So, I’ve been seeing lots of worry/paranoia/fear/terror and much gnashing of teeth over losing RSL President Bill Manning. I don’t think it’s unwarranted. But I also think it’s besides the point.
Can we talk frankly?
Bashing Del Loy Hansen as being someone who doesn’t know anything about soccer is not helping you out. Whether or not it’s true, he’s what we’ve got. We don’t have an ownership group of NBA All-Stars and Hollywood moguls. We don’t have an ownership group of tech giants and business entrepreneurs. We don’t have an ownership group that includes the New York freaking Yankees and Manchester freaking City.
We have Del Loy Hansen. We should be thanking our lucky stars that we do have Del Loy Hansen because he’s made it clear through his actions in the past 2 years that he is committed to investing money in Real Salt Lake.
He made it clear to the State (or tried to, anyway) that he was willing to use his own money to build a stadium for the Monarchs and a potential women’s team at the fairpark (a project that West Valley City was more than happy to sign up for when that fell through). He bought the largest video board in the league (until the Galaxy built a bigger one) so those of us on the north side of the field have a way to watch replays other than craning our necks backward to look at the north side board. He built the America First Pavilion, he’s brought in more food vendors, he’s initiated a process to build solar panels to offset power consumption at the stadium. He’s expanded the team store and there’s now a wider variety of merchandise you can get.
These things matter.
Don’t forget that soccer ownership is not a game where you make money. Very few owners/ownership groups (read: almost none) actually make money. This is documented. I would be surprised if RSL is breaking even. Certainly they are not if all the improvements I just mentioned are included. It’s not like “oh if we don’t build the video board, we can sign Gio dos Santos”, it’s not a matter of just shifting funds around. They are investments in the fan experience that are designed to spark interest in existing fans and reach potential new fans who might be interested (or more interested) in these things. They’re for your work friends that you take to their first game and they get there and say “hey, this stadium is pretty cool, this whole experience has been fun, I want to go to more RSL games.”
Believe me, the fan experience is not to be underestimated. It’s why I’m a season ticket holder and why I was hooked after the first game I went to even though we lost 0 – 5 to the Earthquakes.
Let me restate that last sentence: The fan experience is more important than team performance.
Anyone who is going to games just because the team is doing well is not the type of fan who will go to a lot of games. They will only ever go to games when certain conditions are met. The fans you want to hook are the ones who will go to games in spite of the team’s performance. Who will go regardless. Those are your product advocates. Those are the ones that will buy the swag. Those are the ones that will bring their friends, and when they bring their friends, they will drink beer or eat more or buy more swag, or make their friends feel bad because their friends don’t have RSL gear so they will buy swag.
This is what Del Loy is looking at. The team, the performance of the team, is always going to be a variable and he’s less interested in that. If RSL is doing well, Del Loy says great. If RSL is not doing well, Del Loy says okay. It doesn’t change his long-term vision of the organization.
Anyone who has ever been through an acquisition will know that 9 times out of 10, you can expect that the entirety of the upper management will be going and replaced by new upper management. Maybe the new owners didn’t like the old owners. Maybe the new owners have specific people in mind. Maybe they are trying to cut costs. Maybe they need to restructure the new organization because you’ve just combined two disparate organizations. Whatever the case, change is (usually) coming. Thinking it’s not is deluding yourself.
Del Loy isn’t the sole owner because he bought everyone out. He’s the sole owner because he’s the last man standing. Without Del Loy Hansen, we have no ownership group. Del Loy didn’t push (or buy) Dave Checketts out, Dave Checketts bailed and Del Loy is what’s left.
So, whether he knows soccer or not isn’t the point. And it’s not really the point of an owner anyway (even a hands-on one like DLH). The owner is the money. The presumption is that they know how to make it and they know how to generate it. If they are successful in those things, presumably they can do well for the team, but soccer team ownership is a losing game especially in a country that doesn’t have a soccer culture as strong as those in Europe and South America.
The fact that Bill Manning is no longer with the team is also not something to freak out about. Del Loy said that the position that Bill was occupying, basically, wasn’t the one he had signed up for when he took the job and I believe it. The league is bigger, the organization is bigger, and maybe the direction of the organization isn’t where Bill wants to go with it. I doubt that Del Loy just goes around dropping the guillotine on people but I suppose it’s possible. It’s business, after all. And in business, the first ones to go are the remnants of the old guard.
Any organizational change is going to have growing pains. Sure, RSL has had a long run of consistent competitive teams but you can’t say you didn’t see this season coming last year. The 2014 team and playoff run was not the 2013 team that made it to the MLS Cup and fought for a Supporter’s Shield. There was already a downward trajectory. The thing that we, as fans, can hope for is that the new organization works, that the new President (or whatever that position becomes) and all the other supporting roles that will be added to the front office work toward making the team better. Ultimately that’s in Del Loy’s best interest, too. Even if you can improve the fan experience to get those die hard fans who go to games when the team is in a slump, you still sell more tickets, more swag, more food, and more alcohol when the team is doing well. And you don’t get to be a real estate mogul without understanding investments and making moves to improve and capitalize on those investments.