Perhaps the most surprising part about Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke being named a part-owner of the Sounders is that it took more than a decade for it to happen.
After all, Leiweke, who, along with his wife, Tara, announced Monday they’ve taken what he describes as a “ relatively small’’ stake in the defending Major League Soccer champions, was instrumental in helping launch the Rave Green in 2009. During that time, he became a Sounders founding president – matching the same title he held with the Seahawks – and later, a close friend of the soccer team’s current principal owner, Adrian Hanauer.
“I’ve always loved it, I’m as proud of that as I am anything in my career,’’ Leiweke said Monday of his ties to the Sounders. “I think about Adrian and what he’s done. To make the playoffs every year they’ve been here has just been amazing.’’
Leiweke has agreed to serve on an eight-member Sounders advisory panel consisting of other team ownership members. They’ll help Hanauer navigate some of the bigger business decisions for the franchise in an ever-expanding league that faces a renewal of its national television deal come 2023.
“For me, having perhaps the best sports operator in North America in our ownership group, observing and imparting wisdom, is huge for us,’’ Hanauer said. “We’re a better organization with the Leiweke family in our ownership than we were without them.’’
It was Leiweke who, before the Sounders were created as an expansion franchise in 2007, helped seal the deal with an impassioned business dinner plea to Hollywood producer Joe Roth that he invest as the team’s main owner.
MLS had felt Hanauer at the time wasn’t a big enough name to run the team. Roth had been recruited by Leiweke’s older brother, Tim, then CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group that ran the Los Angeles Galaxy and was an influential force within the league, to own the future expansion Sounders alongside Hanauer and the Seahawks with a slightly bigger controlling percentage.
“Tod doesn’t get as much credit as he should for that,’’ Tim Leiweke said in the 2018 book 100 Things Sounders Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die. “He was dead right on that one and completely understood what Adrian (Hanauer) had in terms of pent-up demand. And Joe (Roth) was smart enough to get in.’’
Hanauer said: “He and Joe and I were the three who sort of hatched this thing. And Tod was involved in making the Seahawks’ organization believers and in embracing the Sounders culturally and getting everyone on board.
“And that was responsible for a ton of our success.’’
Hanauer had introduced himself to Tod Leiweke not long after Leiweke had taken up his Seahawks post in 2002, discussing his dreams of taking his Sounders from a then-United Soccer League franchise to a much bigger MLS stage. Their friendship blossomed from there and continued even after Leiweke left the Seahawks and Sounders in 2010 to become CEO and minority owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The duo and their respective spouses would frequently get together socially and even vacationed as a foursome. Once Leiweke returned to run the Kraken in 2018, having spent three years as a top NFL executive, it seemed a matter of time before he’d become connected to the Sounders again.
That opportunity began to manifest itself in August 2019, when Roth – by then a secondary owner to Hanauer, who’d purchased a controlling stake – pulled out entirely. Hanauer began bringing on new ownership with direct ties to Seattle, consisting of 11 families including former Microsoft executive Terry Myerson and his wife, Katie, as well as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, Ciara.
And with Leiweke having adapted to his role managing operations of the future NHL team – which he also has a minority stake in — he and Hanauer felt the timing was right to make him a soccer owner as well.
“I think relatively thinking, we’re small investors,’’ Leiweke said. “But as some would say, we should have invested earlier.’’
The Sounders were purchased for a $30 million expansion fee in 2007. Forbes last November pegged the franchise’s value at $405 million.
Leiweke said the Kraken will remain his primary focus. The advisory board position will require sitting in on the occasional conference call, but won’t be much different from other times he’s offered Hanauer advice when asked.
“I’ve always been there for Adrian,’’ Leiweke said. “He is for me, a bit of a model of what an owner should be. The dude is selfless, loves it and did it for all the right reasons.’’