Seattle brings democracy to MLS with GM vote

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Sounders season-ticket holders and fan supporters will decide the fate of general manager Adrian Hanauer. (AP) | Zoom
By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) - Inside a voting stall adorned with all the usual trappings of the election process, Bill and Chris Schlittenhart let their voices be heard.

The Schlittenharts spent their time before a recent Seattle Sounders home game helping decide the fate of general manager Adrian Hanauer, whose future employment as the man in charge is now in the hands of season-ticket holders and fan supporters.

"It makes more of a complete team. We're all part of the team," Chris Schlittenhart said. "It's not a matter of other people telling us what we can do."

As part of the bylaws the club instituted when the franchise started was a stipulation that every four years the performance of the general manager would be put to a vote of season ticket holders and members of the Sounders fan alliance. All season-ticket holders, or those who pay $125 per year to be part of the fan alliance, get to have a say in the direction of the organization, which means voting to keep Hanauer or kick him out of office.

For some franchises in other corners of the world, this is common practice. In North America, it's unheard of.

Consider it a bit of democracy in the sporting world.

"I've gotten calls from other owners of other teams in other sports who tell me I'm out of my mind," Sounders majority owner Joe Roth said. "Which tells me it's probably a pretty good idea, actually."

There are no stump speeches for Hanauer to make or political ads. The product he's put on the field, coupled with incredible fan support not seen in a North American soccer market since the early days of the NASL, can be seen as a strong enough argument for giving Hanauer another four years running the organization.

Seattle again smashed attendance records this season, averaging 43,144 per game. The Sounders drew more than 66,000 for a home game against rival Portland and reached the MLS playoffs for the fourth straight season. In four MLS regular seasons, the Sounders are 59-32-37 with a playoff trip each year, not to mention three U.S. Open Cup titles and a fourth appearance in the Open Cup final this year.

Hanauer has been involved in all aspects of Seattle's success. Along with being the general manager, he's a part owner of the franchise. So no matter the outcome of the voting, he'll retain a role in the organization.

Yet come Dec. 7, when the voting results are announced, Hanauer could theoretically be out of a job – even though that's highly unlikely. The coaches who work under Hanauer, along with other members of the ownership group, also have a vote.

"I'm not telling you," Roth laughed when asked for his vote.

Hanauer, though, isn't worried about what the outcome will be. Perhaps because the resume he's created is so strong.

"This is not a paid gig for me. It's full time. I still own a third of the team. I'm comfortable I've done what I can do to make us successful," Hanauer said. "If there is someone better out there and the fans think there is someone better, I'm very comfortable living with that. So I'm at peace with this whole process."

The idea of giving fans a say came from co-owner Drew Carey. During his time in Spain, Carey became enamored of the organizational structure of FC Barcelona, whose supporters have the ability every five years or so to vote for the president of the club.

Carey was adamant when he met with Roth to discuss becoming part of the Sounders ownership group that fan rights – which included the GM vote, allowing fans to name the team and pick their seats – be part of the franchise's bylaws. Roth was intrigued by the idea and eventually agreed with Carey. They then turned to Hanauer to take on the role with his experience running the USL Sounders from 2001 until the MLS Sounders made their debut in 2009.

"It was a way to really integrate the fans as much as possible in the team and give them, if not ownership, as close to ownership as possible. At least emotional ownership," Roth said.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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