by A.J. Coltrane
No, not that one. To quote SI’s Grant Wahl:
What are your thoughts on how the Sounders are handling the vote to retain or fire GM Adrian Hanauer?
— Matt Koppelman
I love it. The lowdown: On Oct. 7, Seattle season ticket holders will begin voting yay or nay in a vote of confidence on Hanauer. If he gets less than 50 percent support, Hanauer is out as GM. If he gets more than 50 percent, he stays. It’s the first vote of its kind in U.S. sports, and the idea came from the team’s part owner, the comedian Drew Carey.
“I was doing a show for the Travel Channel on the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry,” Carey told me last year. “In the Barcelona museum I talked to a guard, and he said there was an election coming up. Every four years they have an election for the president of the club. I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’d like to see George Steinbrenner do that. I would love to bring that to the U.S.'”
When Carey first met Joe Roth, now Seattle’s principal owner, “All we did was talk soccer the whole lunch,” said Carey, who ended up signing on with him to invest in a new MLS team in Seattle. “I spent the whole time telling him about fans voting their president out. … The fans will do the dirty work for you. I always gave the Detroit Lions as an example: Matt Millen. He was there so long and made so many bad picks, but the Lions’ owners didn’t care. In my system with the Sounders, the fans could have fired Matt Millen.
“Joe bought into it, and we worked out the system. The vote is every four years. If the fans want to, they can get 20 percent of the members to sign a petition, and then they can have the vote any year they want.”
Granted, the stakes of the upcoming vote aren’t as high as they could be for Hanauer, who would remain as a part-owner of the Sounders even if he’s tossed out as the general manager. Then again, I expect Hanauer will receive a vote of confidence: Seattle has been a tremendous success story in terms of fan interest and on-field success, especially in winning three U.S. Open Cups from 2009-11. The next big hurdle is for the Sounders to win their first MLS playoff series.
As for the four-year term – it’s on the short end of reasonable for soccer, since highly drafted players should be close to performing with the “big club” soon after their acquisition. If franchises were to try something like this in baseball it would require a six or seven year term — it takes the cumulative effects of multiple drafts and trades over a period of years to determine if the GM is competent or not. (However, if M’s fans could have fired Bavasi after four years it would have avoided some of the worst of the damage to the player base. And it would have been blindingly obvious it was time for him to go.)
The real danger here, of course, is that most sports “fans” are by definition… maybe not clueless, but definitely “underinformed” and generally not the most rational bunch of folks, at least with respect to their favorite teams. I think this is especially true with sports where there are few quantifiable and publicly available statistics. Such as soccer.
This will be the first vote on the Sounders GM position, and letting the inmates run the asylum rarely works out well. With as successful as the Sounders have been, I hope that nothing interesting happens and that Hanauer easily wins re-election. We’ll see.