Tuesday evening at the WaMu Theater, the Sounders FC held their Alliance Business Meeting to update Members about the club’s progress in 2011 and the view for the future in 2012 and beyond. Before the presentation started, Members were directed to stations at the back of the Theater where they could vote for Alliance Council members.
After a brief introduction from Alliance Council member Tom Challinor, Drew Carey joined the procession via Skype from his home in Los Angeles. He was unable to attend due to a recent shoulder surgery, but was as exuberant as ever in presenting a short season-recap video.
Joe Roth, Owner
Majority owner Joe Roth took the stage first and looked out over the crowd of over 800 people with an eye toward expanding the year-end event to even greater heights.
“I’d like to figure out a way to get more season ticket holders here. We have 32 or 33,000 passionate fans and I’d love to see them all get involved,” he said. “This is much more than just a soccer team. It’s become a real part of the community.”
Roth went on to relay a message from NBA Commissioner David Stern – whose name drew jeers from many in the crowd. Stern told Roth, “The Seattle Sounders are the most successful expansion team in the history of the United States.”
In just three years, the club has become the biggest draw in Major League Soccer, doubling the attendance figures of the next highest club. They have also reached the playoffs in all three MLS seasons and won the US Open Cup in all three years – both unprecedented feats.
Additionally, with their berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals beginning March 7 against Santos Laguna, they are just six matches away from becoming the first MLS club to play for the FIFA Club World Cup.
However, as Roth pointed out, professional sports is a business of ups and downs.
“It is moments. The moments are fantastic as watching Kasey Keller making that unbelievable quartet of saves – still one of the great moments I’ve seen in goalkeeping,” Roth said. “And it’s the moments of watching Brian Mullan destroy Steve Zakuani’s leg. One thinks what the season could have been like with Steve Zakuani.”
In the end, though, it came down to a playoff meeting with Real Salt Lake and the Sounders fell behind 3-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium, highlighting what Roth called “a fantastic season with one bad game.”
The next topic for Roth was the goal of the club.
“Our job is not to be the most profitable team and not to be a team that’s in the middle of the pack,” he said. “We want desperately to win the MLS Cup. We want desperately to have our youth players from the U18 and U16 move up and play with us. We want to be pillars in the community.”
Finally, Roth gave a peak into the window of the club’s philosophy on building the roster.
“For me, the most important thing is not to have a shot in the dark where you make three people you pay 20 million dollars each to and have the everybody else make far less than that and have dissention and problems,” he said. “My job is to make sure we have a great organization with a great group of talented people in it so that every year we can be consistent and consistently get better. Certainly this third year, we had our best year overall.”
McKenzie Clark, Council Member
Next, Council member McKenzie Clark reported on the proceedings with the Alliance Council – a group of 22 season ticket holders who were voted to the Council by 25 fellow season ticket holders.
After detailing the year’s meetings, Clark gave an overview of the three resolutions passed by the Council.
1. We want the front office to actively pursue the biggest allotment possible for supporters and non-supporters alike in the games in Portland and Vancouver. Every season, every game in every competition.
2. The front office shall not introduce any noise in an attempt to impact the atmosphere. Examples given were the Soundwave band playing during the run of play and the orca noise that sounds during corner kicks.
3. The club shall host a competition wherein people submit designs for the Season Ticket Holder scarf that is included in season ticket packages. The hope is that this resolution can be in effect prior to release of the 2013 season tickets.
Additionally, the Constitution and Charter were ratified by a vote of Alliance members.
Gary Wright, Sr. Vice President of Business Operations
Sounders FC Sr. Vice President of Business Operations Gary Wright highlighted the successes and awards of the Sounders FC on the business side – from the successful sales of suites and tickets to the tremendous merchandise and corporate sponsorship efforts.
Additionally, he highlighted some of the business goals for 2012.
1. First, to get as many people into the stands on March 7, 2012, to help the club against Santos Laguna in the first quarterfinal game of the Champions League.
2. New turf will be installed before the first match on March 7. Wright also noted that the club would like to play on grass, but the studies show that grass is not feasible and while they continue to study that feasibility year-after-year to find a solution.
3. Opening up the “Hawks Nest” in the north end of the stadium, which will increase the “decibel level” in the stadium.
Adrian Hanauer, Owner/General Manager
Lastly, owner/GM Adrian Hanauer took to the microphone, starting by commenting on the three US Open Cup trophies in the far corner of the room, lamenting the lack of an MLS Cup trophy to join them.
“The one thing that I’m truly sorry about is that there is not an MLS Cup trophy there, yet,” Hanauer said. ”Mark my word, one day soon for one of these meetings there will be an MLS Cup trophy there. We’re going to get there.”
Upon announcing the team in 2008, Hanauer recalls talking about an aggressive, attack-minded, goal-scoring team. Three years later, Hanauer said he is happy with the progress toward that goal as the Sounders led the league in scoring.
He went on to mention the nine players who left the Sounders after the 2011 season, but assured those on hand that the club has a plan in place for 2012. Parts of that plan has already been set in place with the additions of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning and defender Marc Burch and the retention of midfielder Mauro Rosales.
Regarding the right back position, Hanauer said the club is “actively in conversations on multiple fronts” and the Sounders will have a “very, very good solution at right back by the time the season starts.”
Additionally, he said the club is in conversations with a midfielder and a forward and that signing one or both of them could happen in the not-too-distant future.
The transfer market isn’t the only area the club is looking to for reinforcements though. The club will hold their College Combine this weekend in Las Vegas and will also hold a Caribbean Combine in Trinidad.
Because of limitations by the salary cap, clubs have to look to other means to gain competitive advantages. One of those is youth development, where the Sounders have gotten tremendous early results from the Academy teams. Seven players from the U18 and U16 were called into US National Team training camps and 15 graduating U18 players earned college scholarships. All of those graduating players remain property of the Sounders through the Homegrown Player mechanism.
The second element is sports science, where fitness coach Dave Tenney has been on the cutting edge of advancements in the field since joining the club in 2009. He went on to detail the technologies used by the club to gauge fitness, fatigue and performance in the players. Hanauer noted a 3-0-1 stretch over 10 days that saw the Sounders travel over 9,000 miles to win two MLS matches, clinch a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal and win their third straight US Open Cup title.
The meeting then progressed to a concluding Q&A portion.