When Seattle Sounders FC was awarded their MLS franchise 18 months ago, the ownership group couldn’t have imagined how successful they would be before even playing their first game on March 19. One of the key figures behind these off-the field accomplishments is Adrian Hanauer, one of the owners and Sounders FC general manager.
Engaged Ownership Team
Commenting on the league leading 22,000 season ticket deposits and 32,400 tickets sold for the season opening game, Hanauer said, “We didn’t anticipate this kind of success or buzz. It started way back when this group of owners was put together.”
Besides Hanauer, the ownership group includes Joe Roth, Paul Allen and Drew Carey, who all played integral roles in defining the Sounders’ direction, vision and relationship with its fans.
Hanauer gave kudos to Roth, the Sounders’ majority owner and Hollywood producer. “It’s Joe Roth dreaming big for this franchise, and saying there’s no reason why we can’t be and will be the center of soccer in North America,” Hanauer said. “We need this to be a major league sport on the Seattle landscape, and then try to build the brand globally once we’ve built it in North America.”
Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft and current owner of both the NFL Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC, helped to foster a relationship between the two franchises. Hanauer was impressed by the level of support provided to the Sounders. They not only have access to the Seahawks stadium, but also to their world class training facilities in suburban Seattle.
Hanauer mentioned the business guidance provided by the Seahawks management team. He noted the good decisions made in selling broadcasting rights and the selection of high profile corporate partners, such as Microsoft Xbox.
Drew Carey, comedian and soccer fanatic, insisted on the formation of a supporters group similar to those in place at Spanish clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid. He wanted members to vote on Hanauer’s performance every four years and have the power to oust him.
Recruiting Coaches and Players
In building his team, Hanauer wanted to recruit first-rate coaches and players on the field. “We put together a team we think can be extremely successful,” he said. “Starting with Sigi Schmid (who won his second MLS Cup in 2008 with the Columbus Crew) as the head coach. Brian Schmetzer (former USL Sounders head coach and now assistant coach to Schmid) is a great piece to the puzzle as well and Chris Henderson as technical director.”
He wanted a mixture of experienced veterans and new players for their leadership and knowledge. “We got players who we think will be great leaders and successful on the pitch,” Hanauer said, “Guys like Kasey Keller, Freddie Ljungberg, young Fredy Montero and numerous others that are out there.”
USL Sounders Connection
Hanauer has been involved in the Seattle soccer scene since 2001. He joined the USL Sounders ownership group that year and eventually became the majority shareholder and general manager. Under his guidance, the Sounders played in three USL championship games and won in 2005 and 2007.
The current roster for an expansion team in unique in that it still has a fair number of players and coaches from the 2008 USL Seattle Sounders.
When asked about the reason for keeping so many ex-USL Sounders, Hanauer responded, “For me, it’s quite simple. A lot of USL players are quality MLS players. When you look at Sanna Nyassi, Sebastien Le Toux, Chris Eylander, Taylor Graham, these are guys that will have an impact in Major League Soccer this year and for years to come."
He went on to explain that having four or five players who have played together and their former head coach as a core foundation will make Seattle competitive from day one.
Technology as an Edge
Technology has been the basis for much of Hanauer’s achievements in business. He knows how to pick winners and has made bets on technology companies involved in advertising, infrastructure and wireless communications. One of his investment companies was purchased by Microsoft for $6 billion. He was also an early investor in Amazon.com.
He wants to bring this type of business know-how and vision into the Sounders operations wherever possible. For example, Seattle was the first team in North America to embrace scouting software (see Goal.com interview with Scout7’s Lee Jamison).
“I have a bit of a technology background and it is interesting to me,” Hanauer said. “I believe that it will be valuable in football. We’ll continue to experiment with Scout7 and others until we find the right technology solutions that give us a competitive advantage.”
Broad Community Appeal
The Sounders recently announced a Spanish language broadcasting deal. With between 250,000 to 300,000 Latinos in the greater Seattle area and their passion for football, Hanauer sees this as a way of generating interest across all market segments.
“If we can appeal to the Latino market, that’s certainly a group that we would love to have engaged in Sounders FC,” Hanauer said. “At the same time, we want to win football matches to have a good business and not necessarily cater to certain demographics. If we can get the Latino market involved, that’s a bonus for us.”
Season Ending Prediction
Hanauer was cautiously optimistic about where the Sounders will finish when the 2009 regular season concludes. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be a playoff team. As long as we go out and fight and play hard for each other, I have no doubt that we’ll be a very competitive team.”
John Zielonka is the Goal.com correspondent in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org