match, kids have the opportunity to earn a wristband by spinning a prize wheel. The first 50 kids to spin the wheel and have it land on the Autograph Alley square will receive the wristband which allows the holder to obtain three player's autographs following the end of the match (on an item provided by the club).
Next is the Golden Scarf Ceremony, a tradition which began in 2009 to honor the passion of an individual who is part of the soccer community or who has done impactful things for the city of Seattle. In the ceremony, the individual is presented with a special golden scarf. In being honored, the recipient lifts the scarf high above their head, a signal to the fans to do the same for what is about to come.
As the start of the match nears, the Sounders intro song is played. It is the signal to get your scarf because you will need it (hence the advice to pick one up before heading to your seat). Starting line-ups are announced with first names echoing over the loudspeakers complemented with 40,000+ fans shouting the last name of the player.
Once the last player in the starting line-up has been announced, the intro song is played. The fans drop their scarves around their necks and extend their arms, outstretched in a "V". Soon thereafter, you will hear the sound of a large bass drum. BOOM, BOOM and the crowd responds, "HEY!" as they make one large clap with hands outstretched. This continues for several minutes and the pace of the clap quickens until the teams reach their final destination for the national anthem. The tradition is one of the finest in North American soccer, nicely enhanced by having a massive crowd on-hand at each match.
As the game proceeds, you will be immersed in two hours of chanting and singing. Sound Wave helps with a few of the musical traditions and individual cheerleaders stationed throughout the edge of the playing field help to synchronize the chanting. Another unique tradition is periodic linking of arms around the shoulders of your neighbors to your left and right shifting side to side as the chanting continues. It is quite the experience and very unique to Seattle soccer.
The results are a very involved and lively crowd which clearly gives the home club an advantage at their matches where they have lost just 14 of 72 MLS regular season matches through 2013. Many of the current Sounders chants and lyrics can be found by visiting Fan Chants.
CenturyLink Field is just a little south (within walking distance) from the heart of downtown Seattle. Bordered by South King Street to the north, Occidental Avenue South to the west and South Royal Brougham Way to the south, the east side of the stadium is bordered by a series of rail lines and then 4th Avenue South just east of the rail lines.
There is a large parking garage just south of the CenturyLink Field and then further south Safeco Field, home of Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners, just across South Royal Brougham Way.
Along Occidental Avenue South, closer to where the parking garage and the south edge of CenturyLink Field meet, there are at least three huge team merchandise stores side-by-side. Just north of this area on game day there are dozens of street vendors and tents selling food and beverages. Proceed with caution here.
As for restaurants just south of the stadium, at the corner of Occidental and South Royal Brougham Way there is Jimmy's on First. I have eaten there several times. Filled with televisions and sports memorabilia hung on the wall, this refined setting blends great food, a touch of elegance and fair prices for a worthwhile dining experience. With so many things to choose from, consider ordering one of two things; either the Jimmy's Giant Bacon-wrapped Brat for $12 or the SODO Cheese steak for $14. The place is stacked with plenty of premium brews and specialty drinks. You will love it.
The Metropolitan Grill offers a little more of a high-end menu, but very tasty and worth going, even if for the more reasonably-priced lunch. Known for their steaks, priced as high as $69, I enjoyed the chicken sandwich with bacon and brie for $14. The restaurant is located at 820 Second Avenue, just north of the hotel I recommend and detailed below.
Another stop to consider is McCoy's Firehouse at 173 South Washington, just three blocks north of the CenturyLink Field complex. Prices are a little more in-line with what you would expect from a corner restaurant. I had a Firehouse Burger (cheese, bacon and egg) for $8.25 and it included fries. The beverage list is extensive and while the restaurant has only been there since 1998, the historic building in the center of Pioneer Square was erected in 1898 and has quite a unique past.
In general, the area north of the stadium has many things to choose from for eating and shopping. There are several dozen places to choose from each with a diverse mix of atmosphere, uniqueness and price sprinkled between King Street and Occidental Square.
If wanting to stay downtown, consider Marriott Courtyard Pioneer Square. This mid-range hotel is within a ½ mile walk of the stadium allowing you to enjoy the shops and restaurants along the way to and from the match. Fair prices, a great staff and excellent location make it my choice every time I travel to Seattle for sporting events. The hotel is near the Pioneer Square Station, perfect when relying on SoundTransit light rail for trips to and from the airport using the "no-car" needed option. If driving, though, avoid this area as parking nearby is $28 daily.
A second area where there are plenty of fair-priced hotels is near the airport. Many of these hotels provide shuttle service to the Sea-Tac Airport and Tukwila light rail stations.
Finally, while in Seattle, you must visit Pike Place Market, still a fun place to spend some time. Enjoy the famous fish market where seafood is thrown through the air as part of the show.
Also just across the street, the original Starbucks is still serving its famous coffee at 1912 Pike Place from 6 AM to 9 PM during the week. They open a half hour later on the weekends. Don't be frightened by any long line you see as it moves fast. For those used to getting a bakery item while there, think again. You'll have to travel a few doors down to get croissants and pastries.
Consider whale watching, a trip to Mt. Rainier, the Space Needle and a ferry ride to one of the nearby islands like Victoria in British Columbia (bring your passport for that one). There is so much to do in this great city.
Any groups of size are sure to provide memorable volume in cheering, but the trick is coordinating this sound and applying it to support the team. Among the cheering numbers are supporter's clubs each with their own unique characteristics and playing an integral role in producing firm and synchronized cheers. In order of prominence, they are:
Sounders FC Alliance, inspired by minority owner, Drew Carey, current club Chairman and noted host of the television's The Price is Right show and many other entertainment endeavors. Unique to any other supporter's group, Sounders FC Alliance possesses the ability to make team decisions including the removal of the club's General Manager as determined through voting.
All season ticket holders are automatically enrolled in the voting process while non-season ticket holders may buy into the club for a fee. In addition to voting privileges, membership includes an invitation to the annual meeting and admittance to special team events.
Fans of this group may also be elected to this group if they receive 25 nominations from other members annually. The first vote on the status of the Sounders FC General Manager was scheduled during the latter part of 2012. After 13,775 votes registered, the General Manager was retained by the Alliance.
Other supporter's groups include:
Emerald City Supporters, known as ECS and formed in 2005 to support the United Soccer League's Sounders. It is the largest supporter group of the bunch and is based in the south end in sections 121 through 123.
Gorilla FC also sits in the south end of CenturyLink Field in sections 119 and 120.
The North End Faithful sit in the north end of the stadium beneath the "Hawk's Nest" in sections 100 and 144-152. This is also where you will find Sound Wave during the match, Major League Soccer's only marching band.
Immortal Fury has a South American flair bringing vibrant colors to the south end. They display and vigorously wave flags representing the nations of players from the home team and sit in section 120 and 121.
While attending an MLS game in Seattle is special on any date, added enjoyment is often experienced when either the Portland Timbers or Vancouver Whitecaps come to town. The rivalry among the three clubs is funneled into the race for the Cascadia Cup. Named after the mountain range the three clubs share, the club with the most points among the three teams' head-to-head record wins the trophy.
Sounders games can be heard in stadium in English at 97.3 FM and in Spanish at 1210 AM.
Parking is available downtown around the stadium with some lots and garages to the south a distance away for $10-$15. The closest spots are $20-$30. Most fans come to the games (that is Mariners, Seahawks and Sounders) using Sound Transit's Central Link light rail system connecting Sea-Tax Airport in the south to the Westlake Station in the north.
Rates vary depending upon distance travelled, but you will never pay more than $2.75 each way. One station has parking, the Tukwila International Station. With 600 free parking spaces, this station is one stop to the north from the airport station. From the Tukwila Station to the Stadium station, travel time is just 25 minutes and all traffic is avoided.
If I would do it over again, instead of the Stadium station which would seem like the best choice, I would travel one stop further north, International District-Chinatown Station, which is a quicker, less cumbersome walk approaching CenturyLink Field from the northeast. This also allows you to join up for the March to the Match and the Hawk's Nest section of the stadium where my guess is most people would find more interesting.
One of the many elements which makes attending a game at CenturyLink Field comfortable are the ample and dispersed restrooms available on all levels. Keep in mind, though, there is restricted access in the main concourse at the south end of the stadium for Sounders matches. Ordinarily, you can walk the entire main level concourse unobstructed for Seahawks' games, but not for Sounders. To walk around the south backside, you have to enter the seating bowl and then when reaching the other side of the south end, duck into the entrance way to the concourse and continue your walk.
The ticket prices can be a little higher for Sounders games than for other MLS clubs. For a franchise which regularly gains 40,000+ crowds, one might expect some lower price points in the upper levels, but no such luck here. Food prices are a little high, but I suspect the quality of the food, which is better than for most stadiums, might be cause for justification. All in all, you get what you pay for and in the case of Sounders games, it is worth the price of admission and the price of food.
MERCHANDISE - no trip to a Sounders FC match is complete without a pre-game trip to the main team store. Within the store, make your way to the Scarf Wall (image can be found in this review gallery) to choose which will best show your spirit. It can be found just inside the main entrance from the concourse and to the left. Choose from several dozen and wear it proudly. There are several other merchandise stands on the main level which provide an adequate supply of items. The main store offers a variety where if it is not in the store it cannot be found anywhere.
GAME PROGRAM - Seattle publishes what is perhaps one of the finest game programs in all of MLS and they are free to each fan entering the stadium. Updated with the latest standings and player stats, the 62-page souvenir is the smaller size design with glossy page stock packed with full-color photos, and great stories on the visiting team. It is a game per program meaning each program is unique to the opponent and worth picking up. If they run out of them on your way in, stop by guest relations to pick-up your copy.
SOUND WAVE - inspired by minority owner Drew Carey, the Sounders FC have their own marching band, a first in MLS. The 53-member group consists of brass and marching percussion and is sure to leave you with goosebumps when you hear them. The band sprinkles in a nice variety of music including Funk, Latin and Rock 'n' Roll. During the match, you can find them at the north end just above the goal in the Hawk's Nest. Also, often times they accompany fans who take part in the March to the Match which begins at Occidental Park an hour before game time.
TEAM WEBSITE and MOBILE APP - the Sounders FC website and mobile application is one of the finest of any sports franchise in North America. Their alliance with the Seahawks is clear in this area. They were one of the first to feature 3-D seating views for not just each section, but as many as five rows spread evenly to give you an accurate view from your seat whether you are in row D in section 119 or row Z which is quite a difference. Like the game presentation, the team website covers every possible need a fan could have to make it a great experience.
A distinction must be immediately drawn between the regular CenturyLink Field designation, which applies for National Football League games of the Seattle Seahawks, and the configuration applicable to soccer. That configuration is known as the Xbox Pitch at CenturyLink Field.
The normal seating capacity for soccer extends from a good and steady 35,000 average, which constitutes a sellout for Major League Soccer matches, and can be extended by enhancing the configuration and making more seats available. This is done with what in soccer parlance is termed a friendly, meaning a match involving the Sounders pitted against a big name foreign team. The overall capacity for CenturyLink Field, which opened January 28, 2002, is 67,000.
The Sounders began play using CenturyLink Field as its home venue when the team joined the MLS in 2009. All 22,000 season ticket packages offered by the club during that initial season were sold, giving the Sounders the largest number of season ticket holders in the league. That number has now expanded to beyond 30,000.
In the team's first home match played March 19, 2009 a sellout crowd of 32,523 saw the Sounders defeat the New York Red Bulls 3-0.
The Sounders set a state record for attendance at a soccer match August 5 of last season when 66,848 attended a friendly with FC Barcelona.
The food choice is excellent but nothing over the top.
Atmosphere fueled by the fans is great. Can't deduct much for the piped in sound as most stadiums in the US does this. Very few stadiums in the US leave chants to only the fans.
The access is there but the parking is quite expensive
Overall a good venue.
The Seattle Sounders are redefining Major League Soccer.
A simple statement, with huge ramifications. The MLS' relative success has been predicated on a business plan that attracts smaller, more intimate, more excitable crowds. The Sounders are spitting in the face of that plan.
Founded in 2009 by Joe Roth, Adrian Hanauer, Paul Allen and Drew Carey, Seattle Sounders FC made their home in CenturyLink Field ... home of the Seattle Seahawks . Usually, an MLS franchise playing in an NFL stadium does not produce great results. The New England Revolution and DC United have struggled with playing in massive stadiums that were not built for their specific purposes, but that is not the case for the Sounders. Owned by the state of Washington, CenturyLink Field was actually constructed with the idea of soccer events right behind the idea of the NFL.
The Sounders have a long tradition in Seattle, from the NASL days (1974-1983) to the USL First Division team (1994-2007) to the current MLS incarnation. The Sounders have taken a key sponsorship with Microsoft and run with it. The pitch itself is named Xbox Pitch, and the team colours feature that signature Xbox bright green. As a result, the fans have come out in droves.
The end result is the unchallenged best experience in the MLS.
Wonderful sight lines, deafening roar from the crowd, and beautiful backdrop. My only complaint is they could do better with a better turf, like a hybrid or something.
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