SEATTLE — There’s no denying that the Seattle Sounders have entered a new phase of their ownership. That much was clear on Tuesday when several of the new owners — most notably Russell Wilson, Ciara and Macklemore — made their first public appearances in front of fans since they were announced as new owners the week prior.
A couple hundred people had packed into Yesler Terrace Park, the site of the RAVE Foundation’s first miniature field. It went about how’d you expect. High energy, lots of cheering, lots of motivational phrases and plenty of promises to win more championships. About a dozen Sounders players — including quite a few starters — showed up on their day off to share in the festivities. They, too, seemed taken in by the star power on display, going out of their way to greet the new owners and make sure to grab pictures for themselves. The trio of world famous owners seemed happy to oblige, exchanging pleasantries with the players and fans alike, generally giving the first palpable sense that they were now part of the Sounders family.
What the event did not bring, however, was a sense of what has really changed since Joe Roth officially left the team. Sure, the Sounders ownership now has a level of star power that dwarfs what virtually any other MLS team can offer. But as Adrian Hanauer has said, it’s not like there’s a new pot of money that’s just itching to be spent. The question of “what does it all mean?” has been hanging over the ownership group since it was first unveiled last week.
The first sign of an answer came on Wednesday, when the Sounders announced that Peter Tomozawa had been hired to be the team’s new president of business operations, while also becoming the 12th new family to join the ownership group. It’s a position that had never before been filled in the organization and will slice responsibilities from Hanauer and oversee a department that had previously been headed up by Bart Wiley, whose time with the Sounders goes back to the USL days. Wiley remains with the team.
Tomozawa is an interesting addition, in part because he might be the only new owner without his own Wikipedia page and is almost certainly the one with the lowest-profile social media presence. In a way, though, he might also be the owner with the most to offer from a practical, day-to-day perspective which definitely came across during a roundtable with reporters at The NINETY on Thursday.
Tomozawa moved his family to Bellevue from Hawaii in 2015, expressly to allow his son to accept an invitation to join the Sounders Academy. Kei played three seasons in the Sounders Academy, got a few call-ups with the U.S. youth national team, made nine appearances with S2 and is now a red-shirt sophomore at Stanford. Aside from his son’s playing career, Tomozawa also has ownership stakes in English Football League teams Swansea City and Barnsley. Tomozawa has also owned season tickets since moving to Seattle. In other words, Tomozawa has some legitimate soccer bonafides.
But that’s obviously not why he was hired. Tomozawa brings an impressive business-side resume that includes 17 years at Goldman Sachs, time with the governments of Hawaii and Honolulu, helping bring the Summer Olympics to Los Angeles and ongoing consultant work with the International Monetary Fund.
Like many of this new crop of Sounders owners, Tomozawa comes from a reasonably modest background. He attended the University of Michigan where he met his wife. After graduating, he started his career as an engineer at IBM before going back to school for finance, at which point he and his wife were literally living paycheck to paycheck. He freely admits that he “hit the career lottery” by landing a job at Goldman after business school. Tomozawa eventually climbed to partner, something just 1 percent of the company reaches, and presumably how he made the kind of money that would allow him to start investing in professional sports teams.
After 17 years, and now the the father of five children, Tomozawa admitted that he felt some guilt over missing so much of their upbringing and “tried to retire” in Hawaii. Best intentions aside, he couldn’t quite keep himself from staying busy and ended up taking a job in Hawaiian government. First as the appointed commissioner of charter schools, overseeing more than 10,000 students and administering a $65 million budget and then in the mayor of Honolulu’s office. After moving to Seattle, Tomozawa helped put together the Los Angeles Summer Olympics bid and would commute back and forth.
At each stop, Tomozawa has seemingly been hands on and involved at an intimate level. How Tomozawa is able to leverage all that experience will likely come to define just how effectively the Sounders can grow their business, something that they’ve stated is an absolutely necessary part of keeping up or even surpassing teams like Atlanta United and LAFC.
For all the massive projects he’s worked on, Tomozawa seems to have retained a grounded and relatable attitude toward tackling problems. He says his guiding principle is to “make the world a better place every day.” High minded — and frankly impossible — as that may be, that’s why he insists on going on a nightly walk where he’ll pick up trash, just to make sure he hits his quota of world improvement.
Hanauer said he had been intending to hire a president of business basically as soon as he found out Roth was planning to sell his shares, and had interviewed several candidates. He became convinced Tomozawa was the right choice only after countless hours of discussions centered around when their vision for the team as co-owners.
Hearing Tomozawa talk about his vision and his ideals, it’s not hard to see why Hanauer was so smitten with him during their countless hours of discussion that had originally been centered around plans for ownership.
The changes Tomozawa implements likely won’t be immediate, and may even be hard to notice from the outside. He says cleaning house would be tantamount to admitting failure and has no intention of creating some sort of top-down approach. He believes the people who know best are the ones who live the experiences every day. He intends to ask people in ticket sales what they think fans most want. He thinks the people selling sponsorships need to be empowered to share their ideas. At a session with reporters, he was asking for input on ways to enhance the team’s media profile. He said he fully intends to give every season-ticket holder his email address and promises to read every suggestion he receives himself.
Like head coach Brian Schmetzer said when he was first hired, Tomozawa considers himself a mere “steward” of the Sounders community. His intention is to simply leave the team in a better place than when he first arrived. That’s a sentiment I think we can all appreciate.