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By ESPN Staff

Microsoft to sponsor Seattle's new MLS team

SEATTLE -- Microsoft Corp. will become the naming sponsor for the Seattle Sounders FC when the expansion Major League Soccer team begins play in the 2009 season.

The world's largest software maker's Xbox 360 Live brand will be prominently displayed on the front of the Sounders' green and blue jerseys.

"Microsoft is the place to be in Seattle," Sounders co-owner Joe Roth said of the Redmond-based company.

"The big decisions are the critical decisions. They're the one's that matter," the Hollywood filmmaker added. "Seattle being the city turned out to be a critical decision, my partners turned out to be a critical decision, Microsoft coming in on the ground floor with Xbox, a critical decision. Now, we've got to put a team together."

Nearly a year from still taking the field, the franchise has checked off every major mark on its to-do list, from securing corporate sponsorship, to the creation of its own fan organization that will have the power every four years to vote out the current general manager if the team fails to perform.

Tod Leiweke, CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, a partner in the ownership group, said Wednesday the team has accepted deposits for more than 16,000 season tickets and is on pace to potentially own the largest season ticket base in the league.

The sponsorship deal with Microsoft for its video-game system is to last five years at a reported $20 million. Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, said the global scope of soccer, and the growth in the United States was key component in Microsoft's participation. The connection with a local sports franchise in its infancy, was important as well.

"It's the global sport, and all our employees, partners and customers are soccer fans it turns out when you go around the world," Bach said. "It's a great opportunity in a local way, to begin the process of connecting with that audience. And when you see what is happening with soccer in the United States, we know it's going to continue to grow and be a major sport. It's exciting to be in on the ground floor."

Microsoft will now join companies like Best Buy, Glidden and Herbalife paying to have their logos plastered across the chest of MLS team jerseys. Bach said proving that such a sponsorship is of value for the company and its employees was the biggest obstacle when past sponsorship proposals have popped up.

"Over five years, they're going to put a great product on the field, the league is going to continue to grow and we're going to look back and say it was absolutely the right step for us," Bach said.

Now the Sounders' challenge turns to filling out a roster that has only one signed player -- Sebastian Le Toux, who plays for the Seattle Sounders in the United Soccer League. General manager Adrian Hanauer has made recruiting trips to South American, Europe and Africa in recent months. The ownership group is open to signing a designated player, but wants any big name the team signs to be part of the Seattle community.

"We've had numerous conversations with other players, agents, scouts. We have short lists put together of players around the world, from designated players all the way down to backup players," Hanauer said. "We haven't made any decisions yet ... but we're getting things pretty well organized and we have a good idea how we want to build the team."

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