It's a common refrain from Seattle Sounders fans that the ownership of this team is profit-taking, or not adequately investing in player payroll. Whether these conversations occur here, on various message boards, over twitter or even through the most submitted question to not be answered at the End of Year Meeting it may be the most common negative thought surrounding the team.
For many, specifically those who follow the global game, the most important place to spend revenue is player salaries. Teams that spend more win more in nearly every league, in nearly every sport. When the salary expenditures come out it is quickly noted that Seattle isn't in the top 4 (LA, New York, Toronto, Vancouver). With the LA Galaxy's success in 2011 the demand for premium on the books Designated Player spend is increasing. Reminding this element of the fan base that there is no relationship in MLS between disclosed salary and winning is generally ineffective.
The desire for big name Designated Players is more about emotion than it is about knowledge of how teams win in MLS. It ignores the transfer fees that Seattle paid, both because these fees are unknown and because they don't go towards European teams of the highest order.
At the End of Year Meeting Adrian made it clear that the organization understands that MLS is a parity league with few ways to gain competitive advantage. While they did not reveal the numbers what we can know is that this team is clearly spending money and in ways that they feel relate to gaining competitive advantage within the unique structures of Major League Soccer.
These ways of spending money aren't glamorous, though they can be (TFC spending 20M$ to build Academy facilities). Just in the Academy Seattle is spending money, a large amount. Word is that it is among the leaders in Academy spend. That short list includes Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake (their unique out of catchment situation), Vancouver Whitecaps (with their unique integration of a PDL side) and FC Dallas (who produces the most HGP). Seattle already has a strong training facility (in 2009 one vet talked about how at another team they changed in their cars), but even then there are fairly consistent mentions of raising the quality at Starfire Sports - not just the stadium, but locker rooms and other staff spaces. Remember only 8 of 14 MLS Academy teams were considered fully funded by USSF at the end of their 2009-10 season. While Seattle hasn't pulled the trigger on a signing in their young Academy's existence they are spending the money to develop that talent.
Seattle is also a team that is aggressively scouting talent through combines both of US collegiate talent and internationally in the Caribbean. While other teams might hold select combines (San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake have), they don't reach the scope of Seattle who will see dozens more potential MLS players than other organizations. This one team is operating on the same scale as the entire league. And now they are going to do something to try and capture young undiscovered talents from CONCACAF's most difficult to scout region - the islands. There are 24 players from the islands in MLS, half from Jamaica. Seattle thinks that number is low and will be spending significant funds to host a Combine to try and find a few talents from there. Several of Seattle's trialists come from Trinidad & Tobago with the hope being that maybe they find another diamond to be polished.
At the End of Year Meeting Hanauer also detailed technologies that the team is using in training, adopting emerging sports sciences that he at least partially credited with Osvaldo Alonso's ability to play so many minutes in the single year. The team has partnerships with statistical analysis and gathering institutions, has developed free apps for two mobile operating system's, runs its own website outside of the MLSSoccer.com umbrella, streams several games a year at no charge to the consumer. They are committed to replacing the Field Turf at the highest reasonable rate so that it plays as well as possible. In the first two seasons the Sounders trained in Spain and Argentina. A planned trip to Turkey for training fell through at the last minute. Every year they have trained in at least two of California, Arizona and Florida.
Are the Seattle Sounders cheap? Almost certainly not. They just are not spending the money in high profile Designated Players.