2006 – Around the World and Close to Home
Convicted of crimes against humanity in an Iraqi court, former leader Saddam Hussein is hanged while sectarian violence continues to wrack the country, President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair express regret for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, Pluto loses its status as a planet, and Italy defeats France, 1-1 (5-3) in the World Cup final marred by Zinedane Zidane’s headbutt of Marco Materazzi. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that prisoners are not subject to military tribunals in place of fair trials, Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion, and Warren Buffet donates $30 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Seattle Seahawks make their first Super Bowl appearance, falling to Pittsburgh, after 103 years, the Old Cascade Lumber Company in Yakima closes, leaving 225 workers jobless and the TransAlta open-pit coal mine outside Centralia ceases operation, with 550 laid off.
Galacticos Descend Upon Seattle
What had been a relatively sleepy summer of soccer suddenly burst to life on a grand scale. The defending A-League champion Sounders were struggling, and interest had plateaued when owner Adrian Hanauer took a timely call from Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke.
It was late July, and Real Madrid was set to play an exhibition in Salt Lake but was seeking a second match before returning home. The question: Would Seattle be interested in hosting, and could they pull it off in less than three weeks? Hanauer and Rick Cantu, a fellow Sounders investor, quickly huddled. They had promoted a friendly involving Mexico’s Club America earlier in the season and being a couple of locally raised entrepreneurs with a love for the game, they dearly wanted to stage something special, something that would bring the soccer community together in a big, big way. Said Cantu: “For me it was an easy, no-brainer decision.” Hanauer: “I ran the calculations, and it seemed like a makeable putt.” Yes, emphatically yes, they would host.
There was financial risk. Support for the Sounders and occasional international events was rather tepid. Only once since Manchester United met Celtic in 2003 had there been an attendance in excess of 20,000, and the Man United match was announced eight months in advance. But Cantu, whom Hanauer terms more risk-tolerant than himself, was confident the community would come out in droves.
“We were just coming off the World Cup, and Real Madrid had five players who were captains of their national team,” he said. “It was a tremendous opportunity,” adding he saw no downside, no true risk.
On July 25, the matchup of Real Madrid versus D.C. United was announced. Tickets went on sale the following day, exactly two weeks before the August 9 game. They would be priced $30 to $125, which was far outside the scale of recent games. However, in David Beckham there was appeal reaching far beyond just soccer fans Beckham was an international brand unto himself and a cultural icon whose face was instantly recognizable. Combine that with the likes of Spain’s Raul, Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro, Brazil’s Roberto Carlos and Holland’s Ruud van Nistelrooy, and it truly was an array of Galacticos, and they proved irresistible.
Within a week, without any huge advertising 50,000 seats had been sold, and any notion of Cantu and Hanauer taking a loss had vanished. Ticket sales were still going strong. By the time the temporary sod was being rolled out at Qwest Field, seat inventory was minimal.
When Real Madrid travels, the party extends far beyond those on the field. In all, there were some 80 players, coaches and staff. They kept Hanauer and Cantu busy right up until the gates opened on that sweltering midsummer evening, these kids from Kent and Mercer Island meticulously affixing name tags of VIPs to seats in the Tribune of Honor. As the Galacticos exited the field from pregame warm-ups, Beckham was introduced to Hanauer and Cantu. The frantic prelude had given way to a peaceful, rewarding couple of hours to breathe it all in.
“Unlike a Sounders game, when my stomach hurts every minute of the game, I didn’t care about the result (a 1-1 draw), and I remember enjoying the moment,” shared Hanauer.
The attendance of 66,830 represented a new record for the Pacific Northwest and the third-largest throng in America for 2006. Who knows, perhaps it also provided that final push, that impetus for Major League Soccer’s onset in Seattle 15 months later. Clearly, it again reminded everyone of the region’s potential for supporting a top-level professional organization.
“There were some pretty cool moments, and I remember sitting there with my wife and kids, watching together. For us, a couple of local kids that grew up in the area,” said Cantu, “it was something incredible, to be able to contribute to the game in a later stage of our lives.”