The second part of our conversation with Drew Carey is all about his inspiration and passion for the Sounders FC, from becoming an owner to formation of the Members Association and marching band. Those two elements instantly set Seattle apart from any other franchise in American professional sports.
What sparked your interest in becoming an owner?
Once I heard about the Barcelona membership thing, I came back home and began asking people I knew in soccer how much it would cost to buy an MLS team. I was only interested because of this membership idea. I wanted to get this going in the United States, to let people know about it. I told everybody I met about Barcelona, Real Madrid and their membership associations. At the time, the last MLS franchise fee was like $15 million. I thought, ‘Oh, I could do that.’ Then I found out you had to have a stadium deal. Well, I didn’t have $150 million handy for a stadium. So I was asking everybody who might join as a partner for a team.
So how did you get together with Joe Roth?
We have the same lawyer, the same powerful entertainment lawyer. This lawyer of mine knew I was interested, and then he told me Joe Roth was interested. So our lawyer set-up the lunch, and it came the day before I started hosting The Price is Right. It was the first time I met Joe, and I’d found out he hates when people are late. So I get there late and my arm was all bandaged up (as the result of an injury which occurred on the show’s set). I said I’m sorry. Then we talked for two hours. Here I am with one of the biggest producers in Hollywood, a comedian who likes to act and interested in doing movies and producing shows, and I don’t think we talked about movies once. Just two hours of soccer.
And you brought up your ideas in that initial meeting?
I think actors and directors speak the same shorthand or something.We talked about the band, and what I envisioned. It wouldn’t be exciting to have a band if it’s lame. The way I have it in my head, it’s going to be the best band in America. I told him about the membership idea. I had been finding out as much as I could about Barcelona. I think the line that sold him, when I saw a change in his face, is when I said, ‘If the general manager’s not working out, the fans will do your dirty work for you.’
Why do you believe this idea resonates with people?
I think there are a lot of organizations where there are people who you wonder how they keep their job. In the Sounders FC organization, the general manager will not be able to do that. The trick is having a general manager who’s really making the decisions. Adrian Hanauer is a very strong model of a GM, a guy who’s really making the decisions. He and his staff are responsible for what’s on the field. He’s running the soccer part of it because he knows it better than we do. We’ll worry about the hot dogs, our logo and our image. Meanwhile Adrian goes around the world and looks for soccer talent and deciding what style of play we’ll have. All that stuff. He may be a nice guy and all, and the owner may like him. But the fans aren’t that nice, and if they don’t like the job someone’s doing, they’ll just get rid of them. That will be that.
Why do you believe this idea will be successful in Seattle?
I think it would be a popular idea anywhere, but Seattle is a good place. I think there are a lot of people up here who want some say-so with the corporation. I go to the message boards, and like other message boards, these people are often way off on so many things. I remember the Emerald City Greens, and I thought how can any reasonable person think that’s really going to happen? Do they think we’re crazy? There are rumors that come from nowhere. That’s what message boards are, places for rumors, where people can vent and complain. For other teams, message boards are a fan’s last hope that someone from the team might see their anger. In Seattle, if the fans are upset, after four years, if they don’t like what’s going on, they’ll get rid of the general manager.
At Barcelona or Real Madrid, the campaigns are for the club presidency, and the candidates promise to bring in superstar players and coaches. How do you see the campaign being conducted here in Seattle?
Four years from now, you watch. There will be press releases with Adrian kissing babies. Just think if you’re a general manager and you have an off year in that fourth year; that’s a lot of pressure. I can think of a lot of sports teams who would love to vote out the general manager if they had the chance. At first I thought perhaps anyone could run for general manager, but then we realized Paris Hilton could buy a bunch of ads and suddenly she’s our GM. No. You need to know how the MLS is run, the salary cap, the whole system, the youth development. So the owner will hire the GM, but the fans can fire him. This is right on the money with what I originally envisioned, and what we’re doing is pretty amazing.
Among the owners, who was the toughest sell on your plans?
I sold Joe. And Joe talked to Adrian and the Seahawks, and he said everybody’s on board. It was a very easy sell. Adrian was on board and was familiar with the concept. He’s excited to be part of this. I really hope it catches on with other sports franchises: baseball, basketball, football and hockey teams adopt this model. That’s my big dream.
A marching band. What proved to be your inspiration for this idea?
[The movie] Drumline and Florida A&M. That’s the inspiration, and Joe got it right away. I want to have a band like that, like Stanford. It can’t be a square. It has to be a band that can taunt the other team, help lead songs and be really hip, really smart. That’s my dream. The sound has to be really funky and good. They need to play some really good tunes. Then I will be very happy.
What do you favor for the band’s playlist:
You’ll Never Walk Alone or I’m Still Standing?
I go through my iPod all the time looking for songs they could play, but it depends on what’s going on during the game. At the World Cup, I told my fiancée that in America you really only see this kind of atmosphere at big college football games, like Ohio State-Michigan or Florida-Florida State. That’s what European pro soccer is like. People are painted up, and it’s an insane crowd. When I thought of the band, I want to evoke that feeling. Funky and great. I’d like it to be a combination of Florida A&M and Stanford, and we’ll see how close we get.
Now that you’ve been successful in launching the Members Association and a marching band, what’s next on your list?
That’s all I wanted, honestly. No, that’s not true. Actually the next thing I want is for us to be the team that everybody’s afraid to play. I want the Seattle Sounders FC to be the team that comes to your town and dominates. That’s my big goal now.