The Major Arena Soccer League will begin doling out its postseason honors Friday, and there are expectations that Tacoma Stars such as coach Darren Sawatzky, goalkeeper Danny Waltman and rookie midfielder Michael Ramos could be in for some recognition.
But as nice as the individual honors are, the most significant news could be the most basic: These resurrected Stars seem to be finding a sustainable spot in the South Sound sports market. Without any offseason drama, the team is already preparing for next season, already selling season tickets.
“Our season peaked right at the end, and I think the fans just grabbed ahold of it,” owner Lane Smith said. “… Our season just started and continued to grow and peaked very well with a lot of interest and a lot of excitement.”
On the pitch, the Stars went 13-9 and made the playoffs despite heading into the season packed with players far more familiar with the outdoor game than the distinctive indoor version.
However, for a fledgling franchise in a financially fragile sport, what happens at the ticket booth is crucial too. Indoor soccer teams come and go — including those original Tacoma Stars of the 1980s and early ’90s. So the best news about last season is that it will be followed by a next season.
A season-high crowd of 3,710 turned out in November for the Stars’ first MASL opening day. But attendance drifted into the 2,000-2,200 range for the next five home matches and then slipped below 2,000 at the end of January and start of February. Then things turned, and the Stars drew their second- and third-best crowds — 3,668 and 3,500 — in their final two home regular-season games. It all averaged to 2,462 per home date, enough to make Smith believe an average of 3,000 could be within reach.
Those fans showed up for a variety of reasons. Some of it was nostalgia for those original Stars, who often drew five-figure crowds to the Tacoma Dome. Others came for the undeniable skill and athleticism of the players.
There were also some practical lures: Stars prices are low compared with the Sounders and other Seattle major league sports. And Kent is only half as far from Tacoma. Once there, ShoWare Center is a comfortable, properly sized place to call home. The pitch was an aesthetic nightmare, but the club hopes to have a new one by next season.
“All of the things that I wish the Tacoma Dome had,” Smith said, “they have it.”
The Stars also get credit for putting on a good show. The club wisely broadened its reach by partnering with the Tacoma Rainiers, who after more than half a century at Cheney Stadium know a thing or two about minor league sports fans.
The Stars pre-game introductions feature a fun and well-produced video of players while the old Starship hit “We Built this City” gets the energy going. In one end zone, the Satellite supporters group chants and waves flags. And at the breaks — one difference between indoor soccer and outdoor game is more breaks — things keep hopping. At least one match featured Dancing Abe Lincoln, although maybe you had to be there. And then there is the stable of mascots, including the incomparable Perry the Penalty Peanut.
“This was kind of a brainchild of (marketing director Casey Catherwood), Smith said. “Most teams have a mascot. We tried to have different ones that connected to different age groups or whatever. But Perry … everybody has grabbed onto the guy. Everybody thought he was just the coolest thing in the world.”
Cool enough to merit his own T-shirt. Maybe you can snag one next fall when the Stars return.