SEATTLE -- Major League Soccer has granted an expansion franchise to Seattle that will begin playing at Qwest Field in 2009 and will be owned in part by Paul Allen, the Microsoft Corp. co-founder.
"I can confirm that commissioner Don Garber is going to travel to Seattle for an announcement Tuesday of the expansion of Major League Soccer for the future into the Seattle market," Dan Courtemanche, MLS senior vice president for marketing and communications, said Friday by phone from league headquarters in New York.
Gary Wright, a spokesman for First and Goal, Inc., the subsidiary that operates Qwest Field for Allen's Vulcan, Inc., said Allen will be one of the team's owners. Allen already owns the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL, who play at Qwest Field, and the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.
Adrian Hanauer, owner of the Seattle Sounders of the United Soccer Leagues, confirmed Friday night that he and Joe Roth, a Hollywood mogul, will be the other owners of the new team.
"[It's] been a lot of hard work, but something the city deserves," Hanauer said.
Roth will own the majority share.
Vulcan Inc., spokesman Michael Nank confirmed the new MLS team, which has been rumored for months, will begin play in Qwest Field during the '09 MLS season. League seasons run from April into November.
Nank pointed out that the $430 million stadium, which has a playing surface of synthetic Field Turf and opened in 2002, was specifically designed for both football and soccer. The dual use was one of the selling points made to secure $300 million in public money that funded the stadium's construction. The Sounders, of the second-tier USL, currently play many of their games in the 67,000-seat facility.
Seattle will be the 15th team in MLS. The league is bringing a team back to San Jose, Calif., for the 2008 season to balance its conferences with seven teams each. MLS has stated its intention of expanding to 16 teams in the next few years.
This will be the first time the highest level of professional soccer in North America has a had a team in Seattle since the original Sounders played in the North American Soccer League from 1974 until the team folded in 1983.
The reborn Sounders have been one of the top franchises in the United Soccer Leagues, winning four league championships in the last 12 years -- including in 2005 and again this past season.
Hanauer would not comment on whether the Sounders would continue to operate in the USL after the new MLS team arrives, saying there will be more on that at Tuesday's news conference.
Allen's effort included a $30 million expansion fee to MLS for Seattle's newest major professional sports franchise, which apparently will replace its oldest. The SuperSonics of the NBA are in court with the city over that team's attempt to buy out the final two years of its Seattle lease and move to Oklahoma City in 2008. Even if the Sonics lose their case, they plan to leave Seattle when their lease ends in 2010.