Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series on David Patey. The previous installment detailed Patey's purchase of Costa Rican team Club Sport Herediano. This installment deals with the unexpected celebrity that came with being an owner.
Near the end of 2012, the soccer team Club Sport Herediano was in a time of serious financial tribulation, and Herediano's ownership began to seek someone to buy the team.
David J. Patey and his brothers, Mike and Mark, fit the bill. David, 36, was born in Israel but raised in Utah. He is one of 11 children. In 2003, he moved with his wife and two children to Costa Rica primarily to learn Spanish, but also to run his company, Costa Rica Consultants, a firm that specializes in private, high-volume mortgage loans to the Costa Rican market. Since then, his family of four has grown to seven.
Business has been good to Patey — good enough that when the ownership of Herediano approached him, he was able to consider their offer seriously. After analyzing the deal, Patey, along with his U.S.-based brothers, decided to purchase the team. What Patey didn't realize at the time was that he was not only purchasing a soccer team, he was also purchasing instant celebrity.
Herediano is considered among the major soccer clubs in Costa Rica along with Liga Deportiva Alajuelense and Saprissa. The fact that a Spanish-speaking gringo was moving to buy the third-largest team in Costa Rica and the reigning national champions sparked a media frenzy, the likes of which he had never experienced nor is likely to experience again.
"The day after we signed an option to purchase," Patey said, "it leaked to the press that we had signed an agreement. At 10 in the morning, the heavily trafficked sports websites … reported 'American group signed purchase agreement on Herediano.' At noon, 'The Savior's name is David' is what the article said. At 12:30, 'David's a Mormon.' By 5:30, my LinkedIn page just exploded."
Patey went from a relatively unknown American to among the most-well known sports figures in Central America virtually overnight.
"I was in the mall actually," Patey said, "when I read the article that they knew my name and who I was. I turned to my wife and I said, 'This is the last time I'll ever walk in this mall and have the ability to simply say that no one knows who I am.'"
As news spread, incessant phone calls bombarded his home, his office, his wife and family. People found pictures of Patey on social media and photo sharing sites. Rumors spread throughout local media that Patey, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was not only the new owner of the club, but also the owner of the Mormon temple and leader of the LDS faith.
"They knocked on the door at the Mormon temple and asked, 'We understand that the owner of this temple is the owner of a soccer club. Can we talk to the owner please?'" Patey said.
With the volume of false information surrounding the sale of Herediano, Patey and the then-owners of the club called a press conference on Oct. 30, 2012 to clarify the facts. In that conference, Patey spoke of his background, his family and his intentions for the team to the media, to the fans, and to all of Costa Rica.
"I am a family man," Patey said. "I am a man who believes in transparency. I believe in God. … I love Costa Rica. I don't know anything about soccer. I have been a fan of Herediano since they won the championship. I saw grandparents, children, and mothers crying like babies. I understood the passion behind the yellow and red [of Herediano] at that moment, and I still do."
The response from the media at that conference was tremendous. The club's staff told Patey more cameras and reporters arrived at that press conference than any other in the history of the team.
"I was just a curious guy who thought it would be cool to own a soccer club," Patey said. "I had no idea (about) the public side of owners or managers or players in Latin American soccer, but I was extremely naive."
As public life became a reality for Patey, he made the conscious decision to make himself personally accessible to fans and media while keeping his family completely off limits. That decision has set him apart. It not only has drawn fans of his own club to him, but also the fans of other clubs.
"It's created a dynamic where not just the Utah State fans, but also the BYU and Utah fans, to use an example, are asking for more pictures and autographs and are just as grateful for me showing up to help the club," Patey said.
Patey has found ways to use his celebrity status to improve the atmosphere surrounding the sport and share his beliefs. He renegotiated the contract with the local television station to broadcast his team's home games on Saturdays rather than Sundays. Herediano is the only team in the Costa Rican league to do so.
"I told them, 'Look, if it's on Sunday, I'm not going to come, so put it on Saturday and let me come,'" Patey said. "Sunday's my day for my family, and I've always been really committed to that and have been able to maintain it so far."
Patey has also made a serious effort to decrease hostilities between fan bases and promote an atmosphere of friendly competition. Before and during home matches, he and the opposing president will walk among fans of both teams to shake hands and take pictures.
"We've been trying to do things that aren't normally done, and the people like that," Patey said. "Soccer, and sports in general, is to make friends. It's not to make enemies."
And Patey is making friends, a lot of them.
On Feb. 23, El Diário Extra, a major newspaper in Costa Rica, led its "50 questions on Saturday" series with the sentence: "It doesn't matter what team you cheer for, you just can't hate this guy." A quick glance at Patey's Facebook page shows Patey with local media, fans, friends, and all sorts of people, not all of whom have an allegiance to his club.
"We're trying to see if we can set a little more of an example on that side, and it's working really well."
Indeed it is.