In some respects, it is hundreds of people going on the same blind date.
Yet it’s also a match made in cyber heaven, if there is such a thing.
In the three weeks since Seattle Sounders FC came into being, more than 2,500 people have joined a Facebook.com group. That makes ‘1,000,000 Seattle Sounders FC Fans’ the biggest group of its kind in Major League Soccer.
Furthermore, a subset of that group is already going forward with plans to not only get together, but also sit together and party together at Sounders FC games beginning in 2009.
Since we’re neighbors, let’s be friends, right?
That’s what occurred to Craig Walker when he first heard rumblings about Seattle getting an MLS club last fall.
“I knew they’d sell a lot of season tickets,” says Walker, “but I thought it would be cool to create a group and get the word out.”
In the Beginning
Formerly a college player and now a home mortgage professional, Walker had heard about the effectiveness of Facebook in bringing together strangers for selected events in the business world. So last fall he founded a group known as ‘MLS Seattle 2009.’
Now nearly 300 strong, that group began mobilizing more than a year before the first game at Qwest Field. Walker and his fellow members are planning an evening get-together with current Sounders players and staff. Besides chit-chat and slurping beverages they hope to reach some consensus on where to sit at Qwest.
Nearly half of the group has placed deposits on 2009 season tickets and Sounders FC ticket agent Gary Boyle says he gets calls from members of the group on a daily basis.
“It’s a viral marketing thing and I think to have a small group account for well over a hundred season tickets is pretty good,” says Walker.
What Walker envisions is a group of people who truly get to know one another.
“I want to create a soccer knowledgeable group that sits together in the same section,” he says, “But I also see us socializing together, tailgating together and going to pre- and postgame functions together.”
Boyle and the rest of the Sounders FC ticket staff are doing their best to accommodate the requests of Walker’s group as well as 15 others.
The Emerald City Supporters, who have long been backing the USL Sounders, will return to their perch behind the south goal.
“It’s a little tricky,” Boyle says, “but by attaching account numbers, we do have a way to seat multiple people together by request.”
Boyle has served as the USL Sounders ticket manager for seven years, and he’s not surprised by the 15,000 season ticket deposits or the massive online social networking.
“I know the power of the soccer community,” he says, “and they definitely know how to get the word out to people.”
He Makes ‘Millions’
Far away, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Jeff Cole was taken aback. Cole had created scores of Facebook groups around the ‘1,000,000 Fans’ theme, one for each major league sports franchise in North America.
Cole contacted Walker back in November, asking him to serve as a local Facebook administrator for the Sounders FC group once the team’s name and crest were announced.
A diehard Denver Broncos fan who has only recently come around to soccer, Cole enjoys creating a conduit for people of common interests, in this case “supporting your team and doing it together.”
He had heard about Seattle’s immediate surge in season ticket sales once the team was announced, but the launch of ‘1,000,000 Seattle Sounders FC Fans’ was initially greeted by quiet.
“In the first couple hours, I didn’t think anyone was going to join that group,” Cole says. “Then I came back later that night and over 200 people were in it. By the end of the week, over 2,000.”
At last check, the group had grown to 2,547. The next-largest in MLS is Houston at 1,661. The Dynamo’s spectacular achievements–two titles in two years since landing in Texas–undoubtedly fueled interest.
“In Seattle, with the team still a year away, I think it’s the excitement of something new.
"They outgrew Houston in the first 3-4 days,” Cole notes. “All it took was people inviting other people, and now there are thousands of them.”
For Walker, whose support of the Sounders dates back to 1994, technology has made it possible for grassroots to grow like a weed.
“Back then, I’m not sure we even had Email. You basically call a bunch of friends and maybe 10-15 of you meet and go to the game,” he says. “Now we have a vehicle to get the word out to more than 2,000 people.”
It’s still the same premise: finding people with similar passions and spreading the word.
“Whether it’s about the Sounders or a charity event, I can send one message and reach over 2,000 people in just these two groups,” Walker says. “You tell people to tell more people, and then they tell more of their friends.”
Maybe it’s time to check the Guinness Book of Records. It may be a chance for the world’s biggest group hug.