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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.