SEATTLE — Five years after an ambitious plan to make this city its home, the Seattle Reign women’s soccer team is relocating to Tacoma for the upcoming 2019 season.
Reign owner Bill Predmore announced at a Wednesday news conference that the team is moving to Cheney Stadium and will play future games at a soccer-specific venue in Tacoma once that is finalized. Predmore had moved the team from Starfire Stadium in Tukwila to Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center in 2014, but the relocation never had the desired effect in terms of attendance growth, facility conditions or revenue-generating opportunities.
“We’re immensely excited to make the move down to Tacoma, to Cheney Stadium,” Predmore told reporters, adding that it was one of his easiest business decisions ever given the challenges at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a 71-year-old building, and there were intractable challenges in that space that money alone wasn’t going to solve,” Predmore said.
The team will keep the name Reign FC but is dropping the “Seattle” part of it and has no plans to incorporate “Tacoma” within it either. Predmore said he prefers a more “global” brand that appeals throughout the state and noted that world soccer powers like Juventus, Arsenal and Celtic manage just fine without identifying with any one city.
Among the improvements Predmore foresees are playing on a natural-grass pitch, fans accessing reserved seats, ample parking and better food and beverage options.
The Reign, which won’t announce its schedule until next month, had its Memorial Stadium lease expire at the end of the 2018 season, though owner Predmore had previously insisted his team was staying put this year.
He told reporters Wednesday the team was told by the National Women’s Soccer League that stadium improvements were needed by this season but — after exploring possible Memorial renovations the last year — decided it wasn’t a worthwhile investment.
Other options explored included looking at CenturyLink Field, smaller venues in Washington and even a move out of state.
Among the issues at Memorial, owned by the Seattle Public Schools district, the stadium notoriously did not allow for alcohol sales in the stands at Reign matches. That hampered the team’s ability to draw fans and maximize revenue.
“There are certain things that you expect to do now when you go to a sporting event,” Predmore said.
Alcohol sales won’t be an issue at Cheney Stadium, home of the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers baseball team and where the Sounders’ second-division United Soccer League squad played last season after moving from Starfire.
“Tacoma is a city on the rise,’’ Predmore said. “It has an understated charm, many areas of undeniable beauty and has incredible potential to be the next great city in the Pacific Northwest. It was exciting to consider our team playing a role in helping the city realize its full potential.’’
The Reign averaged 3,824 fans per game last year in the 6,000-capacity Memorial venue, down 5.3 percent from 2017. It was the club’s first sub-4,000 total since 2014 and not the boost a franchise with two Supporters’ Shields titles and that boasted national-team stars like Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe had hoped for in moving to a central Seattle location.
Despite overall attendance growth within the NWSL, which the Reign became a founding member of in 2013, it was increasingly squeezed in a Seattle market crowded with various college and professional sports teams competing for entertainment dollars.
By moving to Tacoma, where the Rainiers are the biggest pro sports club, the Reign might have a better chance at long-term growth. They received help Wednesday when it was announced that the group operating the Rainiers and the Sounders’ second-division team had taken “a significant minority ownership stake’’ in the Reign.
Rainiers CEO Mikal Thomsen, the group’s leader, said in a release that “we welcome a new professional team into the fold and one that we know will inspire and entertain our community for generations.’’
Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer and his mother, Lenore, have also taken on minority-ownership stakes.
“We are excited to make this additional commitment to soccer in our community and specifically to the women’s game in our region,’’ Hanauer said in a release.