There’s an old adage in the sports business, among management and coaches, that fans are always to be appreciated, while at the same time their comments and advice ignored. Essentially, the wisdom boils down to this: Listen to the fans, and soon you’ll be sitting with them.
The Seattle Sounders, Major League Soccer’s best-attended franchise, have tossed that wisdom to the wind by offering to throw their general manager to the masses. Starting Sunday, Sounders ownership is encouraging season ticket-holders and other valued customers to vote whether general manager Adrian Hanauer should keep his job. It should be duly noted that the vote is binding and will wrap up Dec. 7, yes, Pearl Harbor Day.
Leaving a GM’s destiny in the hands of a team’s fandom is not a totally new concept in soccer. Two of the world’s premier futbol clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, have done it for some time. The Sounders have adopted the idea, in part, because one of their minority owners, comedian Drew Carey, was fascinated by the concept when he learned of it while traveling to games overseas before he invested in the Sounders. Most tourists come home from Europe with postcards and trinkets, maybe a box of candy. Carey brought home a noose.
“We always have democracy in sport in the back of our minds,’’ Carey, an ex-Marine, last week told the New York Times. “The fans can strike back at us.’’
Hanauer probably isn’t in much trouble of taking a hit. The Sounders, who really only have the NFL Seahawks competing for the sports dollars in town, have done very well, especially at the gate, in their four seasons. They haven’t won the MLS Cup, but they have more than 32,000 season ticket-holders and average better than 40,000 to their home games at CenturyLink Field, the same pitch the Seahawks call home. All in all, business is good for the team whose majority owner is Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. Locally, the Revolution average about one-third of the crowd that attends Sounders home games.
But this is the sports business, and these are fans, many of them equal parts loyal and fickle. Good GMs live and die on logic and reasoning. Good fans prefer emotion over deduction. It only takes 10 or 15 minutes of listening to sports talk radio in any city across North America to realize that Hanauer, no matter how competent, could be voted out of his desk in the Sounders’ corner office. Even then, he may not go too far, because like Carey he is also a minority owner of the club. It’s good to multitask in this economy.
Hanauer, 46, will find out Dec. 13 if he got the thumbs up or down. He also comes from a family that owns the Seattle-based Pacific Coast Feather Co., originally a German company that manufactures down pillows and feather beds. No matter what, the guy is guaranteed a soft landing.
What a treat it would be for Boston fans to be so empowered, although interest would be far greater at this hour, or any hour, in voting the fate of Sox GM Ben Cherington than for, say, Revolution boss Mike Burns. Sounders voters will be asked whether they choose to “retain’’ or opt for “lack of confidence.’’ At least 10,000 votes must be cast for the decision to be binding. Votes can be cast online or in person at CenturyLink.
Given the Bobby Valentine fiasco that played out at Fenway this year, culminating in the canning of the Sox skipper on Thursday, a “lack of confidence’’ vote likely wouldn’t satisfy the Red Sox Nation electorate when voting for Cherington or his boss, Larry Lucchino. Check boxes would have to read more like “guillotine’’ or “boiling oil’’ or “tar and feather.’’ Or am I being too kind?
“As a manager, I don’t know how I’d deal with that,’’ offered Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, hired in June 2006. “You try to serve the fans, but that’s taking the next step, boy. I guess the next step after that would be to let fans decide the player moves.’’
Check here if you’d like Terry Francona back as Sox manager. Are there enough No. 2 pencils in the Boston market?
Danny Ainge no doubt would survive his Celtics gig if open to a vote, although would we have said the same even as recently as the spring of 2007 when the Celtics finished a moribund 24-58? Not likely. Bill Belichick would be voted GM for Life in Foxborough. Or at least until Tom Brady retires. Let’s not forget, there is only one GM statue in town, that of Arnold Jacob Auerbach, and old Red himself might have had to try to buy a few votes to stay on the job during some of the lean years.
Along with season ticket-holders, Sounders fans can vote on Hanauer’s fate if they are members of the team’s “Alliance,’’ a high-end fan club that charges members $125 a year in dues. It doesn’t take a degree in sports management or even proof that you’ve ever been to a Sounders game to vote whether the hour’s up for Hanauer. Pay $125, wave a pennant, check a box, drink in the empowerment. I wonder if the concept will catch on with the Tea Party?
“That’s the beauty of our business,’’ Hanauer told the Times, taking the high road, knowing full well he could be railroaded out of his current job. “It’s 100 percent results-oriented. Either you win or you don’t.’’
Complete details on the voting, as well as a picture of a smiling Hanauer, can be found at SoundersFCvote.com. The Sounders are home on Sunday, as well as Oct. 17 and 21, with fans inside CenturyLink able to cast their votes for the 90 minutes leading up to game time, and also at the half. Each goal, no doubt, has Hanauer’s name on it.