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Wednesday, November 12, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks

Seahawks Q&A with Tod Leiweke, Seattle's fan man

Seattle Times staff reporter

After five home games, and with a sixth coming up on Sunday, Tod Leiweke is still trying to make the Seahawks the most fan-friendly organization in the NFL.

He accomplished that with professional hockey's Minnesota Wild, a major reason Seahawks owner Paul Allen created the chief-executive officer position and tabbed Leiweke for the post on June 25.

In a fan-interest survey conducted by ESPN earlier this year, Leiweke and his staff garnered top honors for best stadium or arena experience among 123 sports franchises.

Leiweke, 43, has 21 years of experience working in professional sports. He oversees the business end of the Seahawks, working with team president Bob Whitsitt, who handles football operations. Leiweke oversees sales and marketing, sponsorship, game operations and facility management for the Seahawks and Allen's First and Goal, Inc.

Just a few months into his job, Leiweke is trying to do for Seahawks Stadium and Seahawks fans what he did for the Wild and the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. It's a work in progress in a state-of-the-art facility with a team that has been drawing capacity home crowds for the first time in four years.

Leiweke says the changes in the fan atmosphere for games will be noticeable in due time, and although he wouldn't reveal what specifically is in store, he feels confident that the 12th man will appreciate the results of his venture.

Seattle Times: We've seen some new twists at games this year, such as the hawk and its handler and the raising of the big blue 12th-man flag before kickoff. What other nuances have been implemented at games to enhance fan experience?

Tod Leiweke: We think there's a great upside in what we can do for the fans. In the next 12 to 24 months, we like our chances of creating the best fan experience in the NFL. We've only just begun. There are wonderful traditions with this franchise. The NFL instituted a rule that penalized crowd noise, and that started in Seattle (at the Kingdome). Putting in the flag pole made a lot of sense. It's a big symbol of what we want to become.

ST: So the idea is to bring back a Seahawks hero of the past and have him raise the flag with the remaining original season-ticket holders from the inaugural season?

TL: Yes. They meet the players and I meet them, like (with) Curt Warner (at the last home game). I was thrilled to meet him and shake his hand. Curt Warner told me how passionate the fans were when he played and how the noise in the stadium was incredible.

ST: Will the hawk ever fly? It comes out with a handler but doesn't soar over the crowd.

TL: The hawk is a work in progress. It's symbolic of the things we're going to do in the next 12 months. There's so much more we're going to do.

ST: How do you use fan feedback from their game experience?

TL: There's a lot of things that have to happen. We've really reached out to our guest services staff (at the stadium). We've listened to them (fans) and done a lot of things to improve their environment, from parking spots for disabled fans to proper signs in the building.

ST: What's gotten the most response?

TL: We want to build an organization where our fans know they come first. I don't think it's time to beat our chest yet because a lot of what we want to do we have yet to roll out. I walk the concourses at every game. I've been up in the Hawk's Nest (bleachers in north end zone) every game. You have to understand where people are coming from.

ST: You accomplished quite a bit as president of the Wild. What were some of the things you did there?

TL: Some we're doing here. On a game day, we have north of 1,500 people working for the stadium. When you get a creature like that, it sort of feeds off itself. You can't just wave a wand. That's got to become a way of doing business. That's why Paul hired me.

ST: When you were hired, you talked about this team becoming community-based. How will you accomplish that?

TL: We want to create community on game days. A lot of stuff we're doing is planning. We're seen as leaders in the community. This offseason, we're doing things on behalf of the fans and stakeholders. We're making significant plans to turn our games into community celebrations.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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