SEATTLE – A small-scale, but highly unlikely, brand revival will take place Thursday when the expansion Seattle Sounders F.C. take the field in Major League Soccer. While the sport remains a niche pastime in the United States, this legacy nickname shows the power of branding with an established and eager audience.
The original Seattle Sounders played in the old North American Soccer League from 1974-1983 and lived on in a minor-league clubs that kicked off in 1994 and folded last year in anticipation of major-league status. When MLS added the new franchise, the venture’s owners put the team’s nickname up for a vote and eliminated the brand from the ballots. One of the team’s owners told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer “I love the Sounders brand and the Sounders history. That will always be a part of Seattle soccer. … This is a new team in a new league and we want to start fresh.”
The qualms are understandable, the NASL was a genuine economic bubble that reached its peak—with lots of comically wrong triumphalism about how soccer was the sport of the future—during the era of stagflation and malaise. When the bubble popped during the Reagan era, futbol became an overseas idea that looked good on paper but drew a negative-gut reaction. Just like the metric system. The rather sober MLS, which often takes an almost-apologetic tone in relationship with its disco-era predecessor, feared the older brand.
But if someone’s going to bury a brand, at least take the time and come up with a decent replacement. Fans gagged on labels such as Seattle Alliance or Seattle Republic—by the way, MLS, there’s no law against using an “S” at the end of a team name—and the league bowed to public pressure, added a write-in option and Sounders won the balloting with 49 percent of the vote.
Fans of ghost brands, take heart. Revivals are possible, even when the owners dread it.