Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders played in front of a significantly reduced crowd at CenturyLink Field over the weekend, in large part because of the coronavirus outbreak in the region.
The announced crowd of 33,080 for Seattle’s 1-1 draw with Columbus Crew was down significantly from the 40,126 attendance for the team’s home opener against Chicago Fire last weekend. With a number of empty seats, the actual figure of fans through the turnstiles is believed to be lower than the announced crowd number.
According to the Associated Press, it was also the smallest crowd for an MLS regular-season match in Seattle since the club’s inaugural season of 2009. The Sounders were typically the league’s attendance leaders until the 2017 arrival of Atlanta United FC, but remain one of the top draws in MLS.
Despite a quick rise in the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases in Washington state – including a part-time worker at CenturyLink Field who worked the Seattle Dragons’ XFL game on February 22 – the game went ahead. But many fans stayed away for health reasons.
“It’s understandable having less people at the game,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “You want to take the most cautious way of living at this point (and) everybody’s got to be safe out there.”
Peter Tomozawa, the Sounders’ president of business operations, added: “Long before this became big national attention about what’s going on here in Seattle, we set up an internal task force to address this issue. The crowd size was bigger than expected…I couldn’t have been happier with the turnout. I thought it was extraordinary. considering the circumstances.”
Elsewhere, the eMLS Cup is poised to be rescheduled after the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, was canceled due to the coronavirus. The climax to MLS’s esports property was due to be held at the event later this month.
Meanwhile, MLS, the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and Major League Baseball are weighing plans to restrict access to locker rooms to the media as a precaution due to the coronavirus.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said: “We’re focused on the fact that the tightness, the crowdedness and the intimacy of postgame availability may need to be adjusted while we’re focusing on the coronavirus.”