Sounders partnership with Providence draws ire of fans

RENTON — The Sounders rarely miss with their fans, but they appear to have done so this time.

The club’s history of goodwill among their fan base over often aligned values ​​seemed to take a hit when the Sounders revealed Providence Swedish as its new marquee jersey partner. The multiyear deal, which was announced Friday, is estimated to bring the Sounders more than $5 million annually for prominent display across the players’ 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 people, and low-income patients.”

“This is a confusing and disappointing club decision and is in direct opposition to the Sounders’ Social Impact goals and promises,” the statement read.

In a statement to The Seattle Times, the Sounders said the club is “unwavering” in its support of marginalized communities and making Washington “the safest and most inclusive place to live, work, and play, especially for transgender and gender-diverse 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 those services for people enrolled in Providence Health Plans, according to the organization’s website.

The nonprofit is currently facing a lawsuit filed by state 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, including when publicly questioned by US Sen. Patty Murray in September.

Swedish is currently honoring the state’s Gender Affirming Treatment Act 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’s transgender, according to the ACLU of Washington.

Melissa Tizon, the vice president of national communication for Providence, said the partnership is a way to combat the misinformation regarding the organization. She noted the Work2BeWell initiative is welcoming to trans youth even though all of the health care services they might seek may not be provided by Providence.

“In Oregon, we’re developing mental health curriculum for youth, including specialized content to support LGBTQIA+ and transgender youth,” Tizon said. “This population is very much welcome in our community even if we don’t provide all the services they are seeking in our facilities. That’s part of the misinformation. There’s this idea that we don’t accept or welcome certain people, when in fact, that’s very much part of the mission at Providence — to be able to serve the most vulnerable populations.”

The sponsorship was announced during a Renton High School assembly crafted by the Sounders to highlight Providence joining the soccer team in raising awareness and providing mental health services for youth. Renton School District’s 15,000 students will pilot the to-be-finalized programs.

When the team posted news to its social media accounts, the bulk of replies appeared negative, and many claimed they wouldn’t 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’s president of Seattle Sounders FC Alliance Council and Gorilla FC supporters’ group. “It surprised me that they would choose one that’s that different. It flies in the face of all the work they did last year whether it was around protecting trans individuals and trans youths and with OL Reign … It’s disappointing for me and very angering for a lot of people, especially LGBTQ people.”

Emerald City Supporters, the largest supporter group that anchors the Brougham End of Lumen Field, directly questioned all Sounders owners, including majority stakeholder Adrian Hanauer, in an open letter published online Saturday. ECS called for accountability for the “heinous decision” and made a commitment to donate $1 to NW Abortion Access Fund for every ticket it sells to the ECS section.

Leadership for the groups have talked with Sounders personnel and are slated to meet with Hanauer and top executives.

“There isn’t a way to undo the damage, but there are ways to mitigate it in terms of investing more into the communities,” said Collins of what the Alliance would like to gain from the meeting.

Hanauer was asked on Friday why the partnership with Zulily wasn’t extended and if it had anything to do with possible obstacles in making mental health an outreach program.

“I would leave it at Zulily was a fantastic partner,” Hanauer said. “We are still talking about partnering going forward, but I am really, really excited about this partnership with Providence.”

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