When Seattle Sounders The sponsor unveiled its latest and greatest during an event at Renton High School nearly two weeks ago, and the mood was celebratory. Players threw their jerseys into the stands, high school students took part in a class-by-class competition to see who could pitch the best “boom-boom-clap,” and there was a lot of talk about how Providence’s sponsorship was more than just putting their name on the front of the Sounders jersey. .
The biggest part of this “lot” was the youth mental health program that would be made available to the students of the Renton School District in partnership with Providence.
By the time Sounders officials began checking social media and reading the email, it was quickly apparent that the announcement had not been received as hoped. Inboxes and timelines were filled with negative feedback and concern, with accusations that the Sounders had abandoned its core principles by partnering with a healthcare organization that has History of the reduction of reproductive selectionhas been accused of Discrimination against LGTBQ patients and he She is currently being sued by the Washington Attorney General To charge low-income patients for care they are entitled to receive free of charge.
The scale and intensity of the fan reaction was significant enough that the Sounders called an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss a plan of action. Almost immediately, the Sounders held meetings with supporters of Emerald City, Gorilla FC and the Alliance Council in an effort to allay concerns.
In the same vein, Sounders has reached out to us with the goal of reaching our audience. I met with Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer Taylor Graham as well as Chief Operating Officer Maya Mendoza Ekström at Longacres on Monday to discuss some of the concerns we received. You can listen to a full hour-long conversation here, but I also wanted to share some key points:
Perhaps the broadest I could glean from our interviews was the belief that the problem was primarily about messaging. At one point, it was explicitly suggested that the team had been set up to answer some of these questions about deviant piston core values, but no one asked. While there may be some truth to this sentiment – and I would have planned to come and ask these questions if I hadn’t had two sick children at home – I think it is a little naïve and perhaps insincere to suggest that all of this could have been avoided if only they would have been asked the questions. right at the unveiling.
Let’s be clear: The problem isn’t simply that they haven’t stated it loud enough that their core values remain unchanged. Partnering with an organization like Providence will require more than just a reframing of those values. Some fans, maybe most, will probably be willing to be patient. But for others, I think there is a greater loss of confidence. Perhaps future actions can bring these fans back, but it will require a real concerted effort that goes beyond hosting pride events or posting statements on Twitter.
If there’s one positive takeaway, it’s that Graham and Mendoza-Exstrom have been adamant that this partnership will not diminish, and may actually enhance, any work the Sounders do in the community. They were adamant that the Sounders would not shy away from taking a stand on social issues ranging from “Right to playto women’s reproductive choice. There was even an insistence that Providence “enables us to be the best versions of ourselves” when it comes to social issues.
At the same time, Graham and Mendoza-Exstrom point out that there are at least some employees who share the same concern. However, they put forward the argument that simply being able to have this kind of conversation both internally and externally is part of what makes them different from many sports organizations.
Anyone hoping the Sounders would distance themselves from Providence in almost any way as a result of the protest will likely be disappointed. At no time did Graham or Mendoza Ekstrom express any concerns or unease about Providence. They also said they weren’t concerned that Providence might be using the Sounders brand as a form of sportswashing, in part because of how intense the work is with other sports teams.
“This isn’t the first time Providence has invested in offering its products and growing its business through sports,” Graham said when asked about sportswashing specifically. “When we talked to our peers who partnered with Providence, their starting point was all community first. It’s up to the people and do you trust that? From the individuals, we do. From the organization, we do it. They’re proud of the work they do with Providence through the business.” that they are doing in the LGTBQI space. They enable us to lead in this space and be the Sounders. I have no qualms in this space. We are invested in this space and we intend to achieve it.”
The one item the Sounders kept coming back to as a reason to be happy with the partnership was the youth mental health program they would help launch with Renton Schools. Providence has an existing program called “work 2This will apparently form the backbone of their outreach, but they are also waiting to hear from Renton Schools for more details on what is needed. Given that the details of how this program rolls out are still unknown, it’s hard to know exactly how you feel, but the Sounders are clearly optimistic about it and are confident that LGBTQ youth will receive appropriate mental health care. Mendoza-Ekström said that “30-50” students at Renton have already expressed interest in taking advantage of the service, something she saw as a sign of how important it is. There is broad agreement that many of these issues are all related and that Sounders intends to be a comprehensive sponsorship brand.
There hasn’t been much talk about how much Providence is paying the Sounders, but it was reported that the deal would be worth close to $100 million over its 10-year life. That’s a lot more than the club was getting from previous shirt sponsors XBOX or Zulily. Graham acknowledged that the price was part of what made this attractive, but also stressed that they feel a lot of good can be done with all that money and resources. Graham suggested that the resources would be used to help fund the Sounders’ various social justice initiatives as well as improve quality on the field.
The main theme of all of this is that words can only convey so much. It’s all well and good that the Sounders say their values have not changed, that they believe a lot of good can come from this and that they are confident Providence will be a good partner. But they also conceded that the proof would be in the actions.
“We are a club committed to action,” Graham said. We will take responsibility for actions over periods of time. Hopefully this club’s record and the ability to stand up to that can put some confidence back in our fan base at a moment like this. Take a step back and understand that all the information is not in front of us, and we may not agree, but trust that the club is the same club and we will be responsible at some point.
One sentiment I’ve heard time and time again is that the Sounders seem to want to have their cake (they’re seen as a progressive club) and eat it too (taking money from an organization that’s perceived to be at least actively working against some of the club’s core values). I’m not entirely sure that any of what was said during this interview will dissuade skeptical fans from this idea. The Saunders supposedly chose to stand up for social causes because they believed it was the right thing to do, but one consequence of this is that they put themselves in a position to be judged when they do things that appear to contradict those values. No one made them partners with Providence and they would have to square this circle.
At the end of the interview I tried to pin them down on the kinds of action they think the club can take and what the fans can do to hold them accountable. I’m not sure many will reaffirm with their answers, which were mainly “be patient” and “complain to your ticket and alliance council representatives or work on the alliance council yourself”.
In the meantime, I suspect a lot of fans will simply vote with their wallets, either by choosing not to buy anything with Providence on it or maybe even something a little tougher.