Sounders hire talent firm to help in search for naming-rights partner

The Sounders are offering sponsors not only the jersey, but soccer pitch advertising rights at CenturyLink Field and – for the first time — naming rights at the Starfire training facility in Tukwila.

Inside sports business

The news seemed to come out of nowhere: the Sounders last week announcing they’d hired the prestigious WME-IMG talent firm to help search for a naming-rights partner a full year-plus before their current deal with Microsoft Xbox expires.

But anybody following the story about NBA teams preparing to sew advertisement patches on their jerseys for the 2017-18 season might understand the Sounders’ eagerness to explore the market. At least 10 NBA teams are going the patch route and the companies involved and numbers being generated have grabbed the Sounders’ attention.

The NBA finalist Cleveland Cavaliers in May signed a three-year deal worth a reported $10 million annually with Goodyear. That’s to sew one 2.5-inch-by-2.5-inch patch on the upper left of the team’s jerseys as part of the NBA’s new three-year pilot project allowing clubs to test such revenue streams.

Now, imagine what that could mean for the defending Major League Soccer champion Sounders, who’ve allowed the Xbox logo to be splattered across their entire jersey front going on nearly a decade. And they are offering sponsors not only the jersey, but soccer pitch advertising rights at CenturyLink Field and – for the first time – naming rights at the Starfire training facility in Tukwila.

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“That was kind of eye-opening,’’ Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said of the NBA patches. “To see some of the numbers being generated by those deals made us believe we have some significant upside for our rights.’’

WME-IMG was hired to seek patch deals for the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics have signed a three-year deal with GE for a reported $7 million annually.

Those numbers may seem paltry in the big-money NBA world, but they can fund an MLS team’s entire annual payroll.

The Sounders get about $5 million annually for their Xbox jersey deal. But Toronto FC, New York City FC, the Los Angeles Galaxy and the incoming Los Angeles FC expansion franchise have deals approaching $6 million and $7 million.

“There are teams in our league that are getting more than we are,’’ Sounders chief operating officer Bart Wiley…

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