The plastic forks distributed at the tablecloth-covered four tops squeezed along the Sounders' sideline have an annoying tendency to snap in two. But it's probably not the tenderness of the chicken-breast strips or grilled sirloin that's to blame: It's difficult not to wield utensils with extra intensity when a soccer game's unfolding a few feet from the table.
The Sounders are the only Major League Soccer team to offer what the team calls "field level dining," in which fans with hundreds of dollars to spare can nosh on a sophisticated spread of snacks while the game's underway.
"I'm told no meals have been interrupted by an out-of-bounds kick, but it seems to be a risk diners are willing to take," says Lauren Fimbres Wood, a spokesperson for catering company Levy Restaurants.
The risk of bodily injury was a real concern back in 2009, when the program was first concocted. According to Wood, the stadium ran a few test runs with employees before allowing members of the general public to purchase seats.
The Sounders now offer two packages: $800 buys a four-person picnic, including unlimited beer and wine before the game's 60-minute mark, and parking. For twice that much, four people receive a fancier menu (diners might receive a crab cocktail instead of a cheese tray), Champagne, and a meet-and-greet session with players. It's sufficiently expensive that the team is apparently confident it's attracting a high-class crowd: Participants aren't asked to keep their hands off players or refrain from running onto the field.
A Sounder staffer reports that the Seahawks considered offering field-level tables, but the seating arrangement wasn't compatible with NFL regulations or the space constraints posed by a 53-member team and its associated equipment.
So is sit-down dining on the sidelines worth $200 a person? The Sounders recently invited Seattle Weekly to find out.
Depending on how you do the sports math, the answer's probably yes. Lower-row seats at Sounders games sell for $58. Beer can cost as much as $9 at CenturyLink Field, so fans planning on drinking and eating throughout the game typically budget about $40 for food and drink. If parking costs $25, that brings an almost-equivalent ticket to $123.
And for a dedicated fan, the guarantee that nobody will obstruct your view is easily worth $20--even if the proximity to the players has the odd effect of diminishing their stature. Without a surrounding crowd to put viewers in the major-league mindset, it's easy to forget the nearby players don't belong to a high-school or college team.
That makes the deal a $50 decision--a decision made simpler by decent food and friendly service. While the creamy, cheesy dips and salty popcorn might not qualify as upscale cooking, and the sandwiches are more complex than necessary, the wedges of Beecher's cheese, fresh vegetables, and tart lemon dessert squares are fine pitch eats.
The Sounders didn't return multiple messages seeking additional information about the program's capacity and popularity, and their plans for its future. But it's available this season, and--if you have the cash for it--worth checking out. Just don't forget to ask for extra forks.