They were supposed to be the model of a people’s club in Major League Soccer. Television comedian Drew Carey trumpeted Seattle’s new MLS team — to begin play in 2009 — as democracy-in-action. The fans would vote on the General Manager. And they would even get to choose the name.
Then it turned out that the name many fans wanted did not suit MLS’ thinking. It was reported that when Seattle MLS presented their list of name choices to MLS, it included the name Sounders, a name with links to soccer in the city going back to 1974. It had been the name of the NASL team from its founding that year until its folding in 1983, and had then been taken up by the new USL team in 1994, running to the present day. Referencing adjacent Puget Sound, the name was chosen by fans of the original NASL team.
MLS headquarters, though, did not see “Sounders” as a forward-thinking enough name for the global brand they wanted, when Seattle MLS apparently presented it to the league as one of several choices they wanted to offer fans (the league owns the trademarks and must approve names).
Commissioner Don Garber said that “I have great respect for the Sounders and the club’s history. While we should celebrate the past, we believe the MLS Seattle team should be about where they are headed tomorrow and help position the club globally.” Seattle MLS GM Adrian Hanauer toed this line, commenting that “We want to start a new tradition and a new direction and we’d like our name to reflect our attempt to have a global connection on and off the field,”
The fact the name had existed for over three decades cuts no ice with the Don or Seattle MLS, it seems. The names MLS would accept were Seattle FC, Seattle Alliance and Seattle Republic. The first choice seems to be a fudge: given there’s already an “FC” in the league (Toronto), that hardly squares with Garber’s recent comment that “we are very focused on our teams creating separate, distinct identities.” The second, Alliance, sounds like the name of a bank or insurance company; the third, perhaps a coffee shop (I suppose that would be fitting).
The ball was tossed back to Seattle MLS who now had to communicate to the fans the news Sounders would not be one of the three name choices offered to them in an online vote. And boy, did they make a hash of it. After it was revealed Sounders would not be a choice, many fans expressed their disappointment at it on the internet. The Seattle PI newspaper picked up the story of fans’ bewilderment at the choices, giving Seattle MLS its first negative press.
So how did Seattle MLS react to this first test of their image as a people’s club? With a quite bizarre rant on their official website complaining about fans complaining (the following text has since been removed from the site, but has been reproduced on the Goal Seattle blog).
The Seattle club’s founding fathers–Joe Roth, Adrian Hanauer, Paul Allen and Carey–have settled on the three finalists, which will be unveiled Mar. 25, and may or may not include a name you’re fond of.
If not, get over it. And vote.
This is democracy. This process promises to be emotional. The club has taken every effort to make sure it is fair and transparent, yet democracy, like comedy, is not always pretty.
“Get over it”? As the Goal Seattle blog noted, “What the hell? I am sure that Frank MacDonald had only the best intentions, but talk about adding fuel to the fire, then trying to put the fire out by spitting in the faces of longtime fans. Ugh.
“Power to the people? Those in MLS HQ in NY? In Kirkland? Certainly not on the streets of Seattle.
“I had hoped this whole naming process would be ‘transparent,’ but what it really is beginning to show is that Seattle MLS has a ‘concept’ they are selling, and in trying so hard to sell it they have already started losing touch with some of their potential fans.”
Cue more bad press and bad vibes for Seattle MLS. One can only imagine the wheels grinding in Seattle and at MLS headquarters at this growing public relations disaster, spoiling what had heretofore been a dream start for Seattle MLS, with over 13,000 season ticket deposits sold already.
To their credit, they did backtrack slightly, as a “write-in” option appeared on the online naming vote. Wouldn’t it be sweet if Seattle’s fans forced MLS to accept the locally-orientated, historic name instead of a “global brand” suited name instead via the power of the ballot?