The Sounders FC soccer team played their first Major League Soccer game five years ago Wednesday. In that time, the team’s fans have broken attendance records over and over.
But has the team’s financial success trickled down into the community? It depends on who you ask.
Salvatore Savago calls himself the hot dog king. Before games, he sets up a hot dog cart in Pioneer Square and sells around a $1,000 worth of Polish sausages slathered with cream cheese and onions – more than three times what he sells on a normal day.
“The Sounders’ business has allowed me to stay open more days a week down here and also expand a little bit to be able to build another hot dog cart,” Savago said.
He wants to open up a sports bar some day with home-style cooking. “Being able to open more carts has given me more revenue and helped me work towards that goal. So having the Sounders in the area is really good for me personally,” he said.
Just across the street, Kirsten Anderson runs Roq la Rue, an art gallery. She said that her business doesn’t see any noticeable increase in visitors on Sounders game days, and those that do come in aren’t interested in buying art. In fact, Anderson said the Sounders crowd keeps her regular patrons away because of the traffic congestion and parking issues.
Lauren Davis, who manages the Art Exchange Gallery a few doors down from Roq la Rue, has a more positive impression of Sounders fans.
“Sounders are much more likely to be art fans than fans of certain other teams,” Davis said. “Sounders fans tend to be really excited and happy but they still are in control of themselves. So they’re more likely to walk into a gallery on their way there or on their way back.”
However, she said that doesn’t necessarily translate into more sales. “It’s hard to say. But we’re gaining new people who would never come down to Pioneer Square just to visit a gallery,” said Davis, who also credited the colorful fish lamps in her storefront window as a draw into her gallery.
Beyond these anecdotes, it’s difficult to quantify the Sounders’ financial impact on the city. Local economist Dick Conway has looked for data but said there’s not much out there.
But Conway said the Sounders’ greatest contribution to Seattle might be something economists can’t measure. Sports teams contribute to what he calls “the public good,” something that can be felt while following Sound Wave – the Seattle Sounders’ official marching band – in the march to the match before a game.
“My stepson was actually in the Sounders Band for a while,” Conway said. “And marching down with the band and with the people – it’s really quite a spectacle. It’s the kind of thing that I think draws people together. And I think professional sports, like a lot of other things, are the glue that holds a community together.”
There’s no simple way to measure the strength of that glue. But Conway said it does strengthen our economy in at least one simple way: Sports make people want to live in Seattle. And that makes it easier for local companies to recruit workers.