I was in attendance at the 2011 Sounders FC Alliance Business Meeting last night at the WaMu Theater. A few current and former Sounders were there, including Taylor Graham, Mike Fucito, Zach Scott, Patrick Ianni and Kasey Keller. Members of the front office present included Adrian Hanauer, Joe Roth, Sigi Schmid and Gary Wright.
Five trophies were also on hand: three U.S. Open Cups, a Cascadia Cup and a Heritage Cup. Just before the events started, the team announced a new contract for Mauro Rosales. Here are some others notes and highlights from the night’s proceedings as things happened:
DREW CAREY, part owner
— He opened things up by apologizing he couldn’t be there in person. He spoke through a live video cam from his L.A. office after undergoing shoulder surgery recently.
— He said he was excited about how the team performed and was proud of the on-field performance. “That was honestly, I think all the way around, our best year ever,” he said.
— That led into a highlight video of the 2011 season. The largest cheer was for Keller’s unforgettable series of four stops versus San Jose in his sendoff game.
JOE ROTH, majority owner
— He thanked everyone for coming and said the event is something they enjoy doing and something they feel is their responsibility to do. He said he’d like to get more season-ticket holders there and thinks maybe something in the middle of the season could increase the turnout. “This is much more than just a soccer team; this has become a real part of the community,” he said.
— He said he was talking to the “ever-unpopular” David Stern, NBA commissioner, the other day. He said that Stern told him the Sounders “are the most successful expansion team in any sport in the history of the United States.” Stern referenced the huge attendance figures and the passion surrounding the franchise.
— He said it’s easy to forget that the team has only been around for three years. “For a young team and a young organization, I couldn’t be prouder,” he said. “I think that we had, obviously, a great year.” He referenced winning the third U.S. Open Cup and getting into the second round of the Champions League (where Schmid reminded him that they’re only six games away from being the first American team to play in the Club World Cup).
— He said it’s a business of ups and downs. Unlike his day job in Hollywood, where you have a big up or a big down and that’s the end of it, this is a building operation, he said. He credited the Sounders for having the best staff in the league. “So much of what we do is making sure the foundation is right,” he said.
— He noted that so far nine players from last season won’t be back next year (Keller, Riley, Wahl, Friberg, Boss, Jaqua, Noonan, Montano, Graham), but that the foundation is still there and there are more players to be added.
— He recalled a few moments, like Keller’s “unbelievable quartet of saves,” which he called one of the great moments he’s seen in goalkeeping, and also Colorado’s Brian Mullan breaking Steve Zakuani’s leg. He said he can’t help but think what the season would’ve been like with Zakuani playing, especially as the top scoring team in the league that finished with the second-best regular season. He also said he can’t get the image of Tony Beltran — “that little shrimp,” he joked — saving Jeff Parke’s shot off the line in the home leg of the playoff series against Real Salt Lake. He also referenced the sinking feeling of RSL scoring that third goal in the first leg. “We had a fantastic season with one bad game,” he said, adding he thought the Sounders would complete the comeback in the home leg after scoring twice.
— He said it’s their job “not to be the team that is in the middle of the pack. We want desperately to win the MLS Cup. We want desperately to have our youth players in the U-16 and U-18 teams move up and play with us. We want to be a pillar in the community.” He said every dollar they make they invest back in the team.
— He said it will always be important to have the Sounders be the fans’ team.
— He mentioned he doesn’t like the strategy of paying millions of dollars to a few guys and having the rest make much less than that “and have dissension and problems.” He said his job and the job of those around him is to create a great team that is consistent and gets consistently better. “Certainly this third year, we had our best year overall,” he said.
— He finished with one last thought: “The second biggest team gets half of the people we get, and that team is in a market eight times our size.”
MCKENZIE CLARK, Alliance Council member
— He explained that the Alliance Council consists of season-ticket holders voted into office by other season-ticket holders to run the council as the voice of the fans.
— He said they decided in January to draft a constitution and bylaws that were up for a vote recently, so it’s been a year-long process. Officers were also voted upon this year: Paul Cox, president; Dave Clark, vice president; Rachel Molloy, secretary.
— He said they also reviewed the Portland away game and discussed how that was a very successful trip and that he’ll get to Cascadia travel issues a little later.
— He said on Aug. 27 they amended the constitution with the changes they saw fit and they also reviewed the charter that the club presented to them. They also started a planning committee, which planned Tuesday’s night event. They’ve also started putting the council votes up on the council blog, so you can look out for that on SoundersFC.com (main header –> news –> council blog) for statements, passed resolutions and more.
— He talked about the final ratification of the constitution and bylaws, along with the new charter, which was up for a vote the past two weeks. On Oct. 8, he said, they planned the details for Keller’s final game, including an award presented to the goalkeeper.
— He read part of the council’s commendation to the team for stressing the importance of the Open Cup by producing winning teams and submitting winning bids to host games.
— He said in November they discussed the things they wanted to accomplish in 2012: e.g. the budget (which covered events like Tuesday’s night and the award given to Keller) and improving feedback.
— He said they have passed three resolutions. The first involves away ticket allocation, specifically for the Cascadia games. The resolution states that they want the Sounders FC front office to pursue the biggest allotment possible for supporters and non-supporters alike for games in Portland and Vancouver for “every season, every game, every competition.” He said it’s important because they take pride in having the largest traveling support in U.S. Soccer and because they want the Cascadia rivalry to be the most important in the world. He said they feel the front office has been doing a great job and they also feel Portland and Vancouver have done an OK job, but they want to make sure the relationship improves (while admittedly not wanting those rivals to win any games, ever).
— The second resolution was to eliminate artificial noise in the home stadiums, saying the front office shall not produce any noise in an attempt to impact the atmosphere. He provided examples as the orca noise heard before corner kicks late in games and the band playing during the run of play. He referenced going to the playoff game at RSL and called it one of the worst atmospheres he’s experienced due to some artificial enhancements (e.g. cheerleaders). He said they want it to be “an organic atmosphere driven by the fans” at CenturyLink and Starfire.
— The third resolution involved the season-ticker holders’ scarves. He said the resolution urges the club to host a competition where people submit their scarf designs. The council and club will choose the top five and the Alliance will choose one to be the season-ticket holders’ scarves for that season. Next season would be the ideal goal, but they’re hoping to implement this idea at least by 2013.
— In closing, he came back to the constitution and charter. He said he was told the news would be announced already, but he revealed the documents have been ratified. He also dispelled the notion that the council hasn’t done much, citing the supporters’ summit earlier this season. Increased participation remains a big priority, he said, particularly in events like Tuesday night’s. He said the event has improved dramatically from what was described as a “clunky” rendition in 2009 and he hopes it continues to improve.
TOM CHALLINOR, master of ceremonies
— He followed up on the ratification of the documents, saying 94-percent of the vote was in favor.
GARY WRIGHT, Senior VP of Business Operations
— He first addressed the council’s resolutions and said they incorporate what everyone wants, the fans and the club. He said all three were very well thought-out and said he thinks both sides are “totally in alignment.”
— He displayed the team’s brand wheel (something I didn’t jot down as I was working on the Rosales story at the time). He said they put it together four years ago, and while they’re looking at tweaking it as needed, it has held up very, very well.
— He mentioned the attendance average of 38,496, an MLS record for the third-straight year. He said their goal isn’t just to be the best in MLS, but also to be a world brand. He said the team ranks in the top 40 worldwide in attendance. He said the Sounders crowds would rank eighth in the English Premier League, fourth in Italy’s Serie A, fifth in Spain La Liga, 12th in the German Bundesliga and third in the Dutch Eredivise. “Around the world you can see we are making tremendous progress and really laying a stake in the ground for this sport in this country,” he said.
— He said the team appreciated the commendation from the council on the Open Cup efforts. He thanked Schmid, the players and everyone involved in winning a third straight and setting another attendance record for the final.
— He also said thanks for the fans for getting 64,000 at an MLS game for Keller’s sendoff.
— He said corporate partners continue to exceed their goals, as has nearly every department for the past three seasons. He said the team sold out all 113 suites at CenturyLink Field for every single MLS match. He said merchandise continues to sell at record levels. He said they’re at 110-percent of their sales goal right now and without having gone through Christmas yet. He said they’re proud of the Facebook numbers and mobile apps.
— He mentioned business goals for 2012 and the first was to get as many people into the stadium as possible for March 7 to help the team in its home leg of the CCL quarterfinals.
— He said there’s going to be a new turf for next season, which has already been announced. Here’s his mention of the possibility of grass: “I know all of us would love grass. We continue to do studies — grass is not feasible. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to look at it. Year after year we will, and we promise to look at it. … We all want grass. Paul Allen wanted grass when the stadium was built, but it isn’t possible. What is possible is for us to be able to put in new FieldTurf more (often) than just every five to seven years. We’re committed to do that to have the best FieldTurf possible.”
— He said they’re opening up more of the stadium, notably the Hawks Nest in the north end, adding about 2,200 seats. “That’s the loudest piece of real estate in the stadium,” he said.
— He mentioned having to replace play-by-play man Arlo White, who has left for NBC Sports. “While we have lost Arlo, we’ve also gained a friend on the national stage,” he said. He later added that he doesn’t think anyone can replace Arlo, but they’ll try to do so as much as possible and the next guy has to be world class, as well.
SIGI SCHMID, head coach
— He joked he doesn’t have a PowerPoint presentation, like all the previous speakers, and said he’d keep it short.
— He said he had a thought of what he wanted to say when he got there, but completely changed his mind as he sat up on stage. He said the work of the Alliance and its council members is another example of what makes Seattle so unique and special. He said it’s why he’s never for one day regretted his decision to come here and why it’s been a joy every day to work here. “You deserve the round of applause,” he said. “You deserve the hand, because you are the ones who make this a very special experience for myself, for every player, for every member of our office staff, for everybody involved with the Seattle Sounders.”
— He said he thought the 2011 season was the team’s most consistent from A to Z. He said they’re still disappointed because they want to get the MLS Cup, but they accomplished a lot of goals, including winning a playoff game, which he said was a big hurdle. “We know a little bit better of what to do now,” he said.
— He talked about leading the league in goals, winning a third Open Cup and earning the most points the team ever has. He credited a lot of behind the scenes work, for example doing more medical work than he thinks a lot of other MLS teams do. He credited the quality of the players and the quality of their character as being important, as well. “When you look at what we’ve accomplished in the first three years of this franchise, it truly is remarkable,” he said. “It’s something you have to be very proud of; it’s been a collaborative effort between yourself, the community, our team, our staff and this whole entire region.”
— He said without a doubt the wins in Portland and Vancouver were really special for him. He said while there was some concern after the tie at home to the Timbers and some words exchanged with their coach John Spencer through the media, he knew the Sounders would win in Portland.
— In closing, he praised Keller, the next speaker, as a “super talented player” but also a “tremendous ambassador for our club.” He said the team will miss him, but that he’s sure Keller won’t miss diving to his right and left all the time anymore, especially after 25-30 some years. “He’s been a great institution here, and he’s a tremendous player, and he’s what this club represents in terms of the totality of the human being and the effort and dedication to this community and to this area.”
KASEY KELLER, goalkeeper
— He joked at first that if the team has installed the new turf earlier maybe he could dive around a little bit more.
— He said he was proud to be able to play up close to his 42nd birthday, which not a lot of pro athletes can do. He jokingly thanked his parents for his genetics for being able to play 20 years and not have one knee injury.
— He said he remembered being in the WaMu theater about three years ago for the fashion show and unveiling the new uniforms, and how everyone there was wondering how the new franchise was going to take off. He said they all felt it would be something special. He said he didn’t think anyone, however, had an idea that it would become what it has. He said it was a lot of hard work by the people on the stage but that a lot of credit goes to the fans who support the team regardless of the situation (Open Cup, CCL, preseason). He said the team always knew that it had the 100-percent backing of not only the fans in the stadium, but the city and region.
— He joked that even some Canadians close to the border wish they were Sounders fans.
— He joked that the Cascadia rivals need to get some bigger stadiums so more Sounders fans can travel for the road games. “It’s not our fault their stadiums are too small for you guys to come and watch us play,” he said.
— He said he can’t believe that three years have gone by so fast. “Thanks again for giving me the opportunity — obviously Joe, Adrian, Drew and Mr. Allen — and for putting something so cool together, and giving me the opportunity to come home and finish my career in front of comfortably the best fans I’ve ever played in front of,” he said. “So thank you very much.”
— Keller gets a standing ovation from everyone in attendance in closing.
ADRIAN HANAUER, part owner, general manager
— “Thanks for letting me follow that Kasey,” he joked at the start.
— He said he was looking at the three Open Cup trophies and the one thing that he’s truly sorry about is that there isn’t an MLS Cup trophy there yet. “But mark my words, one day soon, for one of these meetings, there will be an MLS Cup trophy over there,” he said. “We’re going to get there.”
— He said after watching the highlight video that you can’t complain about a lack of drama in some of those 2011 games. He said it was shocking to him how many late goals the Sounders scored and late saves Keller made to keep things exciting.
— He said he was thinking about November 2008 when they announced the birth of the franchise. He said, surprisingly, some of the things he talked about then have come to fruition — being an attack-minded, creative, aggressive, goal-scoring team. “I’m proud to say I feel like we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “It’s been a very good three years. It could certainly be better, but we are certainly one our way to establishing ourselves as that force, as that team that we assumed we would.”
— He briefly went over some numbers: 63 points (almost two per game), almost two goals scored per game, just a little over one goal conceded per game — “We’d like to tighten that up a little bit,” he said. He slipped up accidentally and said he’d like to get under one goal per year, before correcting himself and saying one goal per game. “Under one goal per year would be great,” he said with a laugh.
— He said they had 15 players that scored in MLS play and 26 players that played during the league season. He said that speaks to the balance and depth to the team. That’s something they wanted to establish early on and something they’ll continue to focus on, he said, especially with the crowded schedule coming up.
— He mentioned that there can be some sadness and mixed feelings this time of year when it comes to turnover. He said the team becomes a family with really strong relationships by spending so much time together over the year, so it’s tough to see players go. He thanked the players that have left: Riley and Wahl (through the expansion draft and a related trade), Montano (who’s signed with Montreal), Noonan and Jaqua (who he called great ambassadors and veterans for the team), Boss (who had to retire because of concussions), Graham (who he called a great guy in the community in seven years here) and Keller (who he called the “fearless leader” in the back whose shoes will be hard to fill).
— He said all is not lost and before shouldn’t be depressed. “We have a plan, believe it or not, and we’re going to be OK,” he said.
— He said the team had 32 players under contract at the end of last season, including Montano who was on loan. With nine leaving that makes it 23. He said the optimal number for next year is 29, maybe 30. Michael Gspurning is one of the additions. “One thing I can tell you is Michael visited our community, spent a few days here with his wife, and neither he nor the club would’ve made this decision if the fit weren’t perfect,” he said. “He loved it here. His wife loved it here. He is an unbelievably good guy. He’ll be a great person in the community, a great person in our locker room and that was really important to us.” He also talked about the addition of Marc Burch — a left-footed player, 6-foot-1, good experience, good pro, a great left foot, great free kicks. “We still have to negotiate a contract with Marc, but we’ve spoken with him and his agent, and he obviously wants to be here,” he said. “I have no doubt that we’ll get that sorted out quickly. Marc will be a great addition to the back line.”
— He also revealed to the crowd that Rosales has signed a new contract (the news came out in a press release earlier in the evening, but the fans in attendance might not have had a chance to see yet, which explains the big cheer upon the announcement). “Mauro will be here for the next two years and maybe more,” he said, praising the Argentine’s abilities but also the contributions off the field. “There’s no better than Mauro,” he said.
— On other offseason additions: “We obviously realize that we need to sign a right back,” he said, “and we’re actively in conversation on multiple fronts. We will certainly have a very, very good solution at right back by the time the season starts. We are also having conversations with a midfielder and a forward. One or both could potentially could be signed in the not-too-distant future, as well. Again, when you add up those numbers, you get to 27, 28, pretty quickly. And if 29’s our optimal number, we’re not too far short of a full squad.
— He mentioned the team’s combine in Las Vegas is coming up. The team will also have a combine this year in Trinidad that they’re running to look at some Caribbean players. There will also be the MLS combine and players coming in on trial in the preseason to go along with ongoing international scouting. “We’re very, very confident that we’re going to have a fantastic roster again this year and compete for more championships,” he said.
— He said the salary cap makes it hard to separate yourself in the league, but they’ve tried to find some ways to get a competitive advantage. Youth development is one of those areas. He thanked Darren Sawatzky and Dick McCormick and the rest of the coaching/support staff for running the youth development program. In 2011, both the U-18 and U-16 teams finished first in their divisions and the U-16s finished fifth at the national championships. Seven players were called into national-team camps and 15 U-18s players received college scholarships, many are starting for their teams as freshmen. The Sounders keep their rights as they work their way through college and can sign them at anytime as homegrown players. He said the youth academy will become an increasingly part of the program in the future.
— Another area the Sounders try to get an advantage is sports science, he said, led by fitness coach Dave Tenney and head trainer Randy Noteboom. He said it’s an emerging arena in the United States and in American sport. He said it originated mostly in Australian with rugby, but big teams worldwide have picked it up, especially in the EPL. The Sounders are invested a lot of time and money into these systems as well. The team just signed with a company called Catapult, which tracks players in training through GPS. Seattle is the first MLS team to use the system that charts acceleration, max velocity, distances run, etc. He said they pair that with the heart monitors, which chart exertion, and they’re able to track all that and compare them positionally or however. He said they also use a system called Omegawave, which is a monitoring system using EKG hooked up to electrodes to monitor heart-rate variability (not sure if I got that language right), CNS fatigue, metabolic makeup and cardiac fatigue. One last thing the team has implemented is a soft tissue protocol (e.g. massage). The ultimate prize for all this, he said, is knowledge and performance. One example as someone who benefited was Osvaldo Alonso, who played about 3,900 minutes in 2011, 1,200 more than 2010 and 1,700 more than 2009. He said all this isn’t coincidence and the knowledge reduces injuries and optimizes training sessions. Another example was a team one, when they traveled about 9,000 miles and went 3-0-1 in four games over the course of 10 days (win at Vancouver, tie in Guatemala, win at New England, win vs. Chicago).
— Facilities, statistical analysis and scouting are other ways the team tries to get a competitive advantage, he said, before admitting he’s probably taken up his time.
— “The future is bright, we’re very confident and hopefully next time we’re here we are hoisting an MLS Cup championship trophy,” he said in closing.
Q: Does the front office believe the Sounders fans need prompting to support the team (in reference to artificial noise mentioned earlier)?
A (Wright): “The short answer would be ‘no.’ The run of play is different from pregame, halftime, postgame and those kinds of things. I think for the Emerald City Supporters and the other supporters’ groups, no, we don’t need to add any energy there. You bring your own energy. But I think it’s a show for all 38,000 that attend our games and it is important to put on a total show, a total game enhancement. So we do agree about the run of play — the orca sound, or whatever — we certainly understand that. In fact, we stopped using that in the playoffs and some people’s request. So we’re cognizant of that, we understand and appreciate that, but I think it’s important that game presentation be of its highest quality also because we want it to be a tremendous experience and a tremendous show from the time of the March to the Match all the way the final whistle and the salute of the players to the entire stadium after the match.”
Q: Why doesn’t the scoreboard count past 45:00 or 90:00? Is that a team decision?
A (Hanauer): “That is not a team decision. I’m going to go back and do a little research to be sure, but I actually think that’s a FIFA regulation. But we’re not the first team that’s actually requested to somehow get around it. So we will work on it. There are other teams in the league who would like the same solution and we will look into it.”
Q: Is the team willing to give a role in design and selection of the third kid? If so, what immediate steps can be put in place to make that happen?
A (Wright): “Immediate is a little too fast, like right now, but the next time a third kit is designed, I don’t think there’s any reason why the Alliance can’t be involved. Just thinking off the top of my head, adidas designs the kits and they bring us some that they like. We could get the Alliance involved, ‘Now what ones do you like?’ Now, I think it’s also important that our retail department be involved. Our third kit last year, the Electricity, sold by far more than any other third kit in MLS history. Now we know that not everybody is going to like, immediately, the new third kit, but I think once you see it on the players that’ll be a little bit different. That will also sell tremendously. It’s important again from the business side that we … stay within the color palette, because we think that’s important. We’re not going to be like some teams in Europe that go completely off the color palette. But to get the Alliance involved? Short answer: Why not?
Q: Is it possible to set up a program where people get the same seat at CenturyLink for all games (MLS, CCL, etc.)?
A (Wright): “Chuck Arnold, vice president of ticketing, and I were talking about this earlier. Without question we would love to be able to do that, but we don’t know the competitions, and what the dates of the competitions are going to be. Once we have dates, yes, we can do that. But we need to know the dates; we need to know the competitions we qualify for.”
Q: Can we get a larger allocation to away Cascadia games and what does the club think about FIFA recommendation to allocate five percent of seats to away fans?
A (Wright): “I think that would be tremendous if it could happen, but I think we’re in a situation where not everybody can do five percent. For Portland to be able to do five percent would be very difficult at this time because so many are bought on a season-ticket basis. We have the ability to be able to do something, however we’re already in discussions with Portland and Vancouver. Bart Wiley is on that and is working to increase that number. If you recall at last year’s meeting at this time we were at 150 tickets and we got it up to 500 tickets. (Wiley has) already started the process to try and get more for next year.”
Q: Can that allocation be expanded to include not just those in supporters’ groups?
A (Wright): “To me it sounds reasonable if we’re able to get ‘X’ amount of additional tickets to say to the Alliance, ‘How should those be used?’ We would go to the council with that number and you tell us how they should be used.”
A (Clark): “We actually as the council advised the team on distribution for this current season (and) in 2011 it was put forward mainly for supporters’ groups. We’ve had preliminary talks that when we know what the increase is, we’ve already come up with some ideas on how we might increase that to the greater Alliance and not just supporters’ groups. In discussions we’ve had with some gentleman from the English FA that came by, they talked about using a lottery system to see who could get those tickets and how they should be distributed.”
A (Cox): “Just jumping in here as someone who’s done a lot of travel planning for the ECS before I took the Alliance council role, ECS and the others supporters’ group, as we worked with Gorilla FC and North End Faithful, it’s not that we don’t want everybody to go to the game. We’re pushing really hard, and obviously some of the questions are still asking for that five-percent number, because we believe the more number of Sounders fans that get to go down there and scream for our team the better. Obviously as an organization, part of our role is to try and serve our members. When they say, ‘Why do you go in there and only vote for your members?’ Well, that’s who elected me and that’s what we’re supposed to do. But at the same time, the supporters’ groups recognize that for every other away game, other than Cascadia games, we always welcome that to all other Sounders fans. We welcome you to join us. We throw pre-functions at local bars and pubs. We’ll organize bus trips if we need to — in Chicago we usually do a bus trip because their stadium is outside of the loop. In San Francisco we do a bus down to San Jose. And we love, love, love having everybody join us for those trips. What ends up happening is people come, they have a blast, they join ECS. All these things work together. To answer the question — if we get more tickets are we going to free those up to people outside of supporters’ groups — honestly we don’t know. But it’s not strictly like all we want is to have them for us. We want everybody to go and have a good time and that’s why we’re pushing for more tickets for the entire fan base.”
Q: Does the new unbalanced schedule and not being able to see every team in the league at home diminish the value of the season ticket? Can the team do anything about that?
A (Hanauer): “Forty-percent discount. (laughs) Some people may think it devalues, some people may think it increases the value because there will be more rivalry games. I’m not sure we can do anything to mitigate it. All I can do is tell you that the reason is that we as an MLS — the chief business officers, the technical committee especially, as in all of the teams — thought that 36 games was just an impossible burden on the players from a physical standpoint. And that 38 games when the next team was added is even more impossible. So the idea was to stick at 34 games, which is manageable. The positive impact for the fans, hopefully, is that our players will travel less. Instead of going to the East coast or Eastern teams nine or 10 times, they’ll do it four times. They’ll replace those trips with a trip to San Jose or L.A. or Vancouver or Portland. Less wear and tear on the body and also more training days, because we lose so many travel days when we travel back and forth from the East coast — ergo theoretically a better product for the fans. So that’s sort of how we got there and in the future I think it’s likely that 34 games is probably the number that we’ll stick with.”
Q: Negative feedback on the YSA chant continues. Does ownership want to get involved in this issue?
A (Roth): “It’s actually not an easy question. As a free-speech guy my whole life I would say let it go. It’s just the way it is. I know there are obviously family components that come up… For me, I’m so into watching the game I don’t recognize anything other than what’s going on on the field, so I’m actually surprised we do that much (artificial noise) enhancement — that shows how much I know. So I’d say on balance, if families don’t want their kids to hear that they’ll have to cover their kids’ ears or go to another sport. I don’t want to ever lose people, but at the same time it’d be completely against who I am to say we should get rid of any chants.”
Q: Is the front office committed to allowing standing the 100 level for the foreseeable future?
A (Wright): “I think to tell the fan to sit down is very, very difficult. I, for one, have tickets in section 113. I’m not very tall and the guy in front of me is about 6-foot-5. I’m a lot older than most people in the stadium and I get tired, but it’s something special to be there, too. I am going to move my seats this year because I needed to do that, so I feel if somebody needs to move their seats because they can’t stand, our ticket office is committed to help them be able to move. We will definitely do that. Somehow, someway we will figure out how to move you.”
A (Roth): “I think it’s helpful to see how we all started — in my conference room in Los Angeles, this group of people and Drew, before we started this whole thing. Drew was very big about democracy in sports. We talked about Barcelona and Real Madrid and places like that. It really struck me as someone who’s run more corporate businesses my whole life that this was the way we had to run this business. We were going to have the fan base (a part of the team). We were going to be able to vote out this guy every four years if 20-percent of the people wanted to rally quickly and get rid of him right away. We do want to do that. Anything that comes into us manipulating it or not manipulating it, we’re always going to come down on the side of we’re not manipulating it — even if it’s a little bit rude or out of the normal consciousness. That’s just the way it is.”
A (Cox): “Just to interject on those last three questions, I went to the MLS Cup this year and was at the Supporters’ Summit with Commissioner Garber. And this YSA chant is a big deal in a lot of other stadiums. I’m sure most of the supporters are familiar with this, but the supporters’ section in Boston had arrests in their stadium for that. Our supporters here, for the most part, just kind of ignore that. But as Joe said, if thousands of people come and they want to yell it, who’s this guy to come as say they can’t yell it? It’s just one of those things. As a general rule, what I’ve found working with the club, is these guys have been excellent in encouraging us — and by us that’s me and Dave and the folks who are on the council, who probably should’ve had to stand up and be recognized so you can go put a bug in their ear if there’s something you don’t like. But not just them, all of us. Everyone who’s here tonight and everybody who goes to the games, collectively we’re making decisions for the club and these guys are good with that. They encourage that; they support that. That doesn’t mean they’re always going to agree with us 100-percent of the time on business decisions. Personally I think we’re being punked on those third jerseys because they come from adidas and they’re down in Portland — I’m just saying. (crowd laughs) But for the most part those guys are letting things work themselves out by themselves. I don’t know how many of you guys have noticed that, but for the most part in the lower bowl most of the people stand for most of the game and in the upper bowl people don’t. Yeah, it might means sometimes you have to move or you might have to pay more for your ticket — but that doesn’t matter to these guys because they sell every ticket anyway, right? They want us to be happy, because when we’re happy fans we show up at the stadium, have a good time and everybody wins. I think collectively we should thank these guys for doing that and for having this meeting. I don’t know how many other owners in MLS, I would venture to say nil, are willing to come up here, take questions and get this kind of feedback coming from their own fans. So let’s hear it for these guys. On all of these issues we get questions from Alliance people, they’ll email us and say, ‘Paul Cox, Alliance dude, what are you going to do about this?’ I say, ‘Well, if you really feel strongly about this, go find 25 of your friends, get on the council, come to a meeting and convince us why we should do something about it.’ And we’ll try. That’s what we’re here for.”
Q: Why do the Sounders play U.S. Open Cup matches at Starfire when it’s small size prevent many fans from attending?
A (MC interrupts): How many people out there have been to a game at Starfire? (Almost everyone in the crowd raises their hand and some cheer)
A (MC continues): And despite difficulty in securing tickets and the hassle of parking, how many like attending games at Starfire? (same response)
A (MC again): And what’s our record at Starfire? (big cheers again)
A (MC lastly): I’m not supposed to answer my own questions…
A (Hanauer): “That’s dead on. Again there is a supply-and-demand discussion also that we have internally, which is — and we’ve said this for a lot of years — we don’t want an empty stadium. We know what the true demand is for those games and it ain’t 35,000 for an early round U.S. Open Cup game. I can guarantee everyone that. So we’re trying to match supply with demand. We’d rather sell out Starfire than have 6,000 people are CenturyLink and have less of a home-field advantage.”
Q: Why do we always lose midseason friendlies? Why do we play our second string? Why do we schedule them near the Open Cup and CCL games? Could you comment on the team’s friendly plan for the future?
A (Roth): “Adrian told me to be nice. It’s almost impossible. One of the lowlights of my entire life was watching Man U destroy us, and watching Sir Alex Whatever-His-Name-Is throw Wayne Rooney and Park at us in the second half of the game when we were playing people that I didn’t even think were on our roster. We had a gentlemen’s agreement that we’d play our first teams in the first half and then play the substitutes in the second half. It didn’t quite go that way. We started out with the idea of playing three friendlies. Then we listened to you guys, which is you were much more interested in competitions than you were in exhibitions. What we decided to do is cut it down to one friendly and always make sure we had a world-class team coming in for that one friendly. The scheduling of it, because they’re invariably from Europe, is it goes around their traveling schedule, so those games end up being in June or July when they’re preparing to start their season. So we don’t really have control over when those games are, but I feel comfortable saying we much prefer the one game, the one friendly, the one exhibition, so we can get down to the business that we have of MLS, Champions League and Open Cup.”
Q: It seems like supporters’ groups dominate the council. Is this is a problem and what can be done to address it?
A (Clark): “This is actually one that I get asked a lot because I’m not a member of any supporters’ group, but I managed to get on the council in 2009. It takes a lot of work to get on the council — 25 votes from complete strangers are hard to find. Going into sections north, south, east and west of you and asking people who don’t even know you to vote for you and hopefully remember to do that when they get home is quite difficult. What supporters’ groups have that a non-affiliated, non-supporters’ group member doesn’t have is an organizational base. And just like any democratic institution, those that organize are going to be more represented. It happens in Congress, and whether or not it’s right, that’s the way of things. If you want to get on council, there are basically two ways to do it — work very hard and get on council or join a supporters’ group, work very hard in that supporters’ group to earn their respect, and then get on council if you still want to do it after working through one layer of bureaucracy and getting into another. Having some sort of quota to represent people was tried in other democratic institutions. It doesn’t work because it winds up with people who aren’t interested in being representative on a representative group.”
A (Hanauer): “I’d like to add one thing and I’m probably going off the reservation a little bit here, and I haven’t talked to Joe and Gary about this, but this is something that makes me nervous. And it is absolutely fantastic that we have 22 council members, but if you multiple that numbers by 25, that’s 550 fans that are represented. We have talked internally as an organization, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, about trying to figure out ways to help make the process a little broader and easier and transparent to increase the number on council, because we would like a broader (base). And whether that means the representation is different or not, I don’t know. But the more the better.”
Q: The team has made a big deal about democracy in sports and there hasn’t been a lot of voting in the last three years. Is the front office to willing to guarantee a confidence vote on Hanauer as general manager for 2012?
A (Roth): “Absolutely. If it’s the end of the fourth year and there hasn’t been a 20-percent, red-alert recall, there will be a vote at the end of this season.”
Q: Are Sounders practices open to the public?
A (Hanauer): “They are. Starfire is a public facility, a public park. There are some fans who come out occasionally. There is some fencing around our training area and obviously if it got out of control we would probably have to somehow contain things. But to date it hasn’t gotten out of control. It is open. Guys are sometimes in a hurry to get out of training and get to a meeting or a lunch, but the guys are good about signing an autograph here or there. I don’t want to say, ‘Come one, come all,’ but it is open to the public because it’s a public park.”
Q: What is one change that will change tomorrow based on what you’ve heard tonight?
A (Roth): “The things that resonated with me certainly were the noise in the stadium, which I didn’t realize was such a big issue, and the notion about having to broaden the council in a way that feels more representative, and also the issue of how can we get more people seats down in Portland and up in Vancouver. Now Vancouver is easier based on demand and I think they’ve moved into (BC Place) to make it even easier. Portland is tough — it’s a ticket base and it’s a small stadium — but we’ll do whatever we can to get them in. Those are the ones that stuck out to me.”
A (Wright): “We’re committed to serve you guys. None of us are here without you and we wouldn’t have the success that this club has without you. We are here to serve you.”
A (Roth): “Another thing is about the jersey. I’m all for the jersey — it feels completely in keeping with the rest of the organization and that’s the first time I’ve heard that as well — and having the jersey designed internally by people here. I think that they could do as every bit as good a job up here in Seattle as they could in Portland. … You should know that it takes like a year in advance, and that’s one of the issues.”
DREW CAREY, part owner
— He had the last word and thanked everybody for coming and for a great meeting. He said he wished he could’ve been there to answer some questions. He encouraged people to run for council and take it seriously. “Holy cow, you’re running for office, you know what I mean?” he said. “You have to be really proactive. Hold up a sign if you have to. Pass out flyers, do whatever you have to do.”
— He said he loves that people stand in the lower bowl for the full 90 and it’s something that he brags about to others. “Good for you for standing up,” he said. “And if you don’t like the people that stand up, tough.”
— He joked about changing the YSA chant to another language, Swedish for example, so people wouldn’t know what was said.
— With one last quip about painkillers he led into a closing highlight video of the U.S. Open Cup title run.
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Hope this was worth your time (video of the event below from SoundersFC.com). What stands out to you?
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