Ken Griffey Jr. loves Seattle as much as Seattle loves him.
Griffey became an icon in the city by starring for a decade with Major League Baseball's Mariners (1989-99). Despite moving on to play the rest of a 22-year Hall of Fame career with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox, in 2017 the Mariners honored the slugging outfielder by erecting a life-size statue of him outside T-Mobile Park.
Now Griffey is repaying the adulation Seattle has always shown him by joining two of its other mega-celebs－Seahwawks quarterback Russell Wilson and rapper Macklemore－in the ownership group of Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders, who face LAFC in the first round of the playoffs this week.
"Ken Griffey Jr. is a name that requires no introduction, whether in Seattle or across the sports world, and we couldn't be more proud to welcome Ken and his family into our club," Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer told ESPN on the weekend.
"As a lifelong resident of this great city, bringing someone like Ken into Sounders FC holds a special significance to me, as he is truly a part of Seattle sports' heart and soul.
"We value the contributions that he will add as a partner in our club and welcome him and his family with open arms."
Griffey said his involvement will be more than window-dressing for the franchise.
"I don't play games to be competitive, I play to win. I want the Sounders to be compared to the New York Yankees. Twenty-seven, 28 championships. That's what I want," he said in a statement released by the club.
"This is a meaningful day for our entire family. My wife Melissa and I said that we wanted to be a part of something special, not only for ourselves, but for our kids to be proud of, and this is it. We know how much this club means to Sounders fans, and for us. This comes back to the city where it all started for our family. We are joining a first-class organization, and we are so proud to give back to the city we love."
Meanwhile, former MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis told ESPN on the weekend that he thinks a merger between MLS and Mexico-based Liga MX would dramatically increase soccer's growth in North America.
"A league that encompasses North America, including Mexico, is something that would be a tremendous driver of interest," said Gazidis, who currently holds an executive position at AC Milan.
He played a vital role in the formation of MLS in 1996 and served as the league's deputy commissioner from 2001-08 before moving to Arsenal. A working partnership between MLS and Liga MX has been in place since 2018, but no formal discussions have been held regarding a potential merger.
The partnership produced the Campeones Cup, a one-off match between the winners of the MLS Cup and Liga MX's Campeon de Campeones, as well as the Leagues Cup, a four-team tournament held in Las Vegas. An All-Star match involving players from both leagues was planned for this summer but was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"MLS has more flexibility, probably because they don't have the kind of history and established structures that exist in European football and that are so difficult to change," Gazidis said.
"Obviously the CONCACAF Champions League already exists, but this could be developed in different ways … including a merger of the leagues."