For the third time in Seattle Sounders history, fans have an opportunity to cast a binding judgment on the general manager’s performance. Like the two previous times this happened, I suspect that the general manager will receive overwhelming support.
In eight years since taking over for Adrian Hanauer as Sounders GM and President of Soccer, Garth Lagerwey has amassed an impressive resume that includes two MLS Cups, four trips to the MLS Cup final, a Leagues Cup final and, most recently, the Concacaf Champions League trophy. Lagerwey has helped make this happen while modernizing the Sounders Academy, establishing a productive second team and stocking the first team well enough that they’ve compiled more regular-season points over that 8-year span than everyone but the New York Red Bulls.
Suffice it to say, it would be a rather massive upset if fans voted “no confidence” and triggered Lagerwey’s removal. But being that this vote is something that happens, at most, every four years, there’s a decent chance you don’t know exactly how this is supposed to work. Luckily, I’m here to help...
What would it take for Lagerwey to be removed?
In order for the vote to be binding, 40% of season-ticket holders would need to vote and 67% — a super-majority — of those voters would need to punch “no confidence” on their ballots. That’s an admittedly high bar, and it’s designed to keep a vocal minority from doing something rash. At the same time, I think we can safely say that if both those criteria were met, it would represent a large enough portion of the fanbase that it would be hard to deny the mandate.
Break it down, how many votes is that?
We don’t have exact numbers, but I’d say a safe estimate is that there are about 32,000 season tickets. That would mean at least 13,000 ballots would need to be cast and about 8,800 of those would need to be “no confidence.”
Who’s eligible to vote?
All Alliance Members are eligible. Alliance Members are made up of all season-ticket holders, suite holders and designated seat partners. Anyone who controls more than one season ticket can designate their other votes to anyone they want, or they can cast their ballot weighted for their number of tickets. For example, if you have five season tickets, you can either cast one vote for yourself and pick four others to cast their own ballots, or you can cast one ballot that counts as five votes.
How do I even know this vote is legit?
The Sounders have used various notable organizations to ensure the voting is conducted properly and this year they’re using eBallot.
Do any other teams do this?
There are teams in Europe who do something similar — the Sounders’ version was inspired by FC Barcelona’s system — but there are no other professional sports teams in North America who do anything like this.
What has happened previously?
The first election was held in 2012 and Hanauer sailed to victory with 96% “retain” of the more than 14,000 votes that were cast. That vote also cleared the 10,000-vote threshold required that year for it to be binding. In 2018 — four years after Lagerwey took over — about 87% of Sounders fans voted “retain.” About 37% of eligible ballots were cast, which fell just short of the now-required 40% needed to be binding.
Does any of this matter?
Luckily, the Sounders have enjoyed a remarkable level of success during their MLS existence. For many outside observers, this often looks like either a public-relations stunt or an unnecessary high-wire act. But I think that misses the point a bit. This process is not here for the good times, but for the bad. That’s what inspired Drew Carey to insist this be part of the club’s original charter, after years of watching his beloved Cleveland Browns flail.
So while it’s tempting to pooh-pooh this vote, I think it’s important to show respect for the process now, when times are good, so that when there are less competent people in charge they can’t so easily try to discard it. At the very least, I think this tool exists as a sort of reminder to the front office that no matter what ownership thinks of the work they’re doing that fans ultimately get a say.
Let’s say Sounders fans do oust the GM. Can’t ownership just hire them back with a new title?
I suppose that’s possible, but the Sounders Constitution — yes, that’s a thing — explicitly says that the vote is regarding the “individual who is an employee of the Club who is identified and recognized by the League as the senior-most soccer decision maker.” In simpler terms, that’s the Chief Soccer Officer. So if Lagerwey were to be fired, he could theoretically retain a job with the Sounders, but they’d need to hire a new CSO who would oversee all sporting decisions.
Are there any assurances Lagerwey will stay if he’s retained?
Unfortunately not. One of the downsides of this vote is that it’s basically a public disclosure that the GM is about to be out of contract and almost invites other teams to reach out. Lagerwey will almost surely have suitors and it’s entirely possible that fans could vote for him to be retained, only for him to choose to leave. To his credit, he’s embraced this entire process both last time and this time, and has said all the right stuff about the importance of voting.
When will the results be revealed?
Voting is both online and in-person through Sept. 28 — that means there’s one more home game where you can vote in person — and the results will be disclosed at the Annual Business Meeting in November.