Linking to the past

Linking to the past

The home venue of the Seahawks and Sounders FC has a new name – CenturyLink Field. But the importance of the stadium and its past also were honored Thursday when the new logo was unveiled and a naming-rights extension was announced.

Steve Raible, Peter McLoughlin and Karen Puckett had just spent almost 20 minutes extolling the obvious, and even not-so-obvious, virtues of the venue the Seahawks and Sounders FC call home.

Then, Brian Stading stepped to the podium and offered, “I’m not sure words can really justify or explain just how great a stadium this really is.”

QWEST FIELD HIGH 5

By Matt Gaschk

As the Qwest Field era comes to a close and the CenturyLink Field era begins, we look back on the Top 5 matches at Qwest Field.

5: Well before the Sounders FC started drawing 36,000 every match, the USL Sounders had 8,011 at Qwest Field on October 1, 2005, for the USL First Division championship game against the Richmond Kickers. And they were given a treat in the form of a shootout victory for the Sounders and a celebration for the ages as they won the USL crown. It was just one of many memorable matches for the USL side at Qwest that included dramatic wins over MLS clubs in the US Open Cup and international friendlies against clubs from England and Mexico.
4: Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani suffered a horrid fracture of his right tibia and fibula April 22 against the Colorado Rapids. One week later, the 36,287 on hand at Qwest Field paid tribute to the budding superstar by holding up “11” placards to honor and recognize Zakuani. The players on the field did their part, as well, dominating Toronto FC in a 3-0 win.
3: The night our history became legend. Major League Soccer was introduced to the sleeping giant that was the Seattle soccer supporters on March 19, 2009, with a national television audience. The Sounders topped the New York Red Bulls, 2008 MLS Cup finalists, 3-0 off of a two-goal performance by Fredy Montero and a shutout by Kasey Keller in front of 32,523. No better way to ring in the new club.
2: Welcome to Cascadia. The Cascadia Cup rivalry that had gone dormant for two years was welcomed back to the big stage on May 14, 2011, when the Sounders hosted the Portland Timbers. The incredible pre-game tifo display showing “Decades of Dominance” was another great homage to the history of the club and its main rivals in Portland. The nationally televised battle ended 1-1 in a torrential downpour – no better way to put the northwest on display. Surely a night none of the 36,593 in attendance will soon forget.
1: In 2009, the Sounders won the US Open Cup, but had to travel across the country to do so with a 2-1 win over DC United at RFK Stadium. In 2010, they would ensure home-field advantage with their bid for the Cup final and the fans responded in full with 31,311 in attendance of the Sounders 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew to take home their second US Open Cup trophy on October 5, 2010, behind a brace by Sanna Nyassi.

Close to making the list were:

Stoppage time game-winners by Mike Fucito (vs. Kansas City in 2010), Fredy Montero (vs. Chicago in 2010) and Jeff Parke (vs. Kansas City in 2011) and friendlies against Chelsea and Barcelona that each drew over 65,000 and drew praise from the visitors, as well as the Real Madrid-DC United match, USA-Canada in 2005 in the Gold Cup.

What is your Top Five list?

That just about said it all Thursday, when the new logo for the new name – CenturyLink Field – of the stadium that sits on the same site as the Kingdome was unveiled in a midfield ceremony that featured Raible, the radio voice of the Seahawks; McLoughlin, president of the Seahawks, Sounders FC and First & Goal; Puckett, executive vice president and COO for CenturyLink; and Stading, the communication company’s NW Region president.

But the real news at this news conference was that CenturyLink has agreed to a five-year extension for the naming-rights deal on the stadium and event center, which now runs until August 2019.

“This is great. We’re just excited to have the opportunity to be a partner here,” Puckett said after the ceremony – which included the old Qwest Field logo morphing into the new CenturyLink Field logo on the giant replay screen in the south end zone.

“It’s such an important venue for the community, and important for our customers and employees. We’re delighted to continue the partnership.”

Added McLoughlin, “It’s huge. In pretty much any situation like this where you have a merger, the company that is acquiring the older company has the right to chose what they want to do. There was some time where we were working with them to see what they wanted to do. We weren’t exactly sure what their brand strategies were.

“But clearly their brand strategy is to expand the CenturyLink name throughout the country, and we’re glad to be able to help them do that.”

Leave it to Raible to evoke memories of the Kingdome. He was a rookie wide receiver on the Seahawks’ expansion team in 1976, when the Seahawks and Sounders played their home games indoors. The original Sounders of the old NASL played the first game there – April 25, 1976, against the Pele-led New York Cosmos. The Seahawks’ first game in the dome was on August 1, their preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

“This site has a rich tradition, The Kingdome sat on this site,” Raible said. “Now on this site is truly the finest facility in professional sports. Certainly in the National Football League and the MLS, this is the place to be.”

The Kingdome was imploded on March 26, 2000, and replaced in 2002 by what was then called Seahawks Stadium. The venue became Qwest Field in 2004, and now is CenturyLink Field after the company bought Qwest in April.

Raible recalled two moments that will be etched in the region’s sports memory forever: Owner Paul Allen holding the George Halas trophy over his head after the Seahawks won the NFC Championship in the 2005 season; and goalkeeper Kasey Keller striking a similar pose with the U.S. Open Cup last October after Sounders FC defeated the Columbus Crew.

“It shows you what a stadium, what a facility can do and what it can mean for the community,” Raible said. “So we’re here today to honor those people that have helped put this stadium on the map.”

It’s an impressive group that includes Seahawks past and present – Walter Jones, Cortez Kennedy, Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Holmgren and Marshawn Lynch; as well as the cornerstones of Sounders FC franchise – Keller, Sigi Schmid, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani.

Now, as Raible put it, “We begin today with a new chapter.”

By any name, it has been a great home-field advantage for the Seahawks, who have sold out 69 consecutive games; and Sounders FC, whose sell-out streak will reach 40 with tonight’s match against the New York Red Bulls. They have a combined season-ticket base of more than 90,000 fans.

Calling it “the honor of tradition,” Puckett said, “CenturyLink is thrilled to continue this legacy. … For us, this is more than a name on a stadium. This is a partnership that exemplifies our commitment to Seattle, how important Seattle is to our company and how excited we are to serve such a great market with honest and personal service.”

Stading is a relative newcomer to the area. In fact, he’s still in the process of relocating from Denver to Seattle as a holdover employee from Qwest. But he has seen the mystic of the stadium up close while attending three Seahawks games and a Sounders FC match.

“I was on the field for the Giants game last year, and you could not hear yourself talk,” he said. “It was a wonderful, amazing experience.”

So when talk of extending the naming-rights deal began, Stading was among the first to speak up.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Because I had an appreciation for just how big this stadium is for the community and how tightly it is engrained in the community. And that goes beyond just the name recognition and the branding opportunity.

“CenturyLink is just an amazing company in terms of how quickly they assimilate the importance of these types of sponsorships, when you’re looking at employees, community and customers.”

The name recognition of CenturyLink Field will take some time. Just as it did when Seahawks Stadium became Qwest Field.

“Change causes some consternation, I understand,” McLoughlin said. “But we’re really pleased with it, and we’re proud of the sponsorship. It’s great for us to have such a strong company supporting both the Seahawks and Sounders. We couldn’t be happier.”

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