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October 4, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Another chat with majority owner Joe Roth, this time on the upcoming GM vote

roth mug2.jpgYou might remember the first part of an interview with Sounders FC majority owner Joe Roth on attendance, the expiring Xbox deal and the Seattle Arena. Well, Roth also took some questions on the upcoming GM vote and here in the transcript of that conversation:

* * *

(Can you start off with a little background on the idea?) “(Drew Carey met with me and said), ‘Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, they do this thing about democracy in sports, and they can vote out the general manager every four years.’ I go, ‘Oh yeah? That’s interesting.’ He said ‘Yeah, we can have them vote him out and then they can vote a new one in.’ (I said), ‘What? Somebody from like FX McRory’s or one of the bars?’ I said, ‘No, we’re investing millions of dollars here. Let’s go with they can vote him out every four years as long as we have 10,000 votes,’ which I’m hopeful that we will. Then if it’s a really a disaster, we’ve built in a safeguard that every year if 20-percent of the season-ticket holders want a recall vote, they could do that. That hasn’t happened yet, so we’ll see. But this is it. This is the fourth year. You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is, right?”

(And you’re happy you made that decision?) “Absolutely. How could I be unhappy? Honestly. Again, we have to be neutral in this. This is totally up to the fans. … I got calls from owners in other sports telling me I was out of my mind, of course. I thought, ‘You know, why wouldn’t you want your general manager at the start of your fourth year to make sure that you have a really good year? Why wouldn’t you want that?’ It’s like a player playing in his contract year. Have incentive. I think it’s good. It keeps everybody on their toes. It’s also what we promised along with the councils, a couple of ideas, certainly the seating and the naming of the team — it’s all worked out well by turning it over to the fans. Even those marches that I go to every single time up here. We don’t police them. It is what it is — good, bad or indifferent. I think that’s the idea.”

(Would you still be a supporter of the concept if Hanauer is voted out?) “Of course, you’ve got to go with it both ways. I told Adrian, ‘If we don’t make the playoffs, I’d start losing sleep if I were you.’ … Listen, we’ve been around four years. We’ve made the playoffs four years. It’s pretty hard to (make the case against him). An interesting part of this is there’s no opposition, so he’s not running against Mitt Romney or something. The idea is it would be easier, I think, to decide if you want to vote him out if there’s actually a person. But that’s the way they do it around the world, so we’ll follow that lead.”

(And, of course, he’d still be an owner if voted out…) “Still an owner. He keeps his position as an owner and he would obviously be a part of the decision making about a GM. It’d probably be me and him and Drew and probably to some extent Sigi. We’d just figure it out right away.”

(You mentioned you wanted the team to stay neutral during this process. Why?) “We’ve all talked about this, and everybody knows how I feel about Adrian, but I think the team shouldn’t give an endorsement. Again, leave it to the fans and (don’t) politic for it. Drew wanted to be Adrian’s campaign manager. I thought about it for a while and said, ‘You know Drew, I don’t want anybody to think it’s rigged in any possible way. I think it should really be neutral on our part.’ Our job is to make sure that it works, that we get at least 10,000 people to vote. We’re doing a lot of stuff to do that. I think it’s a really interesting story to take something that’s clearly a capitalistic venture and turn over essentially all of the non-financial decision making to the fans. To me, it’ll be an interesting experiment. I’ll only be disappointed, frankly, if we don’t get the 10,000 people — if it doesn’t match the fervor that we seem to see here every week. Again we’re giving time. We start the vote on Oct. 7 for the Portland game and I think there will be 65,000 people for that game. We’ll have voting booths around. Of course people can vote online, which in Seattle, it’s a pretty good bet that people are going to do that. It will go all the way to right before what I call the stockholders meeting on Dec. 13.”

(A lot can happen between Oct. 7 and Dec. 7 when people can vote. What made you decide on those dates?) “We wanted up to open up on a day for sure where we knew we were going to have a big rivalry crowd. Portland was certainly going to be that sort of game. But I don’t remember the conversation. I don’t think we wanted to do it during the playoffs where it would be a distraction. I don’t want it to be a distraction. I want it to be something to celebrate the uniqueness for Seattle and sports — another chapter. Sometimes people say, ‘Well, it’s just a craze: Democracy in sports.’ It is a craze, but we’re doing everything we can, shy of giving away ownership. We gave (a refund) for the LA game (in 2010). I don’t regret that at all. That was another one I got a lot of phone calls about. I think it sent a message to everybody. It sent a message to the fans we were serious. It sent a message to the coach we were serious. It sent a message to the players we were serious, because they get paid. If we’re not charging admission, they’re going to have a problem, so they have to play better than they did.”

(You mentioned you’ve heard from owners in other sports. What has been some of the other response?) “You know what’s interesting is it is very local to Seattle, other than in MLS. In Los Angeles, no one has any idea what’s going on up here — (people that aren’t) involved in soccer. However in Europe, where I’ve spent a lot of the last year and a half working on films, it’s very present. The Sounders are very present in not just London, all over the soccer capitals in Europe. It’s kind of interesting. I talked to Pete Vagenas after the last game in Chivas. He came out after the game and he said, ‘I tell everybody who’s got like a year left in professional soccer that they really ought to go play in Seattle and see what it is. It’s the thing that we dreamt about when we first started playing soccer about what could be in America.’ That was very sweet of him.”

(So he wasn’t campaigning for the job if it opened up?) “Maybe he was and I’m just a little thick. It’s just something we would have to figure out.”

(So you haven’t thought about a replacement general manager if needed?) “Not really. The Galaxy combines the two positions (coach and general manager). I’m not a fan of it. I think the two are very, very different positions. I know they did it up here in football and ownership wasn’t that happy about it either. For me, they’re two very different jobs. Forget about localizing power too much. … Adrian and (technical director Chris Henderson), they’re on the phone day in and day out, night and day, looking for players everywhere in the world. Unlike other American sports, there are players everywhere in the world that you’re looking. It’s not like watching some kid from Notre Dame. I can’t imagine the coach having the time to really scout and go through all those tapes and be on the phone negotiating trades. And a lot of the reason the team is as good as it is — without trying to campaign — is a lot of the trades that we didn’t do, a lot of the opportunities that came up, foreign and domestic, that would’ve been a mistake. It’s like a lot of things in business, where a lot of the things you don’t do are as important as the things you do. Hopefully it will all go smoothly, and most important, hopefully we get 10,000 people to participate.”

(At any point in the past four years did you wake up and have second thoughts about this?) “No, not about this. Not about this. I’ve had second thoughts about most everything, but not about this, maybe because I have a lot of faith in the fan base. They have not been that surprising over the four years. I think they’ll do what they think is right. In my business, my other business, I can’t really do this, and so I thought it was a really interesting experiment. Besides it’s worked in places that have the biggest soccer clubs in the world. They do it. So why not?”


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