The Seattle Sounders' first trip to the MLS Cup Final resulted in the team bringing home the coveted Philip F. Anschutz Trophy to hordes of cheering soccer fans. The victory was scored on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, after a nail-biting penalty kick shoot-out. A mere 62 hours later—give or take an hour or two—the organization had orchestrated a march to celebrate the win, with their most ardent fans waving green-and-blue scarves. How were they able to plan the rally just days after the win? According to Bart Wiley, chief operations officer for the organization, it took a lot of preplanning and last-minute prepping.
“It was the second or third week in November [when we started thinking about a victory march]. It’s always awkward to plan a celebration when you’re just entering the playoffs,” he says. “But in order to do right by our fans and our organization, and obviously to prepare the city for the eventuality of such a celebration, the earlier [we began planning] the better.”
Wiley says the planning included the Sounder’s marketing team and game presentation group. “From the city and the permitting and the route perspective, we also had our in-house counsel, who is our legal and government affairs contact … she was heavily involved at the onset as well, making sure that the city was in the loop and was able to give us direction.” He says they also sought the assistance of Beth Knox, president and CEO of 2018 Special Olympics USA Games and former president and CEO of Seafair, because of her “years of experience with operating and running parades through downtown Seattle.
“A lot of our planning was built on contingency: ‘If that [happens], then this [should happen],’” says Wiley. “A lot of phone calls were made as we continued to win games.”
Wiley says they scheduled the march and rally for the Tuesday following the championship because they wanted a day as close to the victory as possible for fans. “[We were] also keeping in mind that players have a very short off-season. They were readily interested and happy to participate in what we were planning, but to do so a week to 10 days after we won may not have been as sensitive to our team.”
They mapped the route to end at the Seattle Center, where the Sounders first played in the 1970s. “After working with the city, police and Seattle Center, the route we took was similar to that of other parades that have taken place in Seattle, although perhaps inversely. Everything just fell into place,” he says.
Immediately following the win, the planning committee went into overdrive. “We work with some amazing vendors and there were piles of work behind the scenes done Saturday, Sunday, Monday onto Tuesday that led us to the event,” says Wiley.
Wiley says the organization was thrilled but not surprised by the thousands of people who took to the streets to celebrate, because the fans have shown support throughout the organization’s eight years in the major league. “It looked like a great mass of people [at the march]. And with all due respect to parades, we chose to call ours a ‘march’ because we have a march to the match before every home game. Rather than have a traditional parade, we wanted to invite people to march along with the team on the street. Our head coach jumped off the trolley and marched with the fans. Our whole entire front office staff marched with fans, as did Sound Wave, our band, which marched and played music the entire time. It was a fun, unique celebration, and it was truly indicative of the Sounders organization.”
One of the fans watching the celebration was Matt Cole, design director for Seattle magazine. “It was good to see them get the love that they deserve,” says Cole. “They started the march by our office, so myself and 10 of my coworkers were there to cheer them on.”
The event was not without its glitches. A police officer on a bike broke his leg during the march, but in true Sounders’ fashion, the team rallied. Head coach Brian Schmetzer and several players found out about the incident and visited the officer, bringing with them the trophy and some championship merchandise.
“Our organization was built on involving the fans, and to have them travel to Toronto, as many did, and to travel to the away matches throughout the course of the year, and to have that mass of people show up and march with the organization, culminating with the celebration, we are massively grateful to them,” says Wiley.