Over 68,000 fans made their way to CenturyLink Field on Thursday night to watch the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers in the opener of the 2014 NFL regular season. The defending champs’ vaunted defense made perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers look pedestrian, but the crowd was also a major part of the Week One rout.
“The loudness of the stadium made him a little queasy out there,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said of Rodgers, who had what would have been his second-lowest passer rating of last season.
The fans of the Seahawks have become as synonymous with the team as any player. Known as the “12th Man,” the crowd at Seattle football games has given the Seahawks what might be the best home-field advantage in the NFL. People who root for the Seahawks, along with fans of other teams in the Pacific Northwest, have made Seattle one of the most unique sports cities in the United States.
It was just over a year ago that Seattle was named the most miserable sports city in the country. The list published by Forbes on July 31, 2013, has Seattle ranked just ahead of Atlanta, Phoenix and Buffalo. At the time, the SuperSonics were the only one of the city’s professional sports teams that had ever won a championship, and they moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder in 2008.
Seattle’s teams might not have a history of success on the field, but the tide has turned in recent years, and it makes the case to be considered a great sports town. The city’s top two teams are having their most success in a long time, and fan support continues to increase.
In February, the Seahawks won the first Super Bowl in franchise history, but the team has gotten great fan support even when it wasn’t winning. The 2014 home opener marked the team’s 96th consecutive sellout. Seattle has made the playoffs the last two years, but their home stadium was filled for every game in the previous four seasons, even though each one ended with a losing record for the Seahawks.
Other NFL teams sell out every game, but it’d be hard to find fans that are as loud as Seattle’s. Fans set a record for crowd noise in December of last year, and the stadium has gotten so loud at times that fans of other teams have even called for the NFL to take action against the Seahawks.
“It would be simple to fix. Seahawks players and managers would ask their fans to cease and desist, and the NFL would implement a new rule: The visiting team may stop the game when fan noise is greater than a specified decibel level, and should this rule be violated in more than three games, no home games will be played at the offending field for the rest of the season, including playoff games,” read a letter written to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, following a game between the Seahawks and 49ers last year.
When it comes to jersey sales, no other fanbase comes close to that of the Seahawks. From April 1 to July 17, Seattle had four of the top 11 selling jerseys, including a No.12 jersey representing the fans. No other team has more than one jersey in the top 13.
The Mariners, Seattle’s No.2 team, hasn’t received the unconditional support that the Seahawks have gotten. However, the fans have shown that they will get behind a good team.
It’s been 13 years since the Mariners made the playoffs, and attendance at Safeco Field has reflected that of a losing team in that time. With the Mariners holding a wild card spot just three weeks away from the start of the 2014 postseason, fans are supporting the MLB team. While Seattle ranks just 22nd with 25,251 fans per game, an average of over 30,000 fans have attended the team's last 11 home games. In 2001, when the Mariners last made the playoffs, they outdrew every MLB team with 43,302 fans per game.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Seattle is a great sport town involves a team outside of the major American team sports. The city’s professional soccer team, Seattle Sounders FC, has shattered previous MLS attendance records. The Sounders debuted in 2009 and have set a new league record each season.
In their first year in the league, an average of 30,943 people watched the Sounders play each home game. Last season, that number reached 44,038 fans per contest, while the average MLS game drew 18,523 fans. The team has made the playoffs every season, but their fanbase continues to increase, despite never winning a MLS championship.
“The support we have here, you can't replicate it anywhere else in the States because of the numbers we get at our games,” said Sounders and U.S. men’s soccer star Clint Dempsey on The Late Show with David Letterman. “It's something that's special … It is exciting. It's not too much of a drop-off in terms of that excitement we experienced during the World Cup.”
It stands to reason that Seattle fans would be very passionate about teams that they do have. Seattle ranks as the 22nd largest city in the United States, but it is without an NBA and NHL organization.
The SuperSonics left, not because of a dwindling fanbase, but because ownership was unable to get a new arena funded by the city. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer tried to bring the Sacramento Kings to Seattle last year, but the team's new ownership group kept the team in California’s capital city. Interest remains in bringing a hockey team to the city, as well, but it won’t be possible without an arena.
No matter the sport, Seattle fans have proven that they will always support a winner, and often times support teams that are going through tough times. Between the passionate fanbase and the recent success of the teams, the city that was called the most miserable in sports less than 14 months ago might be in the conversation among the best sport cities by the end of 2014.