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Seahawks Lift Trophy and Then Their Profit

Ken BelsonNew York Times

SEATTLE -- These are salad days in the NFL’s Pacific Northwest outpost. After years of false starts and near misses, the Seahawks are the reigning Super Bowl champions. Their brash defense, energetic offense and outspoken coach are beloved in this region.

If it is possible to grow any more popular, they have. Tickets are more scarce, more companies are lining up to spend millions of dollars on sponsorships and luxury suites at CenturyLink Field, and merchandise is flying off the shelves at the team’s stores.

With many of their young stars returning, the Seahawks, who open the season here Thursday against the Green Bay Packers, want to prove that last season was no fluke. Engraved on the inside of their Super Bowl rings is the team’s mantra, “Leave No Doubt 24/7”; the score of their victory over the Denver Broncos, 43-8; and the words “What’s Next?”

“We are looking down the road,” coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “We are really tuned in right now and excited to play the Packers.”

As hungry as the Seahawks are, NFL teams have found it increasingly difficult to win back-to-back titles because of free agency and salary caps. In the past quarter-century, only the Dallas Cowboys, the Broncos and the New England Patriots have repeated as champions, and no Super Bowl winner since the 2004 season has even made it to the conference title game the next season.

This raises a quandary for owners and team executives who want to cash in on their team’s success but also build sustainable businesses. A financial halo can quickly disappear, one reason the Seahawks are taking nothing for granted, on or off the field.

“There are things we can always do better, but things are very good right now,” said Peter McLoughlin, the team president. “We really want to achieve something great again because it was so wonderful to achieve it the first time.”

The financial upside from winning a championship is more limited in the NFL than it is in Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL because a greater percentage of each franchise’s income comes from national television contracts and other leaguewide revenue beyond an individual team’s control.

Super Bowl-winning teams are also often running near full capacity, with long sellout streaks, limiting how much more revenue they can generate after they capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Still, McLoughlin and the Seahawks are striking the financial iron while it’s hot. The team’s revenue has grown by double digits in every category, including tickets, merchandise and sponsorships.

In the offseason, a team-record 99.6 percent of season-ticket holders renewed their plans even though ticket prices increased by an average of 12 percent. An additional 1,200 seats previously sold as single-game tickets were converted to season tickets and scooped up.

Tickets are so hot that the team’s Blue Pride waiting list includes 12,000 people who put a $100 deposit on each season ticket they hope to buy someday. An additional 35,000 fans are waiting to join the Blue Pride list.

For the first time, the Seahawks have sold all 113 suites in CenturyLink Field for the entire season. Revenue from suites is up 15 percent, and just a few suites were sold for single games. Companies and individuals signed multiyear leases for the rest.

Because getting in the door on game days has become so difficult, stadium tours have nearly tripled, to 12,000, in the first eight months this year. Every open practice during training camp filled to capacity.

The Seahawks also opened a third team store and plan to open a fourth, doubling the number of shops they operated last season. Revenue from these outlets is kept by the Seahawks, not shared with the league.

This fervor is likely to last longer in Seattle than in other cities where teams win Super Bowls because the Seahawks have done a good job incorporating the 12th Man - representing the fans’ contribution to the team - into their business.

Rich Luker, who runs a sports polling agency, said: “Whether that really had an impact or not in them winning the Super Bowl, the fact that the Seahawks valued it definitely had an impact on their fans. The weight of things a fan will do, I expect to be greater in Seattle than in other cities that win single titles.”

Luker said that teams typically enjoyed a five-year honeymoon after winning a Super Bowl but that Seattle’s could last as long as a decade.

The championship has raised the Seahawks’ national profile. It helped the team attract or expand sponsorships with companies like Verizon, Starbucks and Skittles, the candy favored by Marshawn Lynch, the star running back. All this season, Alaska Airlines, based in Seattle, will offer early boarding at Sea-Tac Airport to passengers wearing the No. 3 jersey of quarterback Russell Wilson, who was named the airline’s “chief football officer.”

The team’s longstanding partnership with the Washington State Lottery included limited-edition branded scratch-off tickets (top prize: $50,000), which have nearly sold out. The lottery, Boeing and two other companies bought all of the television advertising during the first quarter of the team’s four preseason games.

The Seahawks, privately held by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, do not publish specific financial figures. But the experience of the Packers, the NFL’s only publicly owned team, shows the economic lift teams can receive from winning the Super Bowl.

In the fiscal year after they won the Super Bowl in February 2011, the Packers’ revenue rose by 7 percent to a record $302 million. Operating profits more than tripled to $43 million, from $12 million, also a record.

That Packers championship and their 15-1 record the next season helped increase revenue from local sources, like stadium tours and sales of merchandise and tickets.

The team also benefited from the NFL’s more lucrative national television broadcast contracts and the August 2011 collective bargaining agreement, which gave owners a greater share of the league’s revenue.

The Packers used their share to help pay for a $143 million renovation of Lambeau Field, which included adding about 7,000 seats and installing a new scoreboard and sound system.

Now that the Seahawks have reached the pinnacle of pro football, the question is how long they will remain there. With a young roster returning largely intact, they have as good a chance of retaining their title as any other team in recent memory.

On offense, Wilson and Lynch are back, and wide receiver Percy Harvin, limited to one game last season, is healthier. But receiver Golden Tate left as a free agent for Detroit. On defense, the Seahawks solidified their outstanding secondary by signing cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas to new contracts.

But the NFL, perhaps mindful that Seattle was the most penalized team last season, said it would focus more on rules prohibiting defenders from grabbing any part of a receiver’s uniform before a pass, even if they do not impede him.

The Seahawks also play in one of the toughest divisions in the league, and their strength of schedule is ranked sixth heading into the season.

On Thursday, they will get to work trying to prove skeptics -- and history -- wrong.