Speaking to reporters at a celebration event on Seattle's central waterfront following news that the World Cup is indeed coming to the Emerald City, Hanauer said he had no inside knowledge and learned live on the FS1 broadcast along with everyone else.
With one of 11 US spots and placement in the western region secured, Hanauer reflected on a moment decades in the making for the Pacific Northwest, a region that didn't host any matches when the world's biggest soccer event previously came to the US in 1994.
"In '94 we just weren't quite there as a city to host, but 28 years has changed this city a lot," Hanauer said. "And obviously the industry and the arts and the infrastructure and the league thought-leadership, there's just so many areas where this area has become a leader: nationwide, North America, globally in some cases, not to mention an unbelievable soccer city. I think all of that together, in retrospect, probably made this a no-brainer. But it definitely didn't feel like a no-brainer at 2:14 today when I was watching on TV."
Seattle always made for a logical choice given the city's engrained professional soccer culture, stretching back to the Sounders' NASL days in the 1970s and 1980s. That history has helped turn Lumen Field into one of the highest-attended venues in MLS ever since the club's 2009 entry into the league, and there's more infrastructure investment coming when Sounders FC Center at Longacres, the club's state-of-the-art training facility and headquarters, opens in 2024. The NWSL's OL Reign also now call Lumen Field home, bringing that club into Seattle proper.
Nonetheless, Hanauer called hosting an event of this magnitude a surreal moment that went far beyond what he could have envisioned when he first became a managing partner for the Sounders in 2002, back when they were an A-League club.
"I guess I'd go back to 20 years ago: Never in a million years would I imagine running a soccer team," Hanauer said. "I dreamed of having a team in MLS but didn't know we'd be able to pull it off. The kind of winning we've done, winning championships, CCL Final – all of this, I kind of pinch myself occasionally to make sure it's real. Knowing our business, there's always something bad that's going to happen at some point here, that's just the nature of the beast. But for now, we're going to enjoy this moment, this evening. Certainly have visions and dreams of what 2026 will look like."
The ripple effects of the World Cup coming to the city remain to be seen, but Hanauer said he anticipates massive implications.
"The World Cup brings new fans to the game, it brings new investment to the game," he said. "We were going to build a new training facility anyway, but it allows us to maybe take a step back and pause and try to understand how this World Cup might impact what we're doing there. Again, I talk about legacy: Coming out the other end of this with more people having had an emotional legacy attached to the most important sporting event on the planet.
"Just to come out the other end of this with more people in the game. More people playing, more fans, and more people feeling connected and that will have ancillary benefits to the Sounders. ... Rising tides lift all boats and we anticipate trying to take the most advantage of that rising tide."
The Sounders are already drawing massive crowds at Lumen Field, with a standalone record 68,741 fans watching their historic CCL conquest over Liga MX's Pumas in May. That attendance figure fell just short of their MLS Cup 2019 total when 69,274 fans watched head coach Brian Schmetzer’s team defeat Toronto FC, 3-1.
As for next steps before the 48-team tournament arrives in four years, Hanauer said the host committee behind the bid will shift to an "organizing committee". Next week, meetings with FIFA representatives are scheduled in New York to begin ironing out all the necessary logistics.
"There are a lot of moving pieces, as you might imagine, to the biggest event on the planet," Hanauer said. "So, thankfully we've got four years to prepare for it."