And he stole the show.
Not for his one-liners, but for his innovative ideas. After he completed his conference duties, Carey sat down to talk with us about how the Sounders were able to quickly establish a loyal fan base, set MLS records for attendance, and make the playoffs in each of their first three years of existence.
Fans can fire the GM
While Carey was on assignment in Spain for the Travel Channel, he caught wind of an idea that he couldn’t shake. He learned that Spanish Premier League clubs (hugely popular soccer teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona) held elections where they voted for club president and members of the board. Essentially, fans voted in key members of the club’s front office.
From then on, it was Carey’s goal to be a part of the MLS in an ownership capacity, “specifically to bring the idea of fans being able to vote on ownership and management.” He pitched his idea to the Sounders’ majority owner, Hollywood producer Joe Roth, and joined the team as minority owner. In the time since, they’ve implemented a version of this system in Seattle. Every four years, their members association holds an election. Fans can get rid of the GM, says Carey, and if that happens the owners “hire somebody they think is appropriate.” The first vote for the franchise will take place in November 2012. Additionally, if at any time25 percent of fans sign a petition, an off-year election will be held where the GM can be removed.
While common in Spain, this is quite the innovation for American sports. Sure, what fan wouldn’t want to have a say in his or her team’s operations? But pitch the idea to sports executives and they become understandably uncomfortable — after all, they might be the very ones on the chopping block. “I’d never hire a sales person who wouldn’t work on 100-percent commission,” Carey says, so why should a sports executive feel any less accountability for performance?
Show me the trophy
Fan engagement is part of a much larger strategy for Carey and Roth. In each of their first three years in the MLS, the Sounders made the playoffs for the Open Cup tournament, the longest-standing soccer tournament in the United States. And then they went on to win the Open Cup in 2009, 2010 and 2011. “Our goal is to win the MLS Cup all the time, and we’re disappointed when we don’t,” says Carey. But like any savvy businessman, he quickly adds, “we also want to make money.”