As many Sounders FC fans already know, there has been a book released this month about the history of the team. The author is Mike Gastineau, a longtime sportstalk radio host for KJR 950-AM, and he set out to tell the story of what is regarded by many as the most successful launch of a professional sports team. I haven’t read it all just yet, but he did a great job of telling the back story and filling in a lot of behind-the-scenes detail.
You can purchase the book through Gastineau’s website or on Amazon (where it’s the No. 2 best seller in the soccer category as of Monday night). More distribution options will be made soon. There is also a launch party for the book — even though it’s already out — at The Market Arms pub in Ballard starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday. You can buy tickets for that event here until 6 a.m.; the price includes a book that you can get signed. Some Sounders are also expected to attend.
Gastineau, also known as The Gasman, has done a number of interviews about his book, including a podcast and Q&A with the Sounders’ website, an appearance on New Day Northwest and radio spots with The Bob Rivers Show (40:30) and The BJ Shea Morning Experience.
He spoke with me about the project Monday, and here is a transcript:
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(How did you handle the balance of wanting to satisfy hardcore Sounders/soccer fans but also have the story approachable to a wider audience?) “I definitely didn’t want to go in there and explain soccer. I didn’t want a hardcore soccer fan have me explaining the little details and the nuances of it. I tried to write it so I wouldn’t insult a soccer fan’s intelligence, but also, just the theme of the book and the way I tried to write it, I want everyone to be interested in this. One of the lines I’m using — and maybe it’s just a marketing line — is this is not necessarily a soccer book in kind of the same way that ‘Moneyball’ wasn’t necessarily a baseball book. This is a great story, and I don’t think you have to be a soccer fan to appreciate how cool this story is. I don’t go in depth with, ‘Here’s the strategy they used to beat New York.’ I don’t go into any of that. Early on, when I was still trying to figure out what the book was going to be, I kind of fired a couple strategy questions at Kasey Keller. I realized I was in such deep waters so quick, I was like, ‘I don’t want the book to be about that. There are plenty of books written like that by people a lot smarter than me. I’m going to tell a story.’ It’s a great point you make, and I tried to write across the board. For the hardcore soccer fan, I used the language that they appreciate. I call the goalkeepers ‘goalkeepers’ and I refer to it as the ‘pitch’. I made sure I used the little things because that’s accurate, but I didn’t go overboard with soccer jargon or making it such that it’s exclusive of anybody. Somebody who knows nothing about soccer can pick this book up and really like it. I hope. That’s my goal.”
(The goal of this book is pretty clear, to tell the story of this amazing launch, but if 100 people started a project like this, you’d get 100 different books. What was important to you in how you were going to tell this story?) “I was able to play on my relationships. I’ve known Adrian (Hanauer) for 10 years. I became close with Tod Leiweke when he was up here, just a guy who I spent time with and talked with a lot, and respected his business sense. I’ve known Gary Wright for 22 years. Sigi (Schmid), I’ve only known him for five years and never covered him day-to-day, but I had the advantage from my radio days. I was always respectful of soccer. I was never a media guy who ran hiding and ran in fear of soccer. I was always respectful, but I’d have fun with it. I’d joke around with soccer and laugh about some of its ridiculousness, because there are things about any sport that are crazy, but I was always respectful. We’d have Sigi on and I’d make sure that I had a clue as to what was going on. I really did have to ramp up my knowledge a little bit because up until 2008, we’d have Adrian on and we’d have (Brian) Schmetzer on, and we’d have fun with them. I knew it was a minor league team and, frankly, I probably didn’t pay as much attention to some of the stuff that I should’ve. When MLS came, I’m like, ‘All right, this is a whole different thing now.’ And I didn’t know I was going to write the book, but I’m like, ‘This is major league; I want to treat this major league.’ So I really played on those relationships. I’ve known Kasey for 20 years. The other thing I tried to do, and I don’t know if anyone else would approach it this way, is I really approached it with an appreciation for the willingness they all had to check their egos and really truly cooperate. Everybody says they do that, but these guys really did. You look at it and at every crucial point, right down to when Joe Roth and meets Adrian Hanauer, and the first thing he says is, ‘I have to be the majority owner.’ There are a lot of relationships where that would’ve taken the whole thing off the track: ‘Who does this guy think he is? He’s a movie guy. What the hell does he know about owning a soccer team?’ Conversely, Joe Roth could’ve said: ‘I’m a pretty big deal. I don’t know that I’d want to meet with a minor league soccer executive.’ It was just mutual respect and a mutual willingness to work for the common good of this that I just think is rare in American business and certainly rare in the sports business — at least I haven’t seen it much in the sports business.”
(Sometimes when I write a story, the final product is very different than what I had planned. How does your final product compare to the vision you had?) “I thought when I first started it would be more about the historic angle — e.g. Seattle is a port city, Seattle has had a lot of immigrants — and there is a little bit of an element of that in there, but I kind of early on realized that the actual story of Adrian and Joe coming together, of the Seahawks getting involved, of just the crucial decisions they made, all of the things that they could’ve done the other way and it might’ve sunk the whole deal, I realized that was good enough and that was going to be the story. The other thing along the way was I had no idea how big a part in this the ECS and the supporter culture and the soccer culture in bars would be. There’s a whole chapter on the culture of the bars. I knew that Adrian knew what the George and Dragon was, and I knew that Gary knew, but what was refreshing was hearing Leiweke tell the story because he said, ‘I had no idea what this place was. I’ve never been to it. I have no interest in going to watch European soccer.’ It’s funny. He always calls it ‘George and the Dragon.’ He and I have had this conversation 100 times. I said, ‘God… it’s the George and Dragon,’ and he can’t get that into his mind. The fact that he went and started sitting there and observing this, it was him and Adrian and Gary, all of them realized that, ‘Hey, we don’t want to necessarily market to soccer moms and dads. We want them along for the ride, but we want to market to the people who are going to this bar at seven in the morning to watch games. They’re the ones who are soccer fans. That’s who we’ll get to come to our games.’ I thought was a really cool thing that I was kind of unaware of. I knew the supporter culture was big obviously, but I didn’t know how big it was. And their dealings with the ECS were cool, because still to this day they’re uneasy a little bit around each other. The ECS want more control and the team is always trying to keep them in check. But the fact that they enabled them — (ECS co-president Greg) Mockos’ quote is a great one — enabling them was a risky move, but it was the best move they made. They were really apprehensive about that and they were really smart in doing it. And the ECS, I know that they stress the Sounders out occasionally with some of their non-family-friendly stuff, but they have been pretty damn responsible. You know what I mean? They’ve said they want behavior in that section. They’ve done a great job of policing themselves and governing themselves. They’re like any body of 4,000 people — it’s constant care and feeding. Their impact on things, I knew it was big, but I didn’t know how big until I got into it.”
(How did the interaction work with the Sounders? How was access and were there any stipulations about content?) “They made absolutely no zero stipulations. I met with Adrian a little over a year ago. It was last October, so about a year ago. He was one of the first people I told I was leaving KJR, and I wasn’t necessarily leaving KJR to write this book. I was at the Portland game that year and I was watching it and I said, ‘This is a cool story, and I can’t tell this on the radio. I can’t tell the whole back-story.’ I knew enough about the background, but I met with Adrian and I said, ‘I want to do a book,’ and I said, ‘I don’t want any money from you guys, because I don’t want this to be a Sounders-approved book — nobody will buy it — but I want access.’ They gave me complete access, they didn’t deny any request I made and they never once said, ‘What are you writing and what are you putting in there?’ Adrian might have been the first person to read it, and I was kind of on pins and needles, because if he said, ‘I don’t think this part is right…’ then what am I going to do? But he was fine with all of it.”
(There was one part that I wanted to see how you would handle, and it was about the Sounders bringing in Sigi Schmid as coach, specifically the allegations of them talking to him while he was still under contract with Columbus. You definitely mentioned it and added your opinion to the chapter. Did that part get awkward?) “No. I wish they would be a little more forthcoming about it. I kind of was allowed to draw my own conclusions and that’s how I wrote it. Of course they did. This is 2008 when this is going on. Twitter exists. Texting exists. There is just no way they didn’t reach out to him. I thought it was all water under the bridge now and they could say whatever they wanted, but I think that they want to be responsible for the league and everything, and not be seen as these gun-totin’ rule-breakers or whatever. But they pretty clearly reached out to him. And here’s the argument. I think the easiest argument to make in any sport and anything like this. If Columbus wanted him, they should’ve re-signed him in midseason. If they were that desperate to keep him, they should have gone up to him and said, ‘What’s it going to take? Give us a number, we’ll put it on a piece of paper and we’ll get it done right now.’ Everybody has a number, but maybe along the way Sigi is just thinking, ‘Nope, I want to go back to the West Coast.’ And who can blame him? He’s been living on the West Coast his whole life. So yeah, I kind of wish they had definitely said it, but they say it in so many words and we all kind of know what happened.”
(A lot of people in the area have come to know you as a great guy to listen to, so how was it having to write? How comfortable were you in that regard?) “I’ve always written. I go back to my early days in radio when I was working in Montana and then Nebraska and then Virginia. You were the morning sports guy, and I would script all my news reports; I would write a new one every half-hour. I always liked to write. I liked to coin phrases and come up with clever ways to say things, so writing was always kind of in my blood. I wrote for our website a little bit at KJR. I wrote the book with Art (Thiel) a few years ago. I’ve written magazine articles before. I wrote the Gas Pump every day. That was 100-percent scripted. So I had done a lot of that. Now, OK, that’s great. Can you write a 300-page book? That becomes then a different question. The act of it was definitely challenging, but it was a challenge I enjoyed. You guys that have to write every day. I don’t know how you do it. I’ve always heard people say, ‘You have to listen for the muse,’ and ‘Write when the muse hits you.’ And I always said that’s (bullcrap). But it’s 100 percent true! I couldn’t believe it at the end of this book. There were days where I’m walking the dog and I start thinking of something, and I’m like, ‘I have to get back right now.’ So you turn and go back and start writing, because I’ve got something here. Then there other days where you’d write 1,500-2,000 words and get done and say, ‘This isn’t going to work. It was an interesting idea. I’ll save this into another file and maybe I’ll use this sometime else.’ But I really enjoyed that. I don’t know. I think anybody who’s ever been in some kind of media fancies themselves as a columnist: ‘Oh, I’d be a great sports columnist.’ Well, I don’t know if that’s true or not. I like write, but I’m not sure two or three times a week if I can hit on an idea that would be great and new. It’d be a fun challenge, but I liked this part of it. I enjoyed the massiveness of this project. As the year unfolded, I made it my only job. I did the Pearl Jam Radio stuff, which was a blast, but that was just one day here or there, which broke up the monotony. For the most part, the book was my full-time job.”
(How has the media circuit gone so far and what has been the early response for your book?) “It’s been great. I don’t know how anybody else will look at this, but I’m not going to lie: I want people to like this book. It feels great when somebody says, ‘I read it and I really liked it.’ That really makes you feel like, ‘Good, this was worth it,’ because I do think it’s a great story and I think it’s a story that needed to be told. I’ve enjoyed doing the media stuff. Again, basically this is me starting a small business. I’m a self-publisher, self-promoter and self-marketer. You’re kind of doing everything by yourself. I’m negotiating distribution deals. I’m really, really out over my skis on this. There is a lot of stuff I don’t know, I’m having to learn on the fly, but that’s all part of it. I had a great job at KJR, and when I walked away, I was just kind of tired of doing it. I was like, ‘OK, let’s try something new.’ Well, this is definitely trying something new.”
(What can you tell me about Tuesday’s book release party?) “The tickets are on sale until 6 a.m. It will be a good crowd, a lot of Sounders there. It should be a lot of fun.”
(I got through all the questions I wanted. I know you’ve been working on this for a long time. Is there anything else you want to add about the book?) “I just think that any sports fan who’s cynical or kind of beaten down by a team’s indifference toward them, take a look at this story. I’m not saying you’re going to become a soccer fan, but my gosh. Now I start to sound like a fan-boy, and I don’t want to do that. I really wanted to avoid that in the book, of, ‘Gosh! Aren’t they swell?’ But boy, the whole empowering of the fans and the democracy in sport, it’s more than just words, and if you dig into it and ask the people affected, they say, ‘No, it’s legit, man. They treat us with respect.’ If I owned a sports franchise, I’d buy 100 copies of this book. I’d take this book and I’d read it and I’d go, ‘What are some things we can do that they’re doing? How can we upgrade our fan experience?’ Look, I don’t expect teams to allow people to start voting out their GM, even if it’d be the most awesome thing ever. But if I ran a sports team, I would read this and say we’re starting an Alliance Council tomorrow. We are going to empower our fans, we’re going to meet with them three of four times a year, we’re going to listen to what to say and we’re going to give them some say in decisions that we’re making. A lot of it, like the t-shirt design or the jersey design, that’s important to some fans. I think it’s really cool that it’s not just, ‘You kids go run along and have a lollipop.’ It’s, ‘No, no. Let them choose some of the charities we work with.’ I loved the thing about the flame-towers behind the goal. They met to discuss this. I think that’s awesome. I’m positive if the Council came back and said, ‘We don’t want the flame-towers,’ I think the flame-towers go away. I like that.”