Seattle officially awarded MLS franchise

Nov 13, 2007 - 9:05 PM SEATTLE (Ticker) - Seattle may be losing its NBA team, but it was added to the Major League Soccer map on Tuesday.

MLS commissioner Don Garber officially announced that Seattle will field a team in MLS beginning in 2009, which will become the league's 15th franchise.

The new franchise will be owned by Hollywood executive Joe Roth in partnership with Vulcan Sports and Entertainment - Paul Allen's company which owns the Seattle Seahawks - Seattle Sounders managing partner Adrian Hanauer, and comedian Drew Carey.

"The world's game is coming to Seattle, and Seattle is going to represent this region in the world's game," said Tod Leiweke, CEO of Vulcan.

The group reportedly paid a $30 million expansion fee to join the league, suggesting remarkable inflation as interest in MLS blossoms. Toronto FC, which joined the league in 2007, paid a $10 million fee while the San Jose Earthquakes, which will launch in 2008, paid a $20 million fee.

Garber said the league is seeking a 16th franchise to join alongside Seattle in 2009 - likely to be either St. Louis or Chester, Pennsylvania - while two more teams could be added by 2011.

Roth admitted he took a roundabout route to Seattle, going to New York to visit Garber with a plan to launch a new franchise, without having a clear idea where.

"He pointed me to the North West," Roth said. "I looked a Portland and Vancouver, and I think they will be sensational cities for soccer, but I really fell in love with Seattle. It's an intelligent, smart, sophisticated, non-conformist city that will really embrace soccer."

Garber hailed it as "an historic day for soccer in North America", pointing to Seattle's ability to provide "a gateway to Asia".

Roth is certainly already thinking that way.

"We want to be a gateway to the east, we look at China, Japan, and Korea and we want to go and play there, and maybe bring in a player who has the same impact on the city of Ichiro (Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners' Japanese outfielder) does."

The new team hopes to tap into the rich soccer tradition in Seattle, where the Sounders were first formed in 1974 as a North American Soccer League franchise. After the league folded in 1983, the Sounders returned to play in the United Soccer League, where they have won the First Division in two of the last three years including 2007.

Hanauer will become the new general manager of the team, but may need to be concerned about his long-term job security.

Carey has revealed the club will encourage fan involvement in top level decisions, allowing those who buy a $100 membership in the club to vote on whether to retain the general manager every four years. Hanauer will "wear a target on his back" Roth joked.

Hanauer said that the MLS competition committee had agreed that the new franchise would be able to sign up some of the existing Sounders squad. The Sounders will play their final season in the USL in 2008. Hanauer also said current Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was "high on the list of candidates" to coach the new team.

However, it is not clear if the new team will also adopt the Sounders name as originally expected.

"The vision for this team is for a truly international brand, an authentic team and an authentic brand," Hanauer said. "The name will reflect that. We don't have a name yet."

Fans will be able to suggest names via the website.

The team will play at the Seahawks' Qwest Field, a facility that was built 10 years ago with the aid of state finance given on the basis of a deal to bring an MLS franchise to the city.

While MLS has made a move to have all its teams play in soccer-specific stadium, Garber said Qwest Field would not present a problem because the real concern was to have teams playing in facilities they had control over, rather than renting.

Vulcan's ownership stake gives the franchise that control. The lower bowl of Qwest Field seats 24,500.

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