Last year, Katie Harnetiaux was working in her family’s Seattle-area home when her husband Ryan popped his head in the door and said, “I think I’m going to buy a soccer team.”
“But then he tells me, ‘You know it’s all fine, because it’s going to be in Spokane,’ ” Katie said.
Why did Ryan and Katie decide to lead the ownership group of Spokane’s new United Soccer League franchise?
A better question might be: How could they not?
Ryan is a former top-level amateur player with a background in portfolio and asset management. Katie has spent most of her career in marketing and branding, most recently at Amazon as the head of North American marketing.
Better yet, both have deep ties to the Inland Northwest.
In fact, the Harnetiaux family is poised to be part owners of three Spokane-based USL teams: a men’s League One squad and two women’s teams, pro and amateur.
In the spring of 2024, they’re planning to kick off a new era in Spokane sports in the new downtown stadium.
And though there’s plenty of work ahead, that date can’t arrive soon enough. Katie believes that will fall on April 1, which happens to be Ryan’s birthday – no fooling.
Ryan smiled at the thought.
“I think it will be crazy,” he said. “It will be emotional, and I think, shocking to people.
“This is a sports town, and not just because of Gonzaga. Spokane gets behind sports, and that’s why it made sense for us as an investment.”
Potential sponsors have reached out, and according to the Harnetiauxes, the club has about 2,300 season ticket deposits. Those will be converted into season ticket packages.
At that point, fans will be able to choose between tickets for the men’s or women’s professional teams.
The franchise expects to sell about 3,500 season tickets, leaving 2,000 for walk-up fans.
In the meantime, there will be plenty of work to do. The club must build a headquarters, with at least 20 offices, a fan shop “and a place for fans to hang out,” Katie said.
“Marketing and branding, which I love; that’s my passion,” she said.
That can happen only after the parties are putting the final touches on a contract with the Spokane Public Facilities District, Spokane Public Schools and the USL. The school district owns the stadium, while the facilities district manages it.
That it’s happening at all is a long story that goes back to 2018, when the school district floated a $495 million dollar bond for new schools. Of that amount, $31 million was earmarked for a new stadium.
Now the burden will fall on Katie and Ryan Harnetiaux, and they are eager for the task.
They certainly have the energy.
On a recent Friday afternoon, they met with potential sponsors and officials from the school district before catching an evening play at the Spokane Civic Theatre.
That same night, they drove back to Seattle to catch their son play in a youth football game.
Their ties to Spokane are strong. Katie attended Hutton Elementary School, as well as Lewis and Clark High School, while Ryan attended Gonzaga Prep.
Growing up three blocks from each other, they met during high school when they were summer counselors at YMCA Camp Reed.
The Harnetiauxes already spend much of their time in Spokane. Ryan’s parents live here, and his father is a playwright-in-residence at the Spokane Civic Theatre. The couple have three children: the oldest, a daughter, is a senior at Gonzaga University, the middle is a freshman football player at the University of Washington and their youngest is in eighth grade.
When the latter graduates from high school, the couple says there’s a good chance they will move back to Spokane.
When it comes to soccer, Ryan is returning to his roots. As a youth, he played forward for the Skyhawks and traveled to Europe. He also coached in college and did the same with another Skyhawks team.
And naturally, he coached his children.
“Sports has always been a metaphor for life in our household,” Ryan said. “Mostly, it’s been about losing and being challenged.”
His interest was piqued last fall, then boosted again when the USL was awarded the Spokane franchise over a late challenge from Brett Sports.
By the time the official announcement was made in early October, Ryan and Katie had begun to carve out their vision.
“For fans, it’s going to be something that Spokane has never had before,” Ryan said. “To have it downtown, it’s going to be loud and fun, and with no track (around the field), you’re going to be right there.
“It’s also going to integrate with the international community, to those who have a strong affinity for soccer in their home country.”
“It’s the world’s game, and it can come to life,” said Katie, who added that the promise of a women’s pro team was another incentive to invest.
Another goal is to boost sports opportunities for underprivileged children in Spokane – “to make sure they have shin guards and cleats and the things they need,” Katie said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.