These guys aren't about to start rooting for the SuperSonics. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Sounder At Heart: Possible Return Of NBA To Seattle Won't Hurt Sounders

With the NBA's apparent purchase of the New Orleans Hornets, there's speculation the NBA may return to Seattle. There's little reason for the Sounders to be worried this could adversely affect their popularity, present or future.

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Sounder At Heart: Possible Return Of NBA To Seattle Won't Hurt Sounders

With news that the NBA is buying the New Orleans Hornets - in a manner similar to when MLB bought the Montreal Expos - speculation has been rife that this could mean the return of the Seattle SuperSonics. One national blogger suggested this could spell trouble for the Sounders' prospects of future growth.

That prompted Sounder at Heart's Sidereal to offer a bit of a rebuttal. He listed off several reasons the Sounders don't have much to worry about if the Sonics were to, indeed return. He offers that the reality of NBA stadium capacity alone limits the possible hit the Sonics can make on the Sounders.

The average attendance in the NBA is somewhere around 17,000. Say you want to be aggressively pessimistic and argue that some huge percentage of a future Sonics fanbase would come from Sounders fans - say 40%. Then shave off those who are willing to buy tickets for both leagues — so say we're down to 35% of the Sonics fans as onetime Sounders fans who've completely switched over. That's around 6,000 fans. Take away 6,000 fans from the average Sounders game and they're still over 30,000. That's the 2009 attendance that shattered the league record and made everyone dizzy with glee. A less pessimistic guess would be something like 2 or 3 thousand making a switch. That's just a bump in the road of Sounders attendance.

Taking it a little further, there were lots of reasons for the Sounders' amazing debut. The recent departure of the Sonics was, undoubtedly, part of that. But there were a bunch of other things going on that helped as well.

  • Seattle sports were at a nadir. The Sonics had left, sure, but the Mariners and Seahawks were also mired in bad runs of form. Even the University of Washington football team was trudging through an extended era of disappointment. The Sounders promised something better and largely have delivered, making the playoffs in each of their first two seasons and winning to U.S. Open Cups.
  • An impressive marketing blitz. Visiting Seattle during the spring of 2009, prior to MLS kicking off, you'd have thought the Sounders were the biggest show in town. Huge banners hung near downtown, team merchandise was available in places like the Space Needle gift shop, thousands of people had already been given free scarves. Everyone in and around Seattle was aware big-time soccer had returned.
  • Partnership with the Seahawks. It wasn't just from a marketing perspective, as members of the Seahawks front office ended up playing instrumental roles in the way the Sounders were presented. Gary Wright, after whom the Qwest Field pressbox is named, came out of retirement to help ensure the Sounders were seen as a "big-league" team. Unlike other NFL/MLS partnerships, the Sounders have not been treated as a step child, but more like little brother. They might not be equal, but they definitely know they are part of the family.

There are plenty of other reasons, but none of these things change if the Sonics return and were unlikely to change if they had never left. But available entertainment dollars are available entertainment dollars and the Sounders would undoubtedly have to fight harder if there was another team in town.

That said, the Sounders don't seem to be in much danger of peaking too early. Their season-ticket base is already well over 30,000 and they have built a strong loyalty. If anything, the NBA may actually have some trouble luring fans back, not the other way around.

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