Z Speaker Series: Sounders FC Owner Adrian Hanauer

What does good business sense and a successful soccer team have in common? Turns out, quite a bit.

General manager, partial owner and founder of Seattle Sounders FC, Adrian Hanauer, stopped by Zillow headquarters to share how Sounders FC became, by many standards, the most successful Major League Soccer expansion franchise.

Hanauer said that many people ask him how the Seattle Sounders were able to garner the largest soccer fan base in the U.S. — with 60 percent more people at games than the second-most popular MLS team, and the title of the 40th-most popular team in the world. Not to mention, Seattle was the first team to win two consecutive Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships in 27 years and became just the second MLS expansion team to reach the playoffs and the first to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League in each of its first two years.

“To have a lot of success is multi-faceted,” explained Hanauer. “I would say it’s 20 things that count for 5 percent and we’ve managed to hit all 20 to get 100 percent.”

Among the 20 things, explained Hanauer, is a dedicated group of owners, which includes media businessman Joe Roth, Hanauer, Drew Carey and Paul Allen, with each bringing something different to the table. From there, the management team they employ is just as engaged, even though they also run the NFL franchise the Seattle Seahawks.

From there, Hanauer made a point to bring in athletes and coaching staff that had just the same level of engagement and commitment — bringing in “rock stars” that could lead the team to success, rather than younger, less expensive players and coaches that didn’t have the same experience.

Although the timing and general market was right, Hanauer and his team also made the decision to treat their fans as customers and work to involve the fans.

“Democracy in sports,” Hanauer said, “Or you could call it listening to your fans. At time fans feel helpless because execs appear to make decisions in a vacuum. [As owners,] we wanted to listen to our customers.”

Want to hear more from inspiring people like Hanauer in person? Check out Zillow’s jobs page — we’re hiring for several positions.