RENTON – The Sounders rarely miss their fans, but they seem to have done it this time.
The club’s history of goodwill among its fan base over often-aligned values appeared to take a hit when the Sounders unveiled Providence Swedish as their new marquee jersey partner. The multi-year deal, announced Friday, is estimated to bring the Sounders more than $5 million annually for prominent display across player chests and other marketing.
The Sounders FC Alliance Council — an elected body representing the team’s season ticket members — issued a statement Monday citing concerns with Providence’s “policies around abortion rights, fairness in the treatment of transgender and low-income patients.”
“This is a confusing and disappointing club decision and is in direct opposition to the Sounders’ Social Impact goals and pledges,” the statement read.
In a statement to The Seattle Times, the Sounders said the club has “actively listened to feedback from members of the Sounders community.”
“We continue to be proud of our relationship with Providence and all it can do for our region,” the statement continued.
“We also need our community to know that our club values remain unchanged. We believe that every woman has the right to make her own health care decisions. Our club is also unwavering in its support of the LGBTQ+ community and we are committed to making Washington the safest and most inclusive place to live, work and play, especially for transgender and gender nonconforming youth.”
Providence, which merged with Swedish Health Services in 2012, is a Catholic-based health care organization that does not offer most abortion-related services due to religious beliefs. Since 2020, the Washington State Department of Health has paid for these services to people enrolled in Providence Health Plans, according to the organization’s website.
The nonprofit is currently facing a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson in February 2022 for failing to provide free and discounted medical care to low-income patients. Providence has denied the allegation, even when publicly questioned by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray in September.
Swedish currently honors the state’s gender-affirming treatment law that went into effect last year, but the organization was sued in 2017 and reached a settlement with a trans man whose medically necessary appointments were canceled solely because he is transgender, according to the ACLU of Washington.
Melissa Tizon, vice president of national communications for Providence, said the partnership is a way to combat misinformation about the organization. She noted that the Work2BeWell initiative is welcoming to trans youth, even though all the health services they may seek may not be provided by Providence.
“In Oregon, we are developing mental health curricula for youth, including specialized content to support LGBTQIA+ and transgender youth,” Tizon said. “This population is very welcome in our community, even though we don’t provide all the services they seek in our facilities. That’s part of the misinformation. There’s this idea that we don’t accept or welcome certain people, while in the reality is very much part of the mission of Providence – to be able to serve the most vulnerable populations.”
The sponsorship was announced during a Renton High School assembly hosted by the Sounders to highlight Providence joining the football team in raising awareness and providing mental health services to youth. The Renton School District’s 15,000 students will pilot the programs to be completed.
When the team posted news to their social media accounts, the majority of responses appeared negative, with many claiming they would not purchase any merchandise with Providence’s logo.
“I wouldn’t think the Sounders would always have sponsors that are the same as their values,” said Cameron Collins, who is president of the Seattle Sounders FC Alliance Council and Gorilla FC supporters group. “It surprised me that they would choose someone who was so different. It flies in the face of all the work they did last year, whether it was around protecting trans people and trans youth and with OL Reign … It’s disappointing to me and very angry for a lot of people, especially LGBTQ people.”
Emerald City Supporters, the largest supporters’ group that anchors the Brougham End of Lumen Field, directly asked all Sounders owners, including majority shareholder Adrian Hanauer, in an open letter published online Saturday. ECS called for accountability for the “abhorrent decision” and pledged to donate $1 to the NW Abortion Access Fund for every ticket it sells to the ECS section.
Management for the groups has spoken with Sounders staff and is scheduled to meet with Hanauer and senior executives.
“There’s not a way to undo the damage, but there are ways to mitigate it in terms of investing more in the communities,” Collins said of what the Alliance would like to get out of the meeting.
Hanauer was asked Friday why the partnership with Zulily was not extended and whether it had anything to do with possible obstacles to making mental health an outreach program.
“I would leave it at Zulily was a great partner,” Hanauer said. “We’re still talking about partnership going forward, but I’m really, really excited about this partnership with Providence.”