SEATTLE – It was supposed to be a simple assignment for the Travel Channel: go to Spain and document the passion and simmering animosity in the rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.
Drew Carey didn’t anticipate becoming so enamored of the Barcelona organization that he’d go to the lengths of becoming a part owner in the MLS just to bring those same values and structure back to American sports.
“It’s not just Barcelona, but the original idea came from the Barcelona model. It’s the Barcelona model in spirit,” Carey said of the structure for the Seattle Sounders FC, the team Carey co-owns. “They are so infused with the community there … . It’s not just selling tickets to a soccer game. It’s being part of the community.”
In a stroke of pure coincidence, Carey’s favorite international side – the reigning champs of Europe – will bring arguably the best club team in the world to Seattle for an exhibition tonight against Carey’s Sounders.
For Barcelona, it’s another step in the preseason preparations for trying to match last year’s remarkable accomplishment of winning three of Europe’s most prestigious titles – the Champions League, and Spain’s La Liga and Copa Del Rey. Barcelona opened its three-stop tour of the United States with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday at the Rose Bowl and finishes off its brief trip with a match on Sunday against CD Chivas de Guadalajara in San Francisco.
“We’re here to win, and we’re here to work and we’re going to try and win as we did last year,” Barcelona striker Thierry Henry said.
Seattle will be hosting its second international exhibition in less than three weeks after facing Chelsea on July 18 in a 2-0 loss. This match has a little more meaning for Carey.
It was 2006 when Carey documented the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, and during his time in Spain, Carey became enamored of the Barcelona organization. Carey liked the simplicity where fans could walk up to a plain chain-link fence and watch some of the best players in the world practice. He reveled in FCB’s scope and connection in the community.
And that was before he learned about the unique management structure, where the supporters of the team own the right to vote out those in charge if they become dissatisfied with the club’s direction. So Carey started researching the history and structure of Barcelona. He became focused on bringing those ideas back to American sports.
“It was tough to find out stuff and I don’t speak Spanish,” Carey said in a phone interview last week. “They have a library and a guy with white gloves will open up documents for you. (But) mostly it was a lot of asking around.”
Luck played a part too. Carey shared an attorney with Hollywood producer Joe Roth, who was also obsessed with owning an MLS team. Eventually, Carey and Roth were paired up with Adrian Hanauer and Paul Allen’s Vulcan organization to become the ownership group for the Sounders.
But Carey was adamant two things needed to be done in order for him to be involved: the organization must have a band and those who join the Sounders members alliance will have the power to help determine the direction of the team.
That means in November 2012, Hanauer – who is also the general manager – will have his GM job at stake.
“The fan being able to get rid of Adrian, that is in the back of our mind with every decision we make. When you have that kind of thing, it’s hanging over your head,” Carey said. “These are people we have to kiss their butts to keep them happy or they’re going to get rid of Adrian. The fans really have not ultimate power, but a lot of power for fans in the United States. It’s always in the back of everyone’s mind.”
Carey’s team could be short-handed for a match that lands in a difficult stretch of MLS competition. Midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, a one-time teammate of Henry at Arsenal, might not play as he continues recovering from a migraine that sent Ljungberg to the hospital following last week’s MLS All-Star game. Ljungberg practiced for the first time Tuesday, but coach Sigi Schmid said the priority is making sure Ljungberg is healthy for Saturday’s game against Real Salt Lake.