There’s only eight teams in this new version of the XFL, and Seattle is home to one of them. I had the opportunity this week to ask Seattle Dragons’ president Ryan Gustafson a few questions, as well as sit in on Head Coach Jim Zorn’s post-game press conference.
Here’s their thoughts on the beloved sports culture in Seattle, and the fighting mentality of the Dragons.
Were you involved in getting a team specifically in Seattle, or was that decided on at another point in the process?
That decision was made early on before I got involved. I would say that the senior executive leadership fell in love with Seattle and the opportunity to have one of the eight teams here. Universally, it’s regarded as an incredible sports town with the best fan support and you see this early on. I know everyone is thrilled with the support so far, and we’re excited to keep growing it for many years to come.
Jim Zorn also weighed in on the team culture:
I’m proud to be a part of it myself, and I’m proud of the group that we have assembled here to influence these young men. And we haven’t had any kind of mutiny, if you will, by our players. They know they’re getting our best efforts. And it’s true, it’s real. They want to win, and I wish that we would be undefeated. I really do. I hurt for these guys because they put in a lot of time and a lot of effort, and we’ll just keep building. And I hope the league continues to build, and become strong.
Ryan, I heard rumblings around the stadium that online sales were moving extremely quickly between Weeks 2 and 3. Would you be able to comment on the amount of Dragons apparel and those types of things being sold so well already?
I can’t comment on specifics of merchandise or ticket sales other than what has been said publicly already. What I can say is that no matter the metric for gauging fan support, Seattle is always at or towards the top and we certainly saw a spike in interest after the home opener. Seattle fans have embraced the Dragons with enthusiasm and this is just the beginning for us.
One of the most pleasant surprises has been the support of the fans, not only towards the Dragons at large, but its aggressive defense. Coach Zorn spoke well of the unit, which has been solid against the run and produced turnovers at a high rate thus far:
Jim Zorn on the Dragons run defense pic.twitter.com/H6Mfw5fC7M— Tyler Alsin (@TylerjAlsin) February 25, 2020
If you haven’t been out to a home game yet, there’s a lot of orange, and a lot of volume on third downs.
Changing gears, I asked Gustafson what he would consider “success” in the first year of the XFL and the Dragons’ inaugural season.
For us, it’s all about the process of doing things the right way. Success to me is if our fans are able to say that our team did this the right way. If we are authentic and uniquely Seattle and focus on building the fan base the right way for the long-term, I know Seattle will continue to rally behind this team. The results so far have been tremendous, and we’re excited to keep building this over time.
After a third of the season, the Dragons certainly seem to be putting in efforts to that end. They specifically opened up more seating following the early TV ratings success of Week 1, and it was a wise decision. Where a few days before the Week 2 home opener the $24 tickets were sold out, Seattle quickly had CenturyLink add several thousand extra seats in the lower levels, to the tune of 29,000 fans. They’re being careful with their injured players, they’ve compiled a very familiar-feeling defense, and, um...
We get by with a little help from our friends. #ForTheLoveOfFootball | #BreathingFire pic.twitter.com/OVcCYId6Ob— Seattle Dragons (@XFLDragons) February 26, 2020
He wears a Dixie Cup track suit. He dances with vegetables. And he is a Dragons season-ticket holder.— Seattle Dragons (@XFLDragons) February 24, 2020
Read ➡️ https://t.co/3tuPrNe9ye#ForTheLoveOfFootball | #BreathingFire pic.twitter.com/SbzpJq2NyR
The “next day is our best day.” - our fans already looking ahead to next week.#ForTheLoveOfFootball | #BreathingFire pic.twitter.com/hJ5xy8UxUP— Seattle Dragons (@XFLDragons) February 23, 2020
Uniquely Seattle is definitely one way to put it.
The XFL also made a Seattle-centered move in the hiring of head coach Jim Zorn. By way of contrast, their last opponent was the Dallas Renegades, coached by Bob Stoops. Stoops, formerly of the University of Oklahoma, which is A) not in Texas and B) was one of the biggest collegiate rivals of several Texas schools for decades.
Meanwhile, Jim Zorn was the first quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and is now the first coach of the Seattle Dragons. It’s a huge win all around, because an essential element for any new organization or team is to have something that people can be proud to share. The rich history of the Seahawks is now among those things for the Dragons.
I asked Ryan one final question this week about the two professional leagues, but it prompted a whole separate stream of thought, which will be coming later this week. Keep your eyes out, and go Dragons!