Following a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the LA Galaxy this weekend, Seattle Sounders FC management offered a refund to fans. And sent a collective shudder through the frigid hearts of sports team owners everywhere.
We all know how it's supposed to go with the owners: They tell us what they want, threatening to take the team elsewhere; we pony up. But the Sounders owners are setting that long-successful authoritarian model on its ear.
"As the owners of the club we reserve the right to do whatever we think we need to do to treat our fans the way they've treated us," said Sounders FC owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer. (Is it any surprise this guy comes from the rough-and-tumble world of pillows, comforters, and bedding products?)
The refund only applies to season-ticket holders, who make up the majority of Sounders fans. They'll get a one-game credit toward next season's games.
There's no record we could immediately find of any other professional sports team taking such a step. In fact, a few months ago, fans in Germany--including members of the U.S. armed forces--couldn't even get a refund when an LA Galaxy tour of the country got canceled.
[CORRECTION: In fact, as a helpful commenter points out, English football teams have been known to do this, and they even go a step further--the players pay back fans out of their own pockets! See, for example, last November, when Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League offered refunds after being trounced 9-1.)
It all seems faintly contrary to the spirit of professional sports. Of course all teams mouth empty platitudes about the importance of the fans and offer little charity side projects. But most of the time, it's an unhealthy relationship where we can't help trailing after them, the more arrogant and aloof the team and its owners behave.
The Sounders are aiming to win fans' longtime loyalty with this move. But will they instead be the nice guy who ends up getting dumped?