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March 11, 2013 at 3:36 PM

GM Adrian Hanauer talks all things CCL: attendance, charters, beating a Mexican team

hanauer mugOutside of a comment on Obafemi Martins, reporters chatted with Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer about the CONCACAF Champions League for quite a while after Monday’s practice. Amid the transfer excitement, Seattle actually plays a pretty big game against Tigres UANL and could become the first MLS team to eliminate a Mexican opponent in the CCL knockout rounds.

Here is the transcript:

*     *     *

(What would it be like to be the first MLS team to oust a Mexican team in the CCL knockout rounds?) “Look, it’s another milestone for the league and certainly for our club. But we’ve always said we want to win trophies, so this would be a stepping stone on the way. It’d be a big one, getting past a team like Tigres — the best team in Mexico today — but we have our work cut out for us.”

(Is this something you talk about? How important it would be?) “I’m not sure we talk about it in that context, sort of a pecking order and knocking off a Mexican team, because look, anything can happen on a one-off. But we do talk about how as a league we’re going to continue to gain ground on Mexico and ultimately overcome Mexico as far as a league overall, quality-wise. So lots of strategic conversations about that — some ‘pie in the sky’ (ideas) that obviously just involve spending more money, but some about development, some about coaching, some about tactics, some about sports science. It’s just how we continue to evolve as a league and hopefully beat Mexican teams on a regular basis.”

(Does Champions League success help you sell the club to players?) “Look, I’m not sure that traveling economy class to Trinidad for a midweek is going to help sell a lot, but certainly players want to play for successful teams — teams that are playing for trophies. So the history of playing in Champions League and now sort of taking steps and improving in the tournament is a piece of that. But ultimately I think players just want to play for good organizations and teams that are always going to have a chance at winning trophies.”

(Are their discussions within MLS about allowing teams to charter flights, etc.?) “Those conversations happen all the time. And actually, we can charter for Champions League.”

(Unlimited?) “Yes. It’s just MLS where we have four legs of charter. Ultimately we end up making a judgment call on the schedule we’re looking for. Look, charters are expensive. There’s no two ways about it. It’s $100,000 to $200,000 every time you do it, and there are realities to the economics to our league. So we make a value judgment each time.”

(Does the league make exceptions, say for New York who had flights canceled?) “Yeah, there are unique situations, where if a team’s flight is canceled — I don’t know what the ultimate decisions will be — maybe they get a mulligan on a charter if you actually can’t take a commercial flight at a reasonable time.”

(So how does a charter price compare to an average commercial trip?) “It’s considerably more. If you figure a traveling part of 30, an average ticket of $700 or something, that’s about $20,000 versus $150,000.”

(What did you make of ticket sales at 17,600 and actually having lower attendance for your home leg for the first time in a two-game series?) “I always wish that our Champions League games would draw bigger crowds, but I also know that we’re up against the realities of a general sports fan for whom Champions League is foreign. And I know that because I have a lot of really good friends who are huge sports fans who ask me to explain what Champions League is every time we get together. But I think over time it will continue to grow, as the tournament gets bigger, as there’s more money, as there’s more TV exposure. It’s just going to take time. We could probably do a better job of continuing to drive the message in the marketplace. We’ve spent — I know the number — a considerable amount of money promoting it, but it’s just been a tough sell. People plan their lives around a season ticket often, and then to ask them to come out to another game, and then another game, and then another game… I understand people have busy lives and they can’t always do that. Hopefully we’ll maybe bump into the 20s for this game, and with a little luck we get through this game and maybe we have a chance at selling a semifinal.”

(Is it cool, though, to see Monterrey draw so many fans?) “Yeah, for sure. In a lot of the Central American and Mexican markets I think the competition is becoming more important. If the Mexican fans and Central American fans and Caribbean fans treat it as a big tournament and think it’s important, then that will drag along American and Canadian fans, as well, I think. But Houston did well with their game. I think they had 17,000 or 18,000 in the building, which I think is a big step. I’m not sure three years ago there would’ve been 17,000 or 18,000 for a first-leg game in Houston.”

(Do you think Tigres sending a ‘B’ team sends the other message?) “I don’t care who they send. That’s their issue, not mine. We played effectively a reserve team in Monterrey two years ago and came out with a win, and I’m not sure they cared who we sent. So we want to do is win by two goals and not give up a goal. Whoever they put on the field is their issue.”

(Do you feel eliminating a Mexican team has the potential to totally change the way Sounders fans view this tournament? Or MLS fans?) “No. Look, it’s all about stepping stones for me. People talk about if the U.S. just wins the World Cup, then soccer will overtake the NFL. I’m not a big believer in that. My good friend Mark Abbott from the league, the president of MLS, said this to me 10 years ago — that soccer in this country is going to be an evolution not a revolution. As much as we in the soccer community would love to think that an event like this or winning the World Cup is going to revolutionize things, I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think it’s going to be slow and steady growth for generations.”

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