SEATTLE — Like everyone involved in the early days of the Seattle Sounders, Adrian Hanauer was optimistic about the potential for the market.
The team’s general manager and part-owner was well aware that the NASL Sounders routinely drew 30,000 people to the Kingdome, and had even seen his own USL Sounders draw sizable crowds when the circumstances were right.
But even he admits to being blown away by what he is now witnessing. For Saturday night’s final regular-season home game of the Sounders’ third MLS season, the team has announced that more than 62,000 tickets have already been sold (10:30 pm ET, FOX Soccer, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Could Hanauer ever have predicted this kind of crowd back when he was rounding up potential investors for the team?
“It probably would have gotten me kicked out of the room,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “I think they would have thought I was delusional and probably not wanted me as a partner.”
According to Hanauer, the original budget had projections that included 8,000, 12,000 and 16,000 season-ticket holders; now the team is at about 32,000 and trying to decide if it should expand for 2012.
“It is a bit surreal,” he admitted.
Once the final numbers are in, Saturday’s crowd will likely be among the 10 biggest in MLS history and in the top three that weren’t part of a double-header. The only two standalone games that drew more were the LA Galaxy’s inaugural MLS game at the Rose Bowl in 1996 (69,255) and David Beckham’s first appearance at Giants Stadium in 2007 (66,238).
Many in attendance will be there because they want to bid farewell to Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller. But unlike Beckham, he will be playing in front home fans, many of whom have followed his entire 23-year professional career.
Keller, too, is amazed at the way Seattle has embraced the Sounders.
“Nobody could have imagined that anything could have been like this with this club,” said Keller, who grew up in nearby Olympia, Wash. “I couldn’t imagine that when I came home that the city, the entire Pacific Northwest, would become this. I’m just honored and proud that it has.”
Saturday’s crowd will provide a pretty clear final argument to another Sounders record-breaking season. Once the final numbers are tabulated, the team will have drawn more than 650,000 people to their 17 regular-season games for an average north of 38,000 per game. It will be the third straight year that they’ve set both records.
It will also be the crowning achievement of a region that will draw nearly 1.3 million people to regular-season soccer matches in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver. In 1996, the entire 10-team league drew about 2.7 million people.
As great as the growth of the Sounders’ attendance has been, Hanauer believes it still far from maxing out. He says he could see a time perhaps five to 10 years from now when the Sounders are selling out 67,000-capacity CenturyLink Field on a regular basis.
“If the game continues to grow on this trajectory,” he said, “if eyeballs on TVs continue to increase, if media continues to increase, I don’t see any reason why this can’t continue to grow.”