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April 29, 2014 at 1:39 PM

Sounders GM/owner Adrian Hanauer on the Seahawks split, USL PRO and more

Reporters caught up with Sounders FC part owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer after Tuesday’s practice. A wide-ranging interview of about 15 minutes was mostly about this week’s split from the Seahawks on the business side, but also covered the team’s future at CenturyLink Field, starting a USL PRO franchise and looking forward to summer signings.

Here is a transcript:

*     *     *

(So what changes will there be with this transition away from sharing business operations and staff with the Seahawks?) “It’s been sort of a work in progress for a while now. Phones work. Computers work. We have a lease. But really, honestly, we’re still working on the blocking and tackling — the logistics — of the transition. Once May 1, May 2, the week after hits, that’s when we’ll really start to work on the substantive parts of the transition: thinking about our brand again, thinking about opportunities to increase revenue, thinking about the cost side of our business, basically doing a onceover on it and try to come out the other end with an even more robust, growing, interesting, winning culture.”

(Any update on the presidency role set to be vacated by Peter McLoughlin?) “No, I’m not a big title guy. So I’m doing whatever. I’m kind of like a Swiss Army knife at this point trying to do whatever I can do to help out wherever I can help out.”

(Is that a position that will eventually be filled?) “Honestly, we haven’t even had that conversation. Really, we’re all focused on just doing what’s right for the business, and one great part of the organization from the soccer side through the business side is we’re really a fairly nonhierarchical/corporate culture. We do things collaboratively and we’re going to continue to do that. If at some point we need to name someone a president or hire a president or promote some to president, we’ll do that. For now, the focus is on getting everything done.”

(Are there any changes fans will notice, even if they look really hard?) “Our switchboard phone number changed. The person answering the phone changed. Again, I hope not, to begin with. I hope that it’s business as usual. Over time, I hope people would notice positive change, but our business was run really well in conjunction with the Seahawks, so it’s a high bar. There is no low-hanging fruit where we get to say, ‘Oh, well they never answered the phones,’ so now if we answer the phone we’re going to be way better off.”

(Any update on the fan innovation center?) “No substantive updates. We’re still sort of conceptualizing and working on it. We’re meeting Friday to talk more about it. The idea is to have gathering opportunities, opportunities for fans — whether through the Alliance or other ways — to have input, certainly a focus on technology, likely some sort of street-front presence that would be in conjunction with that, but we haven’t worked through the details. The plan was to get this solidified, the switchover solidified, and then focus on that piece.”

(How much should people read into the physical location of the office being on the path for the March to the Match?) “It’s not coincidental. We would’ve found office space somewhere else if necessary, and we wanted it to be in Pioneer Square, but having it be on the route to the march was just that much better — and maybe luckier to some degree. We certainly could envision hosting people, offices, ground level following the March to the Match, entertainment opportunities, and opportunities to engage partners.”

(Over the longer term, could this move ever affect anything with CenturyLink? Are you in any way more of just a tenant now?) “No. I think nothing has changed there. ‘Ever’ is a long time, so who knows what the future holds? But we’re in the first year of five years there. We have an option for more years. I don’t anticipate any drama in the near-term future.”

(Is the Sounders’ relationship with First & Goal the same?) “No different at all. No different.”

(Maybe we aren’t doing a good enough job communicating with the fans, but some still wonder what you can accomplish with this split that you couldn’t before. How would you answer that?) “It’s a fair and good question, and I’m not sure we have the ultimate answer to that. I think there’s something… I was in our space yesterday and it was all soccer people all focused on the Sounders. Everything in the building was focused on the Sounders, all the imagery, all the messaging, the brand, everybody selling Sounders tickets, and there is just something about the energy that that creates, and the creativity and the collaboration that hopefully leads to a better business. There are no guarantees, and by better business that then means a clearer and more focused brand, potentially. We could tweak the brand a little bit, more involvement in the community, going after that next generation of fans in a more targeted way. Obviously, ultimately that means more ticket sales, more sponsors and partners. It could mean more of a focus on this facility and how that is incorporated into our business. There are a lot of soccer assets around the area, whether it’s youth soccer, high school, college, women’s, that I think it was more complicated for partnerships with the combination Seahawks-Sounders business. I think having our own culture and complete individual focus allows us maybe some opportunities and to dream about some of those things.”

(In any way did your growth, and hopefully more continued growth, make it so you were more of a competitor with the Seahawks and thus made the partnership not the right way to move forward?) “Look, I think it’d be naïve to say that everyone out there selling professional sports or quite frankly entertainment generally isn’t in some way a competitor. There are limited entertainment dollars whether for sports or other entertainment. There are limited sponsor dollars. There are limited suite-holder dollars. I’d like to think that the Seahawks are the most in partnership than any of those other people out there. Yeah, there are going to be some areas where we compete, but quite frankly that happened when we partners, as well, because we were out talking to sponsors and they were going to spend some  amount of money with one team and some amount with the other. By one getting more, the other got less, theoretically. So it hasn’t changed dramatically in that way.”

(Do you think the Sounders’ success had anything to do with the expansion to Atlanta with a shared downtown stadium and NFL ownership involvement?) “You’d have to ask Arthur Blank and the league, but I would venture to guess yes. I know that we’ve had a lot of contact with the people in Atlanta. They are smart people, so they saw what we had done with the partnership with the Seahawks, and I’m sure that influenced them. I guess I’m speculating, but it seems likely. They mentioned it. Arthur Blank mentioned the Seahawks-Sounders relationship in his remarks. So, yeah, that’s a positive, and they’re off to a great start with season-ticket deposits. That’s fantastic. Love to see them fill that stadium, as well. It’s good for the league.”

(Any update on the USL PRO team?) “Every time I talk to you it’s like a 95-, 97-, 99-percent there. But you guys know I’m there that way because even when we’ve got a player’s contract signed, if the player isn’t actually on the field training, I won’t say it’s 100 percent. We’re somewhere between 95 and 99 percent heading toward a USL PRO team here (at Starfire), certainly to begin with. We’ll remain open to other opportunities, whether that means in the near vicinity to Starfire and Seattle or areas outside of the close geographic vicinity — Spokane or Boise or Bellingham or Everett or Tacoma. We’re open to those opportunities, but it would require finding a good partner and a good facility.”

(So the question right now is not “if” but “where” they’ll play?) “And that’s not much of a question for this next year. So, yeah, but we could move.”

(But at this point you’re fully planning on having a team one way or another?) “Yeah, and it’s been great for us to talk with the Galaxy a little bit about their experience with the Galaxy II — learn what things have gone well for them, what they might do differently in the future. That obviously wasn’t planned, but it’s been helpful.”

(You have two weeks left in the primary transfer window. Do you feel, though, that a summer move is more likely?) “Probably. We’re always looking, and you have to be prepared, but we like the way the team is playing right now and feel like we’re pretty solid, pretty balanced.”

(Do you currently have roster and salary space or would you have to create it?) “It would most likely have to be created. We have some allocation money, but we don’t have cap space.”

| More in Sounders FC, Stop and chats

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