Good Times in Toronto

Good Times in Toronto

Owner and General Manager Adrian Hanauer recaps his visit to Toronto for the MLS All-Star Game.

Sounders FC sent a sizable contingent to the MLS All-Star festivities in Toronto to make the acquaintance of their future counterparts from throughout the land. Although you may have seen the All-Stars defeat West Ham, you may be interested to learn what else was brewing behind the scenes. Here’s Adrian Hanauer’s account of the week.

Attending the MLS All-Star Game is something I’ve enjoyed doing for four years now. Clearly, however, this trip to Toronto was more significant.

It was a year ago, in Colorado, that I first met Joe Roth in person. Of course, a lot has happened since then, with the formation of Sounders FC. This time around, I was acting as a representative of a team, rather than being hopeful of somehow getting involved with MLS some day.

We had several people traveling to Toronto on behalf of the Sounders. I was meeting Joe there, and Drew Carey was coming as well. I had flown out with Chris Henderson, Gary Wright and Suzanne Lavender, and we would be meeting up with another group who had come earlier. Bart Wiley, Sue Harris and Chuck Arnold arrived in time to see the Canadian cup match on Tuesday, between Toronto FC and Montreal.

Everybody had their marching orders for what they were trying to get accomplished in those few days. The big benefit of attending the MLS All-Star Game is spending time with people in positions similar to yours, whether it’s operations, retail, communications or ticketing. There are seminars and meetings offered for each department representatives, as well as more informal discussions on the side.

A few of us had met the Toronto FC people before, about six months ago. They definitely run a great operation. They’re very dialed-in to customer service and connected to their fans. They’re also dialed-in to technology, which is of particular interest to me. I really want us to be very strong in our use of technology, both in how we run our business and our soccer operations.

Always Listening, Learning

There’s a little bit to be learned from everyone. Everyone in the league does something a little bit better than others. That’s the great thing about starting fresh. Hopefully we can take the best of everyone, mix it together and come up with our own strategy that makes us more successful in Seattle.

Joe and I attended the Board of Governors meeting all day Thursday. Everything discussed in that meeting is confidential, however I can say this: The Board of Governors is comprised of a phenomenally intelligent and experienced group of people, some of the most experienced sports executives in North America. Suffice to say, there’s good, lively debate and conversation, and a lot of really smart people coming up with very good decisions for the future of our league.

For now, our position on the Board of Governors is observational. We can make comments, but we’re not active voting members until we actually have a franchise next January. It’s a great group, and Joe and I feel it’s clear that this league is in very good hands, between the commissioner, the Board of Governors and the MLS staff.

Deals Going Down

As with other travels with Chris, we’re seeking to make inroads in relationships and we’re asking lots of questions. We both have a lot to learn still, and there are lots of really smart, experienced people there whose brains we can pick. We conducted a lot of meetings that we had setup ahead of time with coaches, general managers and agents. Yes, agents.

Anywhere there are coaches, general managers and players in the same locations, you will find also agents. And given that the transfer window is open, there were lots of deals going down in the lobby every day.

Chris knows every coach in the league, and I know most of them. They’re our friends. That’s the flavor of this whole week. Sure, there are meetings, but it’s really more of a social event with meetings mixed in.

Together with Friends

It’s nice to casually sit down with someone, have a drink, catch up on old times, pick their brains on their team or organization, have them ask their questions and perhaps get some advice. It’s not like we’re sitting down with a notepad and doing interviews. It’s a great, fun social event and an ideal time to catch up, and almost everyone from the league is there.

Chris and I are trying to figure out how to avoid the mistakes others have made, and what they did right that we can emulate. We may ask what coaches think of certain players on different teams and compare those assessments. Again, like other trips, we’re gathering information and exchanging ideas.

As I mentioned, in past All-Star visits I was representing Seattle’s expansion interests. In Toronto, there were others fulfilling much the same role on behalf of their communities.

I spent time with Greg Kerfoot, who’s a pretty good friend, along with Jeff Mallett and Steve Nash. As you’ve heard, they are pushing hard for a franchise in Vancouver. Montreal’s Joey Saputo, whom I know from our teams’ involvement in the USL, was also in Toronto.

People are Watching, Seattle

There’s a lot of excitement about expansion and people are definitely paying attention to what we’re doing with Sounders FC. Everyone knew about how many season tickets we’ve sold, and everyone knew about the Xbox partnership. Most of the business people knew about Kevin Calabro and our broadcast deal.

People have noticed what’s going on here in Seattle, no doubt about that. They see that we’re making some good decisions. We’re just one in a long line now of good decisions that the league has made, that has been reflected in successes at the team level.

You look at the Beckham deal and the excitement that garnered. Then it was how well Toronto launched, which led to excitement about Seattle. Now what we’ve done will lead to excitement about 2010 in Philadelphia. Hopefully there will be a continuation of momentum-building events that will help everyone in the league raise the bar.

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