Numerous soccer assets built by Dell Loy Hansen almost guarantee RSL isn’t going anywhere
In announcement that he was planning on selling RSL, Hansen indicated he’d do everything to keep team in Utah
SANDY — When Dell Loy Hansen announced Sunday morning his intentions to sell Real Salt Lake, buried in the third paragraph of his statement was a subtle line that should ease most of the worry fans have about the club leaving.
“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,” said Hansen.
It’s no guarantee, but in everything Hansen has said during his 11 years as either a minority owner or sole owner, he believes RSL is an important asset to Utah that he will likely do his best to ensure remains.
Buried deep in the MLS constitution is a bylaw that states an owner needs a two-thirds super majority vote of the board of governors to relocate from its home territory.
The many soccer assets that a sale of the team would involve makes it unlikely the team would go anywhere even after a sale. Those assets include Real Salt Lake, Utah Royals, Real Monarchs, Rio Tinto Stadium and the Real Salt Lake Academy in Herriman. It’s highly unlikely someone would purchase a stadium and an academy, which could account for upward of $150 million in the price tag, and then abandon those facilities.
“We’re open to anybody. The guys here are open to anybody who can make it happen. You’ve got everything you need here, all the infrastructure,” said Kyle Beckerman during a Zoom call with reporters Monday afternoon.
Beckerman was very critical of Hansen and his ownership style during the interview, and suggested his focus on money and not winning held the team back.
Every year Forbes publishes an evaluation of the what MLS franchises are worth, and in its most recent publication in November it valued RSL at $235 million, which ranked 19th out of 24 teams in MLS. That value does not include Rio Tinto Stadium, or any of Hansen’s other soccer ventures in Utah.
It’s not unheard for an MLS team to relocate, but it’s certainly uncommon. In Phase 2 of MLS, which is realistically the era beginning in 2005 when the league expanded to 12 teams with Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA, only one franchise has relocated.
San Jose’s owners moved the team to Houston after the 2005 season because it couldn’t secure a soccer-specific stadium, but MLS awarded a different ownership group with a franchise in San Jose, which began play again in 2008.
Chivas USA folded in 2014, but MLS simply absorbed the franchise and sold it to a different ownership group which kept the team in Southern California and renamed it Los Angeles FC.
In 2017, former Columbus Crew owner Precourt Sports Ventures threatened to relocate the franchise to Austin because of the lack of support to get a new stadium built. After a year-long community-led effort to save the team, Precourt Sports Ventures agreed to transfer operating rights to a new ownership group committed to keeping the club in Columbus — and building a new stadium.
Precourt Sports Ventures was awarded operating rights to a different franchise, which was still placed in Austin, with the expansion franchise joining MLS next season.
Only one local buyer has stepped up and publicly expressed interest in purchasing the club. Ryan Smith, founder and CEO of Qualtrics, tweeted out last Thursday when someone asked him to buy the club, “I’m in.... they got my number.”
The Smith family sold Qualtrics to SAP in 2018 for $8 billion.
The Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment company has been rumored as another potential local buyer.
In the 15 years since RSL joined MLS, the league has more than doubled in size from 12 teams to its current 26 teams. Franchises have been awarded to four more cities since then: Austin (2021), Charlotte (2022), St. Louis (2023) and Sacramento (2023).
The start date for Charlotte, St. Louis and Sacramento was pushed back a year because of COVID-19.
Other cities with ownership groups that have expressed interest in an MLS expansion franchise include Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.
Despite what may be interest from out-of-state buyers, it’s extremely unlikely MLS would allow any new owner to leave a market that’s been a strong one relative to its population for the past 15 years, and that has all the necessary facilities right now.