SBD/August 6, 2013/Franchises

MLS Sounders Owners Discuss Dempsey Deal, Impact On League's Growth

Dempsey is said to have only had interest in the Sounders, Galaxy and Toronto FC
MLS Sounders Majority Owner Joe Roth said it was important for Clint Dempsey to sign with an MLS team other than the Galaxy "because from a perception standpoint it would make MLS look essentially like a one-team league when it came to important international players," according to Grant Wahl of SI.com, who wrote under the header, "How Seattle's Stunning Clint Dempsey Deal Got Done." Roth said, "I think it was important that (Dempsey) ended up ... how do I say this politely? ... not in Los Angeles." He added, "I've wanted Clint Dempsey since the day we started, but there's only one Clint Dempsey. I just resigned myself to thinking we probably wouldn't get a Clint Dempsey until he was 35 years old, and I didn't want to add to the perception, which is mostly right, that we don't get European (club) stars when they're in their prime." But Wahl noted Dempsey's "perspective had changed by July 18," and he was "up for coming back to MLS." The only teams Dempsey was "interested in playing for" were the Sounders, the Galaxy and Toronto FC. Dempsey's side initially was "asking for a huge financial commitment" of $40M. A source said that the Sounders "countered with a first offer" of $30M. Sources said that the Galaxy and Toronto FC also had interest, but Toronto FC "accepted that it was better for the league if Dempsey were playing in a U.S. city." Roth "wants other MLS owners to step up to the plate" in regard to paying for elite players. Roth: "Our (national) television ratings are not good. ... The only two things that can drive the ratings are overall better play and star power. If you can get both, then our ratings will go up." He added, "I think this signing will be helpful to everybody in the league" (SI.com, 8/5).

SEATTLE'S BEST: Sounders GM & minority Owner Adrian Hanauer said of Dempsey, "I know he'll connect with the community and a be a great ambassador for our team." But he added, "We're not counting on this being a profitable move. This is for soccer. This is to win a championship." Hanauer said of the Sounders potentially opening additional seats at CenturyLink Field, "We’ll take it day by day, kind of see and get through this initial period and go into a deep dive with the business group and figure out the best way to monetize this, but because the reality is that generating some additional revenue would be good to defray some of the costs. But we’re a little too close to know exactly how we’ll do it" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 8/5). In Seattle, Jerry Brewer writes the Dempsey deal makes a "statement about Seattle's relevance and clout in the soccer world." The team's "wild success as an infant franchise, just added another chapter to its preposterously riveting narrative." The deal is the team's "most eye-popping, belief-defying achievement." It is "a landmark moment for both the Sounders and all of MLS." Since Roth joined the league he has had the "audacity to declare he wants to make the Sounders an internationally renowned team, not just the king of the MLS." At every "critical point along this five-year journey, he has lived up to his big talk" (SEATTLE TIMES, 8/6). In DC, Steven Goff wrote the move is a "massive acquisition for the league and particularly" for the Sounders, who have "set the attendance bar so high." The Sounders with Dempsey "will continue to grow their audience." Several cities "stake claim to Soccer City USA," but the argument "begins and ends with Seattle" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 8/5).  

MORE TO COME? Whitecaps MF Nigel Reo-Coker said of the Dempsey signing, "I think it’s going to make other organizations look and go, 'You know what, the league is really kicking on.' It’s about getting players in their prime, or going into their prime" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 8/6). But YAHOO SPORTS' Kyle McCarthy wrote the move "may spark an idea in one or two boardrooms around the league, but it won't start a trend." MLS "grows markedly with each passing year, but it is not the sort of league where clubs can spend wantonly without suffering considerable consequences." As MLS enters the final year of its CBA, "expect MLSPU officials to highlight the disparity between the Dempsey move and the comparably paltry sums expended on a team-by-team basis as they push for a substantial, across the board increase in the salary budget in time" for the '15 season (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/5). Meanwhile, NBCSPORTS.com's Liviu Bird examined MLS' often criticized player allocation process, and wrote team owners "appear happy to have fans and media in the dark." Hanauer: "We have a decent level of transparency in some areas. In others, maybe we have less transparency, but we’re just trying to build the game and do what we need to do to run a healthy enterprise" (NBCSPORTS.com, 8/5).
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