By BRUCE CONSTANTINEAU
SEATTLE — Ask Drew Carey what Vancouver Whitecaps owners should do to ensure success in Major League Soccer in 2011 and he’ll hammer home one theme — listen to your fans. Really listen.
The 51-year-old TV personality, soccer fanatic and minority Seattle Sounders owner has become the Emerald City’s favourite soccer fan advocate this year. At his urging, Seattle’s new MLS team copied FC Barcelona by creating a fan alliance with the power to fire a general manager after four years if they don’t like the job he’s doing. A fan council meets with team owners four times a year to go over issues of mutual concern.
Give fans some power, Carey said. Engage them and watch the goodwill —and the revenues — grow.
“I tell you, the fan alliance that we have has been very successful and so has the council,” the funnyman said in an interview after the 2009 MLS Supporters Summit at Qwest Stadium. “I would steal those two ideas, I think everybody should. It’s a big leap to say the fans can vote out one of your key executives but it’s not such a bad thing. When it’s time for somebody to go, they should go.”
Carey doubts fans would ever make a blunder by turfing someone who didn’t deserve to go so he doesn’t think it’s that big a deal. “But if you don’t want to make that kind of leap, at least have a fan council. They give us great ideas and kind of take the pulse of the man on the street for us. I think everybody in sport should copy that. It’s just good business.”
When a Seattle supporter gushed at the summit about what a great caring owner Carey was, the entertainer gave him a reality check by admitting owners “like money.”
“Fans buy season tickets and they buy scarves and merchandise,” he said. “Without them, we’re out of business.”
Carey said the Sounders will consider working with its own travel agency to make it easier and more affordable for Seattle supporters to travel to away games. He also said when Vancouver and Portland join MLS in 2011, Seattle should consider buying a large number of season tickets in those stadiums and sell them to their own supporters to ensure they have a large contingent of Sounders fans in great locations.
“It’s an idea that might not happen but it’s a great idea, isn’t it?” he said.
Carey said he’s looking forward to the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland rivalry that will grow after 2011. “It will be the Triangle of Death — the greatest sports rivalry in the country,” he said.
The remark may have smacked of hyperbole but Carey’s passion for the beautiful game is genuine.
He only experienced his first live soccer game — a Los Angeles Galaxy match — in 2003 and saw his first live European game a year later when he flew to Glasgow to watch a Rangers-Celtic clash, one of the most intense rivalries the sport has to offer.
Carey will take six weeks off from shooting The Price is Right next summer so he can travel to South Africa to watch the 2010 World Cup.
He said the Sounders’ runaway success this year — easily leading MLS in attendance and making the playoffs in their first year — was helped by the mediocre play of other Seattle sports teams and the departure of the city’s NBA Supersonics.
“It was a bad year for Seattle sports fans and here comes soccer, with an ownership group committed to success and giving fans a voice,” Carey said. “It’s like a good looking person walking into a party that’s not happening. All of a sudden, the music goes up and the party starts.”
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