With a report emerging that the Seattle Sounders are in “advanced discussions” to buy the OL Reign, now seems like as good a time as any to pass in the history of the region’s elite women’s soccer team. There is also some widespread misinformation that may be worth clarifying.
Here is a brief history of the Sounders’ involvement with Buso:
In 2000, the Seattle Sounders launched a women’s team called the Sounders Khetha Women who played in the first edition of the W-League. This was a league run by the USL, the same organization that ran the league in which the Sounders played. The Sounders Women were an up-and-coming team that was a mix of high school players, collegians on summer break and seniors trying to wait.
It continued that way until 2008 when the women’s team was sold before the Sounders moved to MLS. The Sounders Women were able to retain use of the name through a licensing agreement, but had no further official connection to the Sounders.
The Sounders Women burst onto the scene in 2012, however. After the WPS folded earlier that year, players were looking for places to play before the London Olympics. As it turned out, four players who would make the USWNT’s roster – Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan – would suit up for the Sounders Women that year, playing in front of sold-out crowds at Starfire Stadium. The Athletic had a really good retrospective on that team that is worth reading.
It’s NWSL time
That team’s success may have helped pave the way for the newly formed NWSL to choose Seattle as one of its first markets. Women’s Sounders owners Lane Smith and Cliff McElroy made a bid to take their team to the NWSL, but Bill and Teresa Predmore won.
The newly christened Seattle Reign couldn’t ride any of the momentum built by the Sounders Women, however, and struggled mightily out of the gate. While there was never really a chance that the Sounders Women would have been allowed to keep their name if they had moved to the NWSL, it was felt that at least part of the Reign’s struggles were due to a lack of cohesion. Presumably, they were plagued by the fact that they had almost no runway, were operating empty and invisible while playing the worst football in Starfire (they finished seventh in the eight-team league).
However, after moving to Memorial Park in 2014, things got better. Coming off a 5-14-3 campaign, the Reign went 16-2-6 to run away with the NWSL Shield, but fell in the championship game. Attendance also increased by almost 60% in the 2nd year. At the same time, Reign and Sounders began to have a more visible relationship, with players often appearing at each other’s games.
After five seasons at Memorial Stadium, the Reign was forced to find a new home before the 2019 season. At one point, Reign had plans to move to Lumen Field but ultimately decided it would be too expensive.
Instead, they chose to move to Tacoma, where the Sounders and Tacoma Rainiers already shared a ballpark near Cheney Stadium. As part of the move, Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer and his mother, Lenore, joined Reign as minority owners.
That year, the Sounders and Reign even joined forces to sell Zulilly to become shirt sponsors for both teams.
At the end of 2019, however, the Hanauers sold their floors when OL Groupe bought the majority of Reign from the Predmores.
Although the Sounders and Reign no longer had an ownership relationship, they continued to work together. In 2021, that led to a double title for the PNW Experience. The event was considered a huge success by many, with the Empire drawing an announced crowd of 27,278 for their leg of the doubleheader and the Sounders bringing in 45,737 for theirs. It was the highest single-game attendance of any team that year, and the Reign actually set an NWSL record.
The doubleheader returned in 2023, with more mixed reviews. With Reign moving to Lumen Field full time in 2022, the novelty was clearly wearing thin on their fans as many seemed more upset about giving up their tickets than happy to be playing to a bigger than usual crowd.
What has changed?
Bearing in mind that there is no formality and there has been no indication of how the new ownership group can be organized, it is worth wondering why the Sounders suddenly became so interested in women’s football 10 years after the birth of the Empire.
Hanauer has told me many times that his biggest concern about having a women’s team was the field. Part of what made him interested in getting involved in 2019 was the belief that Reigns could succeed in a Tacoma stadium. In fact, a clause in the Sounders’ memorandum of understanding with the city of Tacoma on the stadium was a guarantee to have the NWSL team as a tenant. That is included as a hedge against the OL Group which may shake up the team.
Although Tacoma’s stadium seems completely dead, the last few seasons have shown that Lumen Field may be the perfect home for the Reigns. They have drawn more than 7,000 people 18 separate times over the past two seasons, topped 10,000 five times this year and set an NWSL single-game attendance record when 34,130 showed up for Rapinoe’s farewell game on Oct. 6. Even without this year’s double title. , the Reign brought nearly 150,000 fans to Lumen Field this year in their 15 other competitive games there.