Since the club’s Major League Soccer debut 10 seasons ago, the Seattle Sounders franchise has been anything but ordinary.
On-field success, a difficult task for an expansion team in its early years, came immediately in the form of three U.S. Open Cups in the team’s first three seasons. Off the pitch, the club set attendance record after attendance record including a record-setting 66,848 fans at then-Qwest Field to watch the Rave Green take on FC Barcelona. Seattle had reconfigured what an expansion sports team could look like.
But, before any of the on- and off-field successes became visible, the Sounders’ ownership group had installed a unique mechanism unheard of in professional sports.
Drew Carey made it a condition of his joining the Sounders ownership group that fans have a say in the direction of the club. There was to be a guiding principle of “Democracy in Sports” that deepened the relationship between the clubs and its fans. This involvement came to fruition with the creation of the Alliance and Alliance Council. Generally every four years, Alliance Council and Alliance members have the ability to vote to retain or remove the club’s general manager. Through the purchase of season tickets, fans are granted membership in the Alliance and receive all associated benefits. This includes full-season package holders, half-season package holders and suite holders.
“I'm very excited about what we're doing here in Seattle,” said Carey in 2009. “Where else can the fans fire the general manager? I hope this becomes a model for every professional sports organization in America.”
Fast forward to 2018, and for the second time in the club’s MLS history, Alliance Members have the unique opportunity to cast a vote of retention or lack of confidence in General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey.
“It was important for me to do [the GM vote], because that’s the only reason I wanted to be a part of the Ownership Group in the first place,” said Carey. “If they would have said, ‘No, we don’t want to do that,’ I wouldn’t have been a part of the Ownership Group. It was very important to me. There’s no other fan base in the country that can do that for any other sport — have the opportunity to get rid of the GM if they don’t like what’s going on.”
Owners Adrian Hanauer (left) and Drew Carey talk before a Sounders match at CenturyLink Field | Corky Trewin
In 2012, the club held its first GM Vote. Owner and then-General Manager Adrian Hanauer earned a 96.3 percent approval rating of 13,775 votes cast by Alliance members. Lagerwey was hired prior to the 2015 season, marking 2018 as his fourth full season as GM and providing an opportunity for fans to vote on his retention.
For the final tally to be considered, the bylaws state that 40 percent of eligible Alliance members must cast a vote. In order for a vote of no confidence to move forward, it must be chosen by the super-majority of no less than 67 percent of all votes cast. The vote is also weighted meaning that each Season Ticket Member holds as many votes as seats owned.
“This is really like a fail-safe system for when things are going badly,” added Carey. “It’s to keep the fans from divorcing the team and quit participating in the team. It’s better than writing a letter to the editor, it’s better than [to] quit buying tickets, it’s better than complaining on a message board. Like all the stuff you do as a fan if you’re a fan of other teams that’s all you get to do is complain in a letter or complain to your friends on a message board or send a tweet.”
The 2018 GM Vote runs from today, Sept. 19 to Oct. 17 with eligible members able to cast their votes online at www.SoundersFC.com/GMVote or in person at CenturyLink Field during the team’s home matches on Sept. 19, Sept. 29 or Oct. 8.
Added Carey: “This is the strongest message you can send to a team. It’s a big responsibility they have, it’s not some joke. I hope they treat it as seriously as it is because you’re going to cost somebody his job or not and change the whole direction of the team or not.”
Get out there and vote, Sounders fans!