A rapper’s Rolls-Royce parked in the VIP lot. Camera crews descending on a quarterback and a pop star. Music blaring. Kids cheering. This was an event fueled by star power.
Less than a week after the Sounders announced that a new, high-profile ownership group was coming in to replace former stakeholder Joe Roth, the marquee faces made an appearance. In front of hundreds of people at Yesler Terrace Park on Monday, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson joined his wife, Ciara, and Seattle-born hip-hop star Macklemore to christen the transition.
Each member of the trio greeted the crowd enthusiastically. They spoke of future championships while emphasizing the importance of community.
It was a nice spectacle filled with sound bites that would pop on any local sportscast. But what does it all really mean?
There’s no doubt that a good chunk of the Sounders’ ownership group is now more famous than any of the team’s players. Led by former Microsoft executive Terry Myerson, the new group of investors — made up of 11 families — joins existing owners such as Drew Carey and majority owner Adrian Hanauer.
They replace former partial owner Joe Roth, whose pockets were as deep as his passion for the team. So should fans be concerned about his departure?
“We’re replacing a big-money guy with 11 big-money people, so that isn’t an issue,” Hanauer said. “The reality, though, is we’re a business, and we try and run our business as best we can. We want to go out and use this group to generate revenue and provide the resources to challenge for championships every year. Same as it’s been, and we think we can do that.”
The Sounders have been to two of the past three MLS Cups, have won one of them, and captured the Supporters’ Shield for best regular-season record in 2014. They have been one of the most accomplished teams in the MLS since joining the league, and that’s in no small part due to spirited ownership.
But when Hanauer points out the realty that “we’re a business,” a safe interpretation is that they aren’t just going to throw around money willy-nilly. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but anybody thinking that the added fame in the ownership group is going to translate to added cash is probably mistaken.
According to a release in June, the Sounders were ranked seventh in MLS payroll behind Toronto FC, the L.A. Galaxy, the Chicago Fire, LAFC, Sporting KC and Atlanta United. That’s certainly respectable in a 24-team league, and given their current fifth-place standing (and just two points out of second place), the Sounders are in position for an 11th straight playoff appearance.
But even with all the new faces, this isn’t going to be a team that spends for spending’s sake. The Yankees or Dodgers of MLS, Seattle is not.
As Hanauer said last week, the new investors do not equal a new pool of money. This team will be smart, not lavish, with its spending.
One priority for the club is to find a new practice facility on par with the top teams in the league. The setup at Starfire Sports in Tukwila was considered among the best in MLS when the Sounders first joined, but that is no longer the case.
Monday, Hanauer said he wants to upgrade the training facility, and that the franchise has been involved in a feasibility study over the past few months.
“We’re prepared to make a big investment in that,” he said. “We just want to make sure we end up in the right place.”
That’s Sounders ownership for you. Smart. Calculated. But not spending just to spend. The faces may have changed, but that philosophy won’t.