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October 15, 2012 at 2:32 PM

A stop and chat with GM Adrian Hanauer

hanauer mug.jpgSounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer spoke with reporters after Monday’s practice. He addressed a number of topics including last week’s Leaders in Football conference in England, rescheduling the Real Salt Lake to Wednesday, RSL flying Eddie Johnson back to Seattle, the prominent Tanzania ads at CenturyLink Field, and more.

Here is the transcript:

* * *

(Were there some main takeaways you had from the Leaders in Football conference last week in England?) “Yeah, lots. The one thing that I guess was a little bit surprising to me in scale was just how much interest there is in Europe over what we’re doing here in MLS. I think early on in MLS existence there was a lot of skepticism, and obviously salary caps are something that are pretty foreign to those guys, but as debts rack up and as clubs go into administration and as players migrate and fans lose patience, as some of those things happen in the rest of the world and as MLS grows at a nice methodical pace, I think that there are some people looking over here going, ‘Hmm, that’s kind of interesting. They might be on to something there.’ That’s not to say that all of a sudden everything we do is going to be exported to Europe, but I think that was sort of the overall takeaway that I had. And then just obviously making great contacts. We had a good panel that we participated on — (Portland Timbers owner) Merritt Paulson, (Sporting Kansas City CEO) Robb Heineman, the commissioner (Don Garber) and myself. (There were) interesting presentations from other people. It was good, a good conference.”

(And how about outside interest in the Sounders?) “Certainly there are a lot of people wondering how the Sounders have been able to create this fervor and momentum and interest, particularly around the fan base. That’s one that it takes an hour — probably longer — to sort of talk through the history and how that’s all come about. And I don’t think that even given an hour to explain it (is enough). There are always some things that you can’t quite put a finger on in terms of how we’ve been able to find ourselves in this situation. (There was) certainly interest in the Sounders specifically, but there was interest in Portland, specifically, and Kansas City, in what they’ve been able to do in sort of a reclamation project that they were left with. Then Don obviously handled the more league-specific types of issues.”

(Anyone think you were crazy putting your job on the line in the GM vote?) “No, I think that’s more of a system that’s understood in Europe and the rest of the world in that most clubs around the world have a top executive — other than England, I guess — that is voted on, and they’re all run as membership organizations. So it’s not completely foreign to them. More so the American owners are a little bit perplexed by it.”

(When you weighing all those factors to make the Chelsea friendly come together, was moving this RSL game something you didn’t want to do? Were you hoping it wouldn’t turn out to be a big game?) “When you look at RSL on the schedule, you assume that it’s going to be a game of importance. But we did discuss the fact that both teams would likely be missing players and that it’s just one of those compromises, I guess, that had to be made to accommodate the game. Certainly big thanks to RSL, because they didn’t have to move the game and find themselves in this situation. And it’s certainly one of the factors that we discuss and continue to discuss as we move forward on our friendly strategy.”

(Do you think RSL flying Eddie Johnson to Seattle for Wednesday’s game is something that would happen in other leagues?) “Probably not, and that was the other part of the conference that people, again, were a little perplexed about but that makes us an interesting league, is the fact that we have the single entity structure. So come gameday we’re bitter rivals and competitors, but during the week we’re working together, trying to figure out how to grow the league together and lift all ships. … We have good relationships with almost every team, so the RSL ownership and management were nice enough to agree to this, and obviously we would do the same for them.”

(What was the impression of MLS at the Leaders in Football conference?) “I think they have a high perception of it. I think the quality of the football is something that they don’t really understand that well, nor probably believe is at the highest level or competing with the Premiership and La Liga and Serie A and the Bundesliga, which I don’t think is completely unrealistic. But they do see it improving. They feel that there are players that are heading this direction that maybe wouldn’t have five years ago, and that’s not necessarily the David Beckhams and Thierry Henrys of the world. It’s younger quality European players who are finding their way to the U.S. From a business standpoint, they see the model and, again, they’re not going to adopt everything or maybe not anything. But they do see the logic and the brilliance to some degree in how the league was structured and how it’s created stability and consistent growth.”

(What do you think leagues around the world can learn from the MLS model?) “Well look, I don’t want to be presumptuous enough to know the way their leagues are structured completely, but clearly fiscal responsibility is core to our league, and when you’re fiscally responsible, you tend to have less bankruptcies and complete financial meltdowns. … Obviously Financial Fair Play is coming into the spotlight more and more, and it’s not that they’re oblivious to this, but again they probably look at MLS and see that without FIFA and UEFA having to jump in and push Financial Fair Play, we’re able to self-manage ourselves in a very rational way. But probably talk to some of those guys to see what they think.”

(“Tanzania” was trending on Twitter yesterday. For those curious, what led to the prominent Tanzania displays at CenturyLink Field, knowing you have an expansive relationship with people over there?) “Them writing a check. Anybody who writes a big check can get prominence in the stadium. It’s a relationship we’re proud of, but ultimately the relationship on the soccer side has nothing to do with the prominent displays in the stadium. That was a sponsorship deal. …. Good. I’m glad it’s trending on Twitter. That’s good for Tanzania. It’s a great place.”

(Some people think there are mystical powers to the ads since a lot of crazy things have happened at the stadium — e.g. the disputed Golden Tate catch, the UW upset over Stanford — since the ads went up…) “Right! Maybe it’s a lucky country. More people should go there; it’s a fantastic place.”


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