Ten (More) Questions with Joe Roth

In getting to know Joe Roth, his lifelong passion for soccer is clear. In the second part of his interview he explains how he arrived in Seattle and the dreams he has for the city’s new MLS team and its fans.

In getting to know Joe Roth, his lifelong passion for soccer is clear. In the second part of his interview he explains how he arrived in Seattle and the dreams he has for the city’s new MLS team and its fans.

Everyone likes to hear how Hollywood deals happen; how did this ownership group get together?
Well, I met with Don Garber (MLS Commissioner) in New York, and he suggested I look in the Northwest. So I went to Seattle, Portland & Vancouver. I knew Tim Leiweke  (President and CEO of AEG, which operates the L.A. Galaxy and Houston Dynamo) from down here in L.A., and I met Tod (Leiweke)  in Seattle. Then I met Adrian (Hanuaer) at the all-star game. It seemed like a really good match: A great, successful, professional organization  with Tod and the Seahawks. Adrian’s passionate about soccer and he had done a very good job, getting good results with the Sounders. So there’s two people who are Seattle through and through, and then I will be coming up with ideas in the marketing and player areas. Then, just as we were about to form it, Drew Carey called me. I knew he was a big, big soccer fan and I’d seen him at Galaxy games. We had lunch he said he’d love to be part of the team, so he came on at the end.

What about watching them; what are your top three sports movies?
Ones I’ve watched, would be the original Rocky, certainly Field of Dreams and The Pride of the Yankees, the Lou Gehrig story. Of the ones that I made, or supervised production of, I certainly enjoyed Major League and Remember the Titans.

What are your favorite teams to watch and why?
When Wayne Rooney is healthy, I really like watching Manchester United because I like him and Cristiano Ronaldo–both super offensive players. I like the Italian national team, because I’m defensive-minded, and they’re really a terrific defensive team to watch. I like watching Chelsea because they have a collection of terrific players. And I like watching Barcelona because I like Ronaldinho and Messi.

Living first in New York and now L.A., you had opportunities to see both the Cosmos and now Galaxy games with your family. What thoughts do you have about watching games of those two teams, about the players, the quality of play and the overall spectacle?

Watching the Cosmos in the ‘70s and the Galaxy today are entirely different experiences. The Cosmos was a moment in time–Pele–and my feeling then was that it was not going to last because there was no foundation for soccer in America. Now,at Galaxy games, you see young people and families–all who have played soccer—and you feel you are watching something real that can build.

Are there similar qualities which make good movies and a good sports franchise?
The big difference is that the movie has one ending and that’s the end of it. A sports franchise has to be consistently good. But you want to pick-up on the same kind of things. You want people who really want to win and really willing to work with another, who have a courage about them and a willingness to break the mold. Those are the similarities.

You have friends in Seattle and have visited many times. Name some places you’ve seen and those which you plan to visit in the future.
I went to the EMP, the Rock & Roll museum, and really enjoyed it a lot. I went to the top of the Space Needle for dinner, and I thought that was great. I know the Seattle area has a lot of great golf courses, including two of the top new courses in the country, but I haven’t had a chance to play them. So far I’ve spent most of my time in meetings at Qwest Field, but some time I’d look forward to playing a round at Chambers Bay (in University Place) and The Home Course (in DuPont).

You live in L.A., but what about the future?
I come up about every other week for a couple of days. I don’t mind hotels, but in the middle of this next year I hope to find a place in or near Seattle because I expect to split my time pretty much 50-50.

Did you have any expectations about the season ticket deposits, and how fast they might sell following the team’s announcement?
I’ve been astonished. I didn’t have any expectations at all when we said you could put deposits down for season tickets. When was the last time you could put money down for something you wouldn’t enjoy for 15-16 months? So it really kind goes against the grain that 10,000 people have done that. It’s a team which right now has no coach, no name and no players. The other day I went to the Fairmont Hotel to check in and a guy asked if he could give me some advice. I wondered if I needed a shave or my clothes were funny. He said, “You should go to Argentina; they’ve got good players there.” Then I signed in and got in the elevator and had my soccer ball. A man in the elevator said, “Hey, are you here for the MLS meetings?” I said, Yeah, I’m one of the owners. He said, “Great, thank you for bringing soccer to Seattle; it’s fantastic.” Anecdotally, as well as the season tickets drive, it’s been amazing.

You must be sold on this league to invest in it, but at the same time you seem to be breaking the mold in terms of how Seattle’s team will do things differently. What do you envision for this franchise and the league in general?
The league has great promise obviously and some of the markets have already shown that. I also think that in Seattle there is an opportunity not just to have a competitive Major League Soccer franchise, but to be part of the world. One of the things that intrigued me about Seattle was its proximity to the Far East, and I think we are in the Century of China, for sure. There is linkage that can be made with China, Korea and Japan which is very attractive, both culturally and financially. One of the challenges will be first to make a competitive team here. But at the same time I’d be disappointed if we couldn’t build this team into one that travels the world as well.

When you close your eyes and envision the ultimate experience for you as owner, what do you see happening?
Well, I see putting a team on the field that I’m really proud of. I see a sold-out stadium with fans who are chanting, singing and really enjoying the experience. And I see a team that plays so well together that they can get on the field in any country in the world and play competitively.