Editor’s note: Story updated with comments from Adrian Hanauer’s press conference.
Tech is taking over soccer in Seattle.
An all-star roster of current and former technology executives from the Seattle area — including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — are joining a revamped Sounders FC ownership group, the club announced Tuesday.
There are 11 families, all with Seattle roots, putting their dollars behind the city’s professional soccer franchise, including:
- Nadella and his wife Anu Nadella
- Former Microsoft executive and current Madrona Venture Group partner Terry Myerson and his wife Katie Myerson
- Microsoft CFO Amy Hood and her husband Max Kleinman
- Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Experiences and Devices Joe Belfiore and his wife Kristina Belfiore, a former director of Microsoft Recruiting
- Former Microsoft senior exec and current Madrona Venture Group Managing Director Soma Somasegar and his wife Akila Somasegar
- Twilio Chief Product Officer and former Amazon/Google/Microsoft executive Chee Chew and his wife Christine Chew, a former Microsoft program manager
- Former Pandora and aQuantive CEO Brian McAndrews and his wife Elise Holschuh
The group also includes Seahawks star quarterback Russell WIlson and his wife, music star Ciara, along with Seattle hip-hop legend Macklemore and his wife Tricia Davis. FOX Sports exec David Nathanson and his wife Sabina Nathanson are also coming on as investors, as well as former SoftBank and Goldman Sachs exec Mark Agne and his wife Tomoko.
Sounders FC majority owner Adrian Hanauer, a longtime tech investor and entrepreneur in Seattle, will increase his investment in the club as part of the new ownership group with existing investors Paul Barry and Lenore Hanauer. Those three are part of a group called Hanauer Fútbol.
A SEC filing posted last week shows $58.6 million raised for “Seattle Futbol LLC” — that is the group associated with the new owners.
Drew Carey and Jody Allen, sister of the late Paul Allen, will continue as investors, while founding partner and Hollywood producer Joe Roth will depart.
“Today we begin another chapter in the story of Seattle Sounders FC, this proud club that means so much to so many people,” Hanauer said in a statement. “We are doubling down on this community and growing our local roots even deeper. Sounders FC was born right here in Seattle, and for more than 40 years, the club has forged a meaningful legacy that is deep and far-reaching. Today’s news is a testament to what our community has accomplished, as 11 new families have joined with the broader Sounders family as fans and invested stewards of our club.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Hanauer made it clear that “there is no new pot of money,” but rather Roth selling his equity to a group of new people. He noted that Roth owned 32.5 percent of the franchise; Carey owned 7.5 percent; and Hanauer owned 35 percent. “I have increased my stake, Drew has increased his stake — not insignificantly — and the rest of the ownership group has taken out the rest of it,” he said.
This club is ours, Seattle.
All of ours.
We’re proud to announce the growth of our #SoundersFamily ➡️ https://t.co/Qf1VIWxXol pic.twitter.com/Ond9NknBiv
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) August 13, 2019
Myerson, a longtime Microsoft executive who most recently led the Windows and Devices Group, was the “driving force” behind the new Seattle-focused group.
“My family loves the Sounders and couldn’t imagine them being owned outside Seattle,” Myerson told GeekWire on Tuesday.
Myerson detailed the journey of recruiting his former Microsoft colleagues and others from the Seattle community in a LinkedIn post. After an introduction from Microsoft board member John Stanton — who bought the Seattle Mariners from Nintendo in 2016 — Myerson met with Hanauer, who revealed that Roth was thinking about selling his equity. There was also interest from a California investment group that wanted to take control of the team.
That conversation spurred Myerson to learn more about the investment opportunity and help bring together the diverse group of new backers.
“I am honored to now be part of this club, with its great heritage, and so much future potential as a pillar of our great city of Seattle,” Myerson wrote. “Soccer has so much to offer all of us – lessons in teamwork, perseverance and hard work — and the opportunity for boys and girls, whole families, and friends to bond together across all walks of life and across generations. I look forward to the day when we bring our next championship home to Seattle, bringing together our entire Seattle community for a shared moment of pride and celebration.”
Somasegar, who led Microsoft’s developer division before joining Madrona in 2015, said the new owners all share a common thread: a passion for the Seattle community.
“We wanted to step up and do our part to make sure the Sounders continue to be Seattle-owned and Seattle-based and a Seattle-run organization for the Seattle people,” he told GeekWire in a phone interview.
Belfiore, corporate vice president of the “Essential Products Group” at Microsoft, told GeekWire that “my wife and I are massively enthusiastic about the way that sports can bring together a community – and the Sounders have been an amazing and growing part of Seattle’s identity.”
“We’re excited to help grow the organization and be a part of bringing the world-sensibility of soccer more strongly to the Northwest,” Belfiore added.
McAndrews, who led aQuantive from 1999-2007 before its $6.3 billion acquisition by Microsoft, said he and his wife jumped at the chance at playing a part in the future of the Sounders organization.
“We have been so impressed with what our friend Adrian Hanauer and the team have done in such a relatively short time, in terms of their impact on the soccer world and the Seattle community,” McAndrews said.
Hanauer will speak at a media event later this afternoon — stay tuned for more on GeekWire.
Update: Hanauer spoke to a group of reporters at the team’s event space in Pioneer Square. He said having the support of so many Microsoft leaders is “a tremendous statement to the profile of the Sounders and how much they care about keeping this organization locally-rooted and their commitment to community.”
Asked if the new owners got involved because of the growing intersection of sports and tech, Hanauer said he didn’t think their participation was anything beyond community and supporting the Sounders and the city.
“That said, they may not know it yet, but I intend to tap into every bit of knowledge that we can organically to help us think through what the next 10 years look like,” Hanauer added. “It is a changing landscape with media consumption, sports betting, how sponsors look to measure results and success, how fans are engaging in-game, different demographics within the fanbase. So for sure we will tap that knowledge.”
In regard to sports betting, which is becoming legalized in more and more U.S. states, the Sounders could look to Nathanson for help — the new owner and former Fox Sports exec sits on the board of FanDuel.
This isn’t the first Microsoft-Sounders connection. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant — via its Xbox arm — was the team’s jersey sponsor since the club’s debut in 2009, until earlier this year when Seattle-based online retailer Zulily took over sponsorship rights.
Hanauer said he’d love to have Microsoft as a partner again but said the new ownership discussions were completely unrelated.
Nadella, a cricket fanatic, joins former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — who bought the NBA’s L.A. Clippers for $2 billion in 2014 — as pro sports franchise owners. The late Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, owned the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, and the Sounders. Bill Gates, Microsoft’s other co-founder, does not have any reported sports team ownership stakes.
Ballmer sent a “Congrats!!!” tweet to Myerson on Tuesday.
— Steve Ballmer (@Steven_Ballmer) August 13, 2019
The Sounders were the third-most valuable Major League Soccer team as of November 2018, according to Forbes, at $310 million. MLS club valuations spiked 20 percent from 2017 to 2018, CNBC reported.
Seattle’s pro soccer team is the 29th-most attended club in the world, according to report from the International Centre for Sports Studies.
The other big tech giant in Seattle, Amazon, is not part of the new ownership group. However, Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy is a minority owner of the city’s new NHL franchise.