Adrian Hanauer is the general manager of the Seattle Sounders…for now. Starting on Sunday, season ticket holders and members of the fan club Gorilla F.C. will have the right to vote on whether the team should extend Mr. Hanauer’s contract. It’s an idea that’s used by some of Europe’s most accomplished soccer teams, but – as far as anyone knows – it hasn’t been tried by a major league team in the United States. Hanauer joined Bill during this busy election season.
Q: Who’s idea was it to give the most committed fans of the Sounders the opportunity to accept or reject you?
A: Really, it was our minority owner Drew Carey–Price is Right fame Drew Carey. One of his criteria for investing in the club was that he wanted this to be a club of the people, inasmuch we would give our fans certain rights, and I guess responsibilities, and voting on the general manager was the key to what we called democracy in sports.
Q: As far as you know, have the fans of any team in any sport in this country been able to do this?
A: In a formal way, I don’t think that’s really been the case. Obviously teams all over the country listen to their fans in one way or another, but I certainly don’t think that any of those teams have put a senior management person on the chopping block, if you will.
Q: You sound very chipper for a man who is at least theoretically on the chopping block.
A: Truth be told, I’m also an owner of the team. So if I’m voted out, I get to keep my ownership stake in the team. But I’m really excited about this because I think it’s so revolutionary in sports in this country. It’s the very beginning of the process. We’re learning along the way. But it’s helping us so that the next time, when there is a general manager who does depend on the job to put food on their table, we get it right, and we understand the benefits and the disadvantages and the challenges of this whole process.
Q: The Sounders entered Major League Soccer in 2008 and you were the General Manager then. The team has made the playoffs every season, including this year. You’ve drawn far more fans than the other MLS teams. If you hadn’t been so successful, would you be giving fans the opportunity to boot you out?
A: Absolutely, yeah. We’re in the business of under-promising and over-delivering, and we’re in the business of keeping our fans engaged in what we’re doing. So don’t get me wrong, we love this program, and we think it’s unique in sports and somewhat risky. But it also connects our fans with our product and our team in a much deeper way which ultimately we presume leads to more season ticket sales and more loyalty over the long haul. So it’s not completely selfless that we’re doing this.
Q: Your candor is very refreshing, especially in an election season.
A: Well, maybe it’s because I’m really not having to do that much campaigning. If I was campaigning, perhaps I wouldn’t be as upfront. Or at least I’d be changing my positions from day to day.