And this isn't for a friendly against a European powerhouse like Manchester United or Barcelona, or even a playoff game, but rather a regular-season game against the rival Timbers. With the boost that crowd, along with big crowds for games against the Vancouver Whitecaps (55,718) and the L.A. Galaxy (60,908), will give to Seattle's season attendance, Seattle will end up averaging more than 43,000 fans in league play this season, smashing the Major League Soccer attendance records they have set in each of the past three seasons when average attendance went from 30,897 in the club's inaugural MLS season to 36,173 in 2010 to 38,498 last year. Sounders FC isn't just drawing impressive crowds by U.S. soccer standards, it is putting up numbers that would measure up in the top league's in Europe (see the end of this post for details)
If a huge crowd for a rivalry game wasn't enough, Sounders FC is also making national headline this week because it is doing something that is very unique to American sports--letting fans vote on whether or not general manager Adrian Hanauer should keep his job. Minority owner Drew Carey made it a priority when he joined the ownership group to incorporate the fan vote, something done by some other clubs around the world, most notably Barcelona. Season ticket holders as well as fans who pay to join a members association will decide Hanauer's fate, though he has little to worry about. Under Hanauer, Seattle has made the playoffs in each of his first four seasons (including this year) and won three U.S. Open cups while changing perceptions of what soccer can be in America.
"I'm probably one of those candidates right now who should just not say very much and maybe we can get through the election," Hanauer joked after Friday's practice.
And it's not as if Hanauer will be on the streets fans somehow decide he shouldn't stay on as G.M. He owns nearly a third of the team and is an unpaid general manager. The way he sees it, if somebody else can do the job better, that is better for him as an owner who is financially invested in the franchise's success. Also, going through this process is good to test it out, knowing that somewhere down the road a future G.M. won't be in the same shoes as Hanauer.
"I really like this process," he said. "For sure it's easier for me as an owner to like the process, and I think it's really, really good to go through this with me as a general manager, because we need to figure out what the best process is going forward, as Drew says 20, 40, 100 years from now. What does this vote look like for someone who does count on this job to put food on their table, and for whom it is maybe a precarious commitment? But I love the fact that it is a fan driven thing. That's not to say, by the way, that an ownership group couldn't do the same thing. To be honest I don't know what the charter says, but I assume it says that if (majority owner Joe Roth) and I and Paul Allen and Drew want to get rid of a general manager, we can do that. I think it's the best of both worlds."
"I've got the best job in the world. These sorts of nights coming up just show me how much is possible, and certainly that there is still work ahead."
As for the big crowds Seattle continues to draw, Hanauer sees that not only as a positive for his team, but the league as a whole, which has seen attendance and T.V. ratings grown in recent years.
"First and foremost, it speaks volumes about the league overall," he said. "We wouldn't be here without the partners who have come before us and plowed the soil and gotten us to a point where something like this is possible. Certainly our fans here continue to amaze us, and Sunday will be another example of that."
"I personally have never been as bullish as I am today about the continued growth of the league. There are a lot of good days ahead for this franchise and a lot of other franchises. As I look around the league, some of the attendance numbers from the weekend, and numbers, but also the passion in some of the stadiums, it's fantastic. I'm very excited about Sunday."
Hanauer was certainly optimistic when he helped lead the charge to bring Major League Soccer, but he is quick to admit that his goals for the franchise weren't this big.
"No, more modest for sure," he said. "Look, we knew it would be successful, but even in our wildest dreams, having three games this year averaging 60,000 is probably beyond what even my big-thinking majority partner Joe Roth would have envisioned. But for sure we had our sights set on big things for this franchise."
Hanauer hopes his team can continue to attract bigger crowds and draw more attention to the league, but he knows attendance numbers like what we'll see Sunday aren't going to be the norm in the league (though he wouldn't mind that happening in Seattle).
"I don't know that crowds of 60,000 are going to be regular," he said. "he reality is obviously there are only a few markets that accommodate that, but the bigger story will be stadiums sold out in advance of the season for the entire season; teams having to try to figure out how they're going to add capacity to their stadia; the sports continuing to compete and grab mindshare from the other four major league sports in this country. I do think there are going to be more of those types of issues. I hope in Seattle that we get to the place where 60,000-fan crowds aren't really a story anymore because they're happening on such a regular basis, but I'm not presumptuous enough to assume that that will happen. I hope that we keep things heading in the right direction league-wise and team-wise and league-wise so that is the case."
Below is a list of attendance in Europe's top leagues, provided by Sounders FC, and where Seattle's 2012 attendance would rank.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE (2011-12 Totals)
1. Manchester United 75,387
2. Arsenal 60,000
3. Newcastle United 49,935
4. Manchester City 47,044
5. Liverpool 44,253
Sounders FC 42,134
6. Chelsea 41,478
7. Sunderland 39,095
8. Tottenham Hotspur 36,026
9. Aston Villa 33,873
10. Everton 33,228
ITALIAN SERIE A (2011-12 Totals)
1. AC Milan 51,442
2. Internazionale 47,913
3. Napoli 45,789
Sounders FC 42,134
4. AS Roma 35,240
5. Juventus 32,610
6. Lazio 32,444
7. Fiorentina 23,402
8. Genoa 21,995
9. Palermo 20,945
10. Bologna 18,934
SPANISH LA LIGA (2011-12 Totals)
1. Barcelona 84,119
2. Real Madrid 74,836
3. Atletico Madrid 45,236
Sounders FC 42,134
4. Valencia 42,116
5. Real Betis 41,131
6. Athletic Bilbao 37,605
7. Sevilla FC 35,342
8. Espanyol 26,477
9. Real Zaragoza 26,105
10. Malaga 26,052
GERMAN BUNDESLIGA (2011-12 Totals)
1. Borussia Dortmund 80,521
2. Bayern Munich 69,000
3. Schalke 04 61,139
4. VfB Stuffgart 55,089
5. Hertha Berlin 54,259
6. Hamburg SV 53,635
7. Borussia Monchengladbach 51,846
8. Fortuna Dusseldorf 51,000
9. FC Cologne 47,647
10. Hannover 96 44,825
11. Kaiserslautern 42,434
Sounders FC 42,134
12. Nurnberg 41,968
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