Is it enough for Sounders to re-assert values in wake of Providence sponsorship?

When the Seattle Sounders introduced their newest and most famous sponsor during an event at Renton High School almost two weeks ago, the mood was one of celebration. Players threw shirts in the stands, high school students participated in a class-by-class contest to see who could do the best “boom-boom-clap,” and there was much talk of sponsorship. Providence was much more. emblazoning their name on the front of a Sounders jersey.

A major component of “a lot more” was the youth mental health program that will be offered to Renton School District students in partnership with Providence.

When Sounders officials began checking social media and reading emails, however, it quickly became apparent that the announcement was not received as expected. Inboxes and timeslots have been filled with negative reactions and concerns, accusing the Sounders of abandoning their core principles by partnering with a health care organization with a history of limiting reproductive choice, accused of discriminating against LGTBQ patients and now sued by the Washington Attorney General for charging low-income patients for care they were entitled to free.

The volume and intensity of the fan reaction was significant enough that the Sounders called an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss a plan of action. Immediately, the Sounders set up meetings with Emerald City Supporters, Gorilla FC and the Alliance Council in an attempt to calm concerns.

It was in the same way that the Sounders reached out to us with the aim of reaching our audience. I met with Longacres on Monday with Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Taylor Graham as well as COO Maya Mendoza-Exstrom to discuss some of the concerns we have received. You can listen to the hour-long conversation here, but I also wanted to share some of my takeaways:

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from our interviews was the belief that the problem is mostly about messaging. At one point, it was openly suggested that the group was ready to answer some of these questions about the wrong core values ​​of journalism, but no one asked. While there may be some truth to that sentiment – and I was planning to attend and ask those questions if it weren’t for the fact that two sick children were at home – I think it’s a little too smart. – a file that may even be dishonest to suggest that all of this could have been avoided if only the right questions had been asked at the discovery.

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Let’s be clear: the problem isn’t that they haven’t said out loud that their core values ​​haven’t changed. Partnering with an organization like Providence will require more than simply restating those values. Some fans, maybe even most, will probably want to be patient. For others, however, I think there is a loss of confidence. Maybe future actions can bring those fans back, but it will take a real concerted effort that goes beyond hosting bragging rights or issuing statements on Twitter.

If there was one positive takeaway, it’s that Graham and Mendoza-Exstrom insisted that this partnership will not diminish any of the work the Sounders do in the community, and may even enhance it. They insisted that the Sounders will not be shy about taking positions on social issues that range from “fair play” to women’s reproductive choices. There was even an insistence that Providence was “empowering us to be the best versions of ourselves” when it came to social issues.

At the same time, Graham and Mendoza-Exstrom indicated that there were at least some workers who shared the same concerns. However, they argue that just being able to have that kind of conversation internally and externally is part of what sets them apart from many sports organizations.

Anyone hoping for the Sounders to pull away from Providence regardless of the result is likely to be disappointed. At no time did Graham or Mendoza-Exstrom express any frustration or discomfort with Providence. They also said they weren’t concerned that Providence might use the Sounders’ logo as a kind of game-washer, in part because of how extensively they have worked with other sports teams.

“This is not the first time that Providence has invested in providing their products and growing their sports business,” Graham said when asked specifically about the washing of sports. “When we talked to our colleagues who cooperated with Providence, the starting point was the whole community first. That comes back to the people, do you trust that? From individuals, we do. From the organization, we do. It proud of the work they do in Providence through the work they do in the LGTBQI space. They empower us to lead in this space and to be vocal. I have no concerns in this space. We are invested in this space, and we intend to deliver. “

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One thing the Sounders are excited about this partnership with is the youth mental health program they will help start in Renton schools. Providence has an existing program called “Work2BeWell” which will apparently form the backbone of their outreach, but they are also waiting to hear from the Renton schools to get more details on what is needed. Considering that the details of how this program will be rolled out are still unknown, it’s hard to know exactly how to feel, but Sounders is clearly hopeful and confident that LGBTQ youth will receive the mental health care they deserve. appropriate. Mendoza-Exstrom said “30-50” Renton students have already shown some interest in using the service, something she took as a sign of how valuable it could be. There is broad agreement that many of these issues are all related, and the Sounders want this to be a comprehensive care brand.

There was no word on how much Providence would pay the Sounders, but the deal is said to be worth around $100 million over its 10-year life. That is much more than the club received from previous investors XBOX or Zulily. Graham acknowledged that the price tag was part of what made this attractive, but he also stressed that they felt a lot of good could be done with all that money and resources. Graham suggested that the funds would be used to help fund the Sounders’ various social justice initiatives as well as improving the quality of the stadium.

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The common theme in all of this is that words can only convey so much. It’s all well and good for the Sounders to say that their values ​​have not changed, that they believe that a lot of good things can come out of it and that they are confident that Providence will be a good partner. But they also admit that the evidence will be in practice.

“We are a team committed to action,” Graham said. “We will be held accountable for taking action over a period of time. Hopefully, this team’s track record and being able to counter that is something that can give our fans confidence back at this time. Come back and understand that we don’t have all the information in front of us.

One sentiment I’ve heard repeatedly is that the Sounders seem to want to have their cake (perceived as a progressive club) and eat it too (taking money from an organization that is at least perceived to be actively working on some core values ​​club). I’m not sure if anything said in this interview will disabuse fans of that idea. Perhaps, the Sounders chose to win for social causes because they believe it is the right thing to do, but one of the consequences is that they put themselves in a position of judgment when they do things that seem to be against them. those values. No one made them partner with Providence and it would be up to them to move around.

At the end of the interview, I tried to underline what kind of actions they think the team can take and what the fans can do to hold them accountable. I’m not sure that many will confirm their answers, which were basically “patience” and “claim your tickets and representatives of the Alliance Council or serve the Alliance Council.”

On the other hand, I suspect many fans will simply vote with their wallets, either by choosing not to shop at Providence or perhaps even more extreme.


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