* * *
Reign FC held its media day today in advance of the NWSL season kicking off this weekend. Part of the day included the unveiling of a jersey sponsor, Moda Health, a medical insurance company based in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ll update this post throughout the day (there was a lot of material covered), but first a response from owner Bill Predmore when I asked how much he could tell us about how season-ticket sales are going:
“Probably not in a ton of detail. What I can say is we’ve seen spectacular response down in Portland with all that they’ve done down there. I think we’re probably more in line with where the rest of the league is at in terms of season-ticket sales. I would say probably disappointed that we’re not further ahead on that. Probably part of that is just my expectations were too great going into in. But part of it, quite frankly, is we — and by that I mean me — have just not done a great job of building awareness for the club out there. People are still figuring who is the Reign is, what are we all about, so I think our biggest issue is just one of awareness.
“I will say I was thrilled nearly to tears when we had several of the players at the Sounders game last Tuesday for the Santos match, and they let us set up and sell t-shirts and do an autograph-signing session. I had these nightmares the night before that we were going walk in and everyone would just walk by and they would just have no idea who we were, but it was a little bit of a madhouse. Laura and I and several others were selling more t-shirts than we could (imagine). There was a huge line. Really, it was incredible reception.
“What it made me believe is that if people know about us and we have an opportunity to expose the team and the brand to them, that there’s going to be a huge reception. I hope people will go on the website, buy some season tickets or at least a single match and give us a shot. I think it’s going to be exciting. The players have worked very, very hard, and I think they’re going to put on an impressive display. We’ll see on Sunday in Chicago, but I think we’re going to surprise some folks.”
More from owner Bill Predmore
(Is Portland’s off-the-field success directly related to MLS infrastructure? Is that something that can be created here or elsewhere in the league?) “I mean it’s hard to know exactly what they’ve done right down there. It’s clear they’ve done a ton of very smart things. They’re obviously a very buttoned-up organization. I think even they would say they benefited in a very significant way from being able to build on top of the infrastructure they’ve got, the fan base that they’ve got. So I don’t want to make excused for us or for any other team in the league. They’ve certainly been very successful. We just need to do a better job on our end in getting the word out there. I think when people get a chance to see our team on the field, there’s going to be some excitement that builds. We just haven’t had the opportunity to draft off another organization. I think that’s OK, it’s just going to take a little bit more time.
“I think for us, long term, we’d very much like to see a close relationship between the Sounders and the Reign. I think there are small steps that are being taken in that direction — the Sounders allowing us to be in the stadium for the Santos match was something they did not have to do. It was very much appreciated, and I think it was an indication from them that they’re supportive of us and they’re supportive of the sport. We’re figuring out what’s the right way to work together, potentially as partners. That’s something that we’re working on now. I think it probably is a multiyear process as opposed to what the Thorns and Timbers have together, where from Day 1 they’re tied at the hip.
(We noticed there was a Sounders Women’s advertisement on the way into Reign practice today. Are you just stuck with that? Will that be there on game day?) “This is a facility that’s used for a lot of group, so I think we’re going to see advertising from a lot of different organizations. There are some things that are stadium-specific that have to stay. The adidas sponsorship, for instance, is really a stadium sponsorship. None of that material will go on game day, but we’ll have additional materials up there for our sponsors. For instance, Moda will certainly have a presence in the stadium. There will be others that do, as well.
“I think it’s fine. We’re all going to have to figure out how to get along. And I certainly don’t have a problem with the material being up there. Megan Rapinoe is on one of them, so to the extent that they want to advertise one of our players, I’m happy to have them do it.”
(Are you happy with the color, name and everything regarding the brand rollout?) “Yeah. Honestly, I really am. I don’t think it’s any secret, I originally was really hoping to be the Sounders Women. Our original goal was to try and strike a partnership with the Sounders and be some derivative of that brand. Ultimately we veered away from that course. Long term, I think it’s the right thing to do. I think in the short term, we could’ve ridden that Rave Green wave, and I think it would’ve filled the stands more quickly than having a new brand, but I think long term it’s actually better for the spot. I think it’s better for our club in that we’ll be able to develop our own identity that is necessarily going to be distinct from what the Sounders men might do, and who, no matter how great we were, would always dominate — if we used the same name. Again, I think it’s a longer road for us, but I’m totally pleased with it. I’m biased, of course, but I love the logo, love the name, so I’m super happy about it.”
JESS FISHLOCK, midfielder
(How are things feeling leading into the start of the season?) “It’s really exciting. I’ve come over now, and the league is starting on Sunday. It’s been a little bit of a long wait, but we’re all really, really excited.”
(How is the team gelling?) “I think Laura has a pretty hard job getting us all together, but she’s done an absolute beaut of a job. We’re all gelling. We’re all getting along really well. We’re all a really good bunch of girls, and I think that helps.”
(How long does is take for a team to get a sense of how good it can be?) “I think it takes roughly a month, probably, and I think that’s what Seattle has had. I think we gelled a lot faster than that because we’re all really excited. Seattle as a club is really excited and they’re doing everything to make sure that everything is done right. I think that’s helped us gel even quicker and better.”
(What was the trip to Japan like?) “That was surreal. It was absolutely brilliant. I had the best time over there.”
(What’s coach Laura Harvey like?) “Laura is definitely one of a kind, and I’ll just leave it at that. (laughs).”
(How important was that Japan trip?) “I think that cut down the time needed to bond by about two weeks, I would say personally. It was really good that we were able to do it. I think it was great from Seattle’s point of view to be able to get us out there. I think that’s helped us a lot.”
(Have you felt any soccer buzz in this city?) “I have, yeah. Absolutely. I’m still not used to “soccer”. It’s “football” back home. So we’ll keep it at that. But yeah, absolutely. It’s really good and being based here at the moment, you come in and there’s just football everywhere. And I think that’s really good.”
(How will the team adjust to Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe being out?) “I think that everyone who has the likes of Hope and Megan in their squad, but unable to play, I think that everyone will think that that’s a pretty unfortunate situation. And it is. Obviously we see that. However, we’ve got a great squad. The girls have been fantastic in the time that we’ve been together, so we kind of see it as when they come in, it’ll be a massive boost for us. But at the moment, this is all that we’ve known, and I think we’re all pretty OK with that.”
(With your experience, do you feel any responsibility to take a leadership role?) “Not really. I think that we’ve got a few experienced players here. We’ve got Keelin (Winters) and we’ve got Emily (Zurrer) and Kaylyn (Kyle). They’re all as experienced as I am. I think we’re just bouncing off each other and making sure that as a team, we’re keeping the standards high and we’re keeping the quality high — and that comes from everyone. That’s not just a chosen one or a chosen two, and I think that that has shown in our training. I think that’s also what’s really good about our squad.”
KEELIN WINTERS, midfielder
(How’s the team coming together?) “Good. Our time in Japan I think served its purpose. I think we were really able to establish our team identity and really get into a competitive nature. I think we’re all just really excited for the game on Sunday against Chicago.”
(Is this team ready for a game already?) “It’s been a quick preseason it seems like, because we had 12 days in Japan and we get back and we only have a week and a half or two weeks until we play Chicago. It was a quick preseason, but I think we’re ready.”
(How did you feel about the trade?) “I was pretty excited about it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be in Chicago, but I felt that the situation was better here for me as far as playing-wise. I’m a defensive midfielder and so it would’ve me, Shannon Boxx and Leslie Osborne — who are arguably three starting holding center mids on one team. So I think that it was good for Seattle and I think it was good for Chicago, and it was good for me, so I was pretty excited.”
(Did you get any sense of Seattle as a city in your brief stay here with the Sounders Women last summer?) “Yeah, so I played for the Sounders last summer, and I went to the University of Portland, so I’ve been in and out of the Northwest for about (six) years now. I really love the Northwest. I love the soccer culture here. It’s so different from any other part of the country. So I’m just happy to be staying here and have the great fans come out and watch us play.”
(Does this compare to the Sounders Women?) “I think it’s a little bit different because the Sounders as an organization are more established than the Seattle Reign, obviously. We’re a brand-new organization. Having the Sounders name, I think, goes a long way. And especially because we had Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe, but also Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and so we had five or six national-team players with the Sounders last summer. It created this huge buzz. Whereas now it’s kind of like Seattle Reign, and sometimes people were like, ‘Are you a basketball team?’ We’re like, ‘We’re a soccer team.’ In that sense it’s been a little less publicized, or people know less about the Seattle Reign, but I have no doubt that over the course of the season that it’s going to get right back to where it was last summer in terms of the fans getting excited and coming out to watch the Seattle Reign play, and getting used to seeing Seattle Reign in the newspapers, on the news and all that stuff. We’re excited.”
(How will the team adjust to Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe being out?) “We’re excited obviously for them both to come back, but right now we have to learn how to play with each other, because we only have each other right now. We don’t have Megan or Hope. Yes, we’re excited for them, but I think we’re good right now as a team, and we’re going to be great when they come back.”
(How much are players thinking about having a sustainable league?) “Absolutely. I think that’s a huge point for this new league. The new business model, I think it’s better all around. I think it’s going to be way more stable. It doesn’t put so much pressure on the private ownership groups to shell out the money. Now you have U.S. Soccer, the Mexican federation and the Canadian soccer association who are going to help supplement the league, which is huge. It takes such a huge burden off the private owners. For us, we know we’re not the EPL. We know we’re not going to be this huge league. It’s going to take years. How long did it take MLS to get where they were actually making money? I think it took 10-15 years. We’re starting small, which is good, which is where we need to be. We’re at Starfire Stadium. We’re not at CenturyLink. I think we’re being more realistic right now. I think it’s really going to be more stable, which is exactly what women’s soccer needs right now. What we need right now is stability.”
CHRISTINE NAIRN, midfielder
(What can you tell us about how the team is coming together?) “We’re a new club and we’re excited to get out there. We have a lot of young players who are out there to prove themselves to this league. The good thing is that not a lot of people know about us, so we’re kind of flying under the radar. I think that will play in our favor, and we’re hoping to put a lot of people in the seats and play in front of a good crowd.”
(Is the team ready to play already?) “Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We’re kind of getting a little tired of practicing and kind of want to get the games started and compete for a championship in our first year. We’re excited to get the ball rolling.”
(What’s it mean to be a professional soccer player to you?) “It’s amazing. Growing up, we always said that we wanted to be professional women’s soccer players, and everyone kind of laughed and said, ‘We don’t even have a league in the U.S., so what are you going to do?’ But we just kept going, kept playing through college, and took some beatings from our siblings — I have two older brothers, so I’ve had my fair share of injuries — but we can finally say we’re a league and we’re here to stay. We’re excited to start it off.”
(Do you feel playing in a league like this will help your efforts of making it to the U.S. women’s national team?) “Absolutely. Like I said before, we’re a young team, and young players are out to prove themselves and get called into the full national team and compete for arguably the best team in the world, which is the U.S. We’re excited to prove ourselves and put this team and the Seattle Reign back on the map.”
(How will the team adjust to Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe being out?) “It would obviously be nice to have Hope and Pinoe on our roster, but like I said, it gives a lot of other players a chance to prove themselves — players who may never have had that opportunity at the beginning of the season. We’ll miss them a lot, don’t get me wrong, they are great players and irreplaceable, but we’re going to deal with what we have. I think we’re putting pieces together and we’re coming together and playing as a team right now. I think that ultimately is just as important.”
JENNY RUIZ, defender
(What was the feeling among Mexican international players when it came to being involved and allocated throughout the league?) “It’s so exciting. It’s really good for my country and the national team, because we get to play alongside these other great national teams that we want to compete against, and eventually play in the World Cup. … It’s a great opportunity for all the Mexican national team players.”
(What is the dynamic like having a lot of Mexican-Americans on the Mexican national team?) “I think it is challenging, but I think that has become the culture now, because for so many years we’ve been a mixed team in that sense. It works for us. We’re Mexico, and we love it. A lot of us have roots, and we welcome all Mexican-Americans and naturally born Mexicans. We’re all Mexican.”
(Were you born here?) “I’m one of the Mexican-Americans, so I was born here in the United States.”
(Was that a tough decision to make at any point?) “When I had the opportunity in college to go try out for Mexico, and then when I was able to make the team, it was like my dream to play on the Mexican national team. So playing at the highest level with the Mexican national team was phenomenal.”
(Do you know Veronica Perez very well?) “Yes, I do. I love her. When I get the opportunity to room with her in camp, it’s the best. She’s phenomenal.”
(Have you talked to her about Seattle?) “Yeah, I’ve talked to her a lot. We keep in touch all the time. This is her home, she went to UW and played on the Sounders, so I think that was challenging for her to not get allocated here. But at the same time, she’s so happy with where she is.”