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Dell Loy Hansen to sell Real Salt Lake, Utah Royals FC, Real Monarchs

Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen speaks as the team introduced Craig Harrington as it new head coach at a press conference at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen speaks as the team introduced Craig Harrington as it new head coach at a press conference at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SANDY — Dell Loy Hansen always considered himself a good-luck charm for Real Salt Lake after buying a minor stake in the team from Dave Checketts during the 2009 MLS Playoffs — which RSL went on to win.

That self-professed good luck has run out.

Eleven years after joining RSL and seven years after buying out Checketts as sole owner, Hansen announced his intentions Sunday that he will sell the club after the most tumultuous week in franchise history.

In a letter released by the organization, Hansen expressed remorse over comments he made Thursday criticizing players for following athletes around the country by not playing Wednesday night. That came after the shooting last Sunday of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“After deep consideration and soul-searching, my wife Julie and I agree that the best way forward for the Real Salt Lake family is to assume new ownership and a refreshed vision,” Hansen wrote. “We are fully invested in supporting the transition to new ownership and will work diligently to try to ensure that the Club stays within our community.

“We will support the organization and its employees in moving quickly so as to minimally disrupt this season and allow new ownership adequate time to plan for the 2021 season.”

Technically, according to an announcement from Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, Hansen will sell Utah Soccer Holdings, the entity that owns RSL, Utah Royals FC of the National Women’s Soccer League and the Real Monarchs of the USL Championship.

On Thursday, the morning after his players joined teams across the country by boycotting a home match at Rio Tinto Stadium in which 5,000 fans were to attend, Hansen went on one of the radio stations he owns and criticized the players for their decision.

The backlash from those comments unfolded quickly, and not just locally but nationally. Later that day, The Athletic published a story that included multiple instances of alleged racial comments, which MLS announced it would immediately investigate. The NWSL announced a short time later that it would do likewise.

On Friday, Hansen announced he was taking a voluntary leave during the investigation — no doubt to clear the way for RSL to play its game at Portland on Saturday night without incident.

Real Salt Lake went on to earn an improbable 4-4 draw in that match, scoring twice in the final five minutes.

While Hansen expressed Sunday his desire to sell to a group that will keep RSL in Utah, with a price tag in the hundreds of millions, the list of potential buyers is small.

The average MLS franchise is worth $313 million, according to a Forbes 2019 report, and the most recent expansion team was awarded to Sacramento with an expansion fee of $200 million. Forbes valued RSL at $235 million in last year’s report, which ranked 19th out of 24 teams.

For perspective, when Checketts was awarded an expansion team for Utah in 2004, his expansion fee was $10 million.

The $1 million check that Checketts wrote to Garber to secure the franchise is well-documented.

Hansen will depart the club with a tainted reputation after the report in The Athletic. That report, combined with his criticism of his own players, had many fans announcing on social media they were canceling their season tickets, with #DLHOUT becoming a popular hashtag.

Hansen even said himself during a second radio interview Thursday afternoon that he’d lost $3 million in sponsorship dollars in the previous six hours.

Hansen had no sports management background when he joined RSL, but he ran a very successful real estate business with Wasatch Property Management, Inc. When he joined RSL in 2009, reports indicated the value of his assets was $1.2 billion, but in recent years his roughly 40 business ventures were believed to be valued at nearly $4 billion by some estimates.

While extremely successful in real estate, many wondered if he had the knowledge to run a successful sports franchise, and his management has been a sore spot with fans over the past decade.

He failed to resign Jason Kreis as head coach after the 2013 season and Garth Lagerwey as general manager after the 2014 season. Even this year during his search for a new head coach, it’s been reported that he lowballed Kreis in contract negotiations after Kreis expressed interest in rejoining RSL.

Lagerwey’s replacement, Craig Waibel, mutually agreed to part ways toward the end of last season after statements attributed to him in former coach Mike Petke’s suit of the team indicated Waibel planned on leaving at the end of the season anyway (Petke had sued RSL over the balance of his remaining contract after he was fired last year following the alleged use of a homophobic slur toward a referee).

That lawsuit claimed that Waibel said, “It’ll be at the end of the year, because I also don’t think Dell Loy should ever be rewarded for who he is.”

That lawsuit between Petke and RSL was settled out of court in April.

While Hansen wasn’t always the most popular owner with fans, he made numerous upgrades to Rio Tinto Stadium to enhance the fan experience — including the 4,200 square-foot video board at the south end of the stadium.

Additionally, in 2014, Hansen started the Real Monarchs, an affiliate for RSL that won the USL Championship title in 2019. Then in 2017, he bought the NWSL franchise, which had folded in Kansas City. In a league in which many owners fail to invest adequately in their clubs, Hansen was a leader.

Most notably, he financed this summer the league’s Challenge Cup in Utah, which became the first team sporting event to occur in the United States in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Mr. Hansen’s contributions to the league’s growth and the continued development of soccer are notable, but we agree that the decision is the right one for the future of the Royals,” NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said in a statement Sunday. “We look forward to supporting the Royals players and staff and will assist the ownership transition in every way possible.”

While Hansen was willing to invest in infrastructure, including the $78 million Real Salt Lake Academy in Herriman, there seemed to be a hesitancy to invest too much in player salaries.

Andy Williams, the former head scout of RSL who was laid off in April, had some harsh words about Hansen in an interview with KSL Sports last Thursday.

“He’s never invested in the team. He doesn’t spend. Scouting doesn’t exist. I don’t go anywhere, my staff doesn’t go anywhere. We watch soccer like everybody else on the TV. ... He doesn’t invest in scouting, he’s not trying to improve the team to currently. He’s trying to spend the least money as it is to survive, which is sad. The fans here deserve a lot better,” Williams said.

A full transcript of that interview is on the fan website, RSL Soapbox.

While Williams said Hansen was hesitant to invest in scouting, when the MLS Players Union announced its 2019 salaries, RSL ranked 13th out of 24 teams in MLS in 2019 base player salaries at $10.4 million.

Many of the 11 teams that RSL spent more on in player salary hail from much bigger markets, including New York City FC, Philadelphia, Colorado, FC Dallas, Houston and New York Red Bulls.

With back-to-back MLS playoff appearances, RSL is looking like a playoff-caliber team again in 2020, which should be attractive to potential buyers.