SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Franchises

Sounders GM discusses life on the hot seat

Seattle Sounders FC has empowered its supporters to decide the fate of general manager Adrian Hanauer. In a program modeled after ones run by European superpowers Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, Sounders season-ticket holders and fans in the club’s members association — which comes with a $125 fee — have from now until Dec. 7 to vote on whether Hanauer should be retained. At least 10,000 ballots must be cast for the vote to be valid and a simple majority wins. The idea came from comedian/game-show host Drew Carey, who owns the team with Hanauer, Paul Allen and majority owner Joe Roth. Staff writer Christopher Botta spoke with Hanauer about being the man in the middle of the controversial concept.

Fans will decide whether Seattle Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer, hoisting the U.S. Open Cup trophy, stays or goes.
Photo by: SEATTLE SOUNDERS
What was your reaction to the implementation of the fan vote?

HANAUER:
It wasn’t a surprise. The fan vote was actually part of our initial ownership meeting with Joe Roth and Drew Carey when the franchise got started in 2008, before I was named GM. Keep in mind that I volunteered to be GM; I don’t get paid and I don’t have a contract to be GM. Drew knew about these votes with the teams in Europe and wanted to do it. Our agreeing to the vote was one of the criteria for Drew to invest in the team. I signed up for it. I’m not going to go on a campaign and give stump speeches, but I welcome the fans’ input.

Being the owner of one-third of a successful club — you’re averaging more than 40,000 fans a game this year — must soften the blow of a potential thumbs-down from the supporters.

HANAUER:
Put it this way: I’m not getting a lot of sympathy from other executives around the game. Of course, I like the concept more than a typical GM — the guy who doesn’t own one-third of the team — would. This vote will not alter my approach as manager. The Sounders are successful because we’re obsessed and, yeah, a bit paranoid. None of us are going to lose the drive that makes us successful.

What has been the reaction from your colleagues around the league? Are they concerned this may start a trend in MLS?

HANAUER:
I’ve gotten some needling, but I don’t think anything we do at the Sounders surprises the other teams anymore. They know we tend to do things differently around here. When we lost a home game two years ago to L.A., 4-0, we gave a refund in the form of a game credit to all of our season-ticket holders. I heard from other teams about it — “What are you guys doing?”

Do you expect to lose any sleep at all until the polls close?

HANAUER:
Probably not. You sleep better at night when you feel you’ve done everything you can to build a good team, and when things are going well. But in all the hype about the vote, there’s something a lot of people don’t realize. The vote is traditionally every four years, but there is a recall rule in place at all times. If, say, a season turns into a bit of a disaster, the supporters can call for a special petition. So the reality is, a referendum on my job can happen at any time.

Whenever the day comes when you step down or are relieved of your duties as GM, will your replacement be subject to the fan vote?

HANAUER:
I can assure you that there WILL be a day when the Sounders hire a GM without an equity stake in the club. Anyone interviewing for the position will have to accept that the fan vote comes with the territory. I will wish them luck.

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