Seattle brings democracy to MLS with GM vote

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.