Those who have attended a shareholders meeting for a company in their own past would have been comfortable at the Sounders meeting last night. While Real Madrid and Barcelona have memberships that do in fact own shares of the team, up until last night the Alliance was more a marketing tool. Last night, through the power of a live Q&A and the openness of leadership, the team created stakeholders.
A fan of this team that spends as little as 150$ has access in ways that no other team at top levels of American sports do. Most excitedly, the team continues to speak to increasing that access.
Matt Gaschk did a live blog during the event.
I'll break down things a little more, including impressions from the Q&A.
The intro by both Drew Carey and the new CEO of Vulcan Sports are fairly insignificant from a news standpoint. It is notable that though Peter McLoughlin is new to the city, new to the sport, he was at the US Open Cup Final.
"It is clear to me that Seattle is the soccer capital of the United States of America," McLaughlin says
Kasey Keller will clearly be back. He spoke at length, stayed throughout the Q&A and was the second-to-last man from stage to leave the event as he signed and glad-handed with fans.
"We are not a 2-year-old franchise. We are a more than 30-year-old franchise," proclaimed the Keeper.
Gary Wright pulled the curtain back on the team's guide to how they make decisions with their brand wheel. Every choice is evaluated as to how it relates to that brand wheel. Two announcements he made related to that were the addition of the WA Special Olympics as a 5th charity partner and that there will be a Cascadia Supporters Summit.
The summit is going to be on delicate ground. The balance between team organized and team participation is fragile in these things, but the presence of all three clubs is vital. What is also vital is getting the buy-in from ALL related Supporter Groups as well as a few average fans. It was tough to do on a league-wide scale, and considering the way the Cascadia teams are treating their SGs these days it will be even more difficult.
The transition from that was to marketing and ticket sales. The Sounders continue to win awards for this realm, even in spite of their admitted mistakes regarding having 3 friendlies (by the way one of them last year was supposed to be Real Madrid). Seattle hasn't just sold the most jerseys in 2010, they lapped the field, a few times.
Hanauer was next and we learned some news as it relates to the players and play on the field. He also broke down statistical data to show the importance of Nate Jaqua and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. He was also excited to announce that while Steve Zakuani is winding up his time training with Everton (Zakuani mentioned on Facebook that he needs to take time off after 11 straight months of play since surgery last year), now Osvaldo Alonso is training with the Blues.
Sounders will be getting a 2nd Round Pick for FL10 (bye and don't let the MLS door hit you on way out) now having 11, 21, 25 and 29. Seattle is also working on a few signings. The mention of this after a few minutes of Academy talk leads me to believe that we will see a few HGPs either for Christmas or in January.
A big club is set to announce its first-ever trip to Seattle, perhaps as early as next week. This may or may not be the big club that is supposed to be here in mid-March.
Joe Roth ended the formal presentation by talking about pushing up against the rules of MLS, breaking them if necessary, all in order to keep improving the game here in America.
We haven't really had 32 consecutive sellouts. A sellout is when 65,000 people are watching soccer at Qwest
Then the Q&A started. For the most part the questions were not softballs. By far the two issues that kept coming up and dominated the conversation were concerning Away Support in Cascadia and is Democracy in Sports just a marketing term.
Drew Carey is adamant that the abilities of the Alliance and the Alliance Council will be improved. This will start with better technology for voting so that a ticket account can be split into sub-accounts for voting purposes, but it will continue as we develop this hybrid between the Barca model and the traditional American franchise model.
Away Support Issue
If you are looking for good news it looks like the number of tickets that will be guaranteed in a single block at any Cascadia Derby match will be 500 (over 3 times the current league minimum).
If you are looking for bad news, it is clear that EVERY part of the Sounders (Players, Coaches, Ticketing/Marketing) disagree with the desires of the supporters groups - as did at least 50% of the overall crowd.
The ECS, in members statements to me at the event, felt that they were being blown off and that Keller did not support them as expected. It was contentious, genuine and purely not an area on which the most die-hard fans will be agreeing with the team for some time.
And yet, tonight the ECS and the team will be working together and celebrating the season. Players, bands and a Charity partner (donate new winter coats/jackets for youth).
I did ask a question, in this case related to media partners that are actively antagonistic to the sport, specifically 710 ESPN who has bumped non-league matches to 770 KTTH or to the internet only. I asked why the team would have an "official place to talk about the Sounders" that refuses to talk about the Sounders.
The response from Wright was that they are proud of their media partners, but that we, the fans must take these comments to the station itself.
I stated that I have, and that the rare responses have been clearly anti-soccer.
Kasey mentioned that we all need to call the two sports stations and demand more talk about the sport.
I still don't think that's a partnership, but maybe things improve. It is notable that neither sports radio station covered the event (in fact only blogs and FSN did).
In the end there were at least 600 people there who were treated not as customers, but as stakeholders. The team admitted several mistakes. The honest conversation was rough at times, there was clear opposition, but overall it was an experience that no other team in America would have.