Last Thursday the Seattle Sounders announced that its business operations will become independent from the Seattle Seahawks effective April 30th of this year. According to The News Tribune, Sounders general manager and minority owner Adrian Hanauer stated,
I think the organization is very capable of standing on its own two feet. I’ve used the phrase ‘taking the training wheels off.’ … Our fans should not lose anything. (Sounders FC) can dream big dreams about where the brand goes from here.
The Sounders, who have shared front office personnel and operations with the Seahawks since its inception into MLS in 2007, will now have a fully soccer-dedicated executive staff at the helm. They have approximately 40 full time employees, however, up until this point the executive staff has shared time between both the Seahawks and the Sounders. As part of the separation, president Peter McLoughlin will refocus his efforts solely to the Seahawks, leaving a vacancy in the same spot for the Sounders, though Hanauer has stated that he may absorb those responsibilities on top of his general manager duties. McLoughlin said in a news release,
This is a fantastic opportunity for (Sounders majority owner Joe Roth, Hanauer and minority owner Drew Carey). The Sounders will continue to be part of our family as we share CenturyLink Field and will work together on mutually beneficial projects.
Seahawks owner Paul Allen will retain his 25 percent minority stake in the Sounders and the team will continue to play its home matches at CenturyLink Field. The club’s offices will move from the Seahawks’ facilities to Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle.
Many in the industry have questioned what the true impact will be from this move, if any. What changes will we see from the Sounders moving forward? What’s different from the previous arrangement with the Seahawks? Other than the club’s offices moving location and a couple of new hires on the leadership team, the answer to the average joe MLS fan is ‘nothing’.
Up until this point the involvement from the Seahawks in Sounders affairs has been relatively minimal, at least to the public eye. They have been “showing them the ropes”, so-to-speak, on how to run a professional sports organization successfully – mentoring the Sounders front office, essentially. It was beneficial to the Sounders to be linked with the Seahawks at the club’s start when working to sign local and national sponsorship partners, etc. as they could leverage the Seahawks already established contacts and scale to get their foot in the door and begin their own relationships within the industry. Now that the club has proven its longevity in MLS, it can venture out on its own from an operational standpoint, which was always an inevitable move.
This is not to say that the move to separate from the Seahawks is not a positive one – it most assuredly is. It just probably will not turn out to be as big of a deal as some people think it might be. The ownership group and control structure remain unchanged, they are still playing in the same stadium and are even negotiating to extend their lease at CenturyLink Field beyond the five years remaining on the current deal, and both organizations will continue to see a lot of each other as they work together on “mutually beneficial projects”, as previously mentioned.
The fact that the Sounders are ready and feel confident enough to strike out on their own and operate independently is a positive sign for the club and MLS both. It signifies a stability in the league to have one of its top clubs operating independently and a commitment from the Sounders organization that they are in it for the long haul. Only time will tell how this move will truly impact the organization, the fans, and the progress of the league.