Is he a good owner?
There are understandable tensions in the RSL community over him due to the loss of Jason Kreis and the looming potential to lose Garth Lagerwey after this season.
This is almost a taboo topic amidst the RSL media. Various members have their views, but few will broach them, even in private. Candidly, I’ve never been good at keeping my mouth shut. So I’m just going to come out with my opinion.
Admittedly, this is a touchy issue, and it is one that many will have strong feelings about. Please just hear me out. I’ve been following this situation as closely as anyone for over a year now. My view has matured over time, but I think I have a good grasp on things.
My view is that RSL is better off with Dell Loy Hansen as its owner than it was with Dave Checketts. From a financial perspective, this is simply a statement of fact. But I actually think the team will be better off on the field long-term as well.
I know that many of you disagree with this statement. Please allow me to explain my thinking and the journey it took me to get here.
Change is Hard
On January 24, 2013 I attended a press conference at Rio Tinto Stadium in which Dell Loy was introduced as the new sole owner of the club. I had a one-on-one interview with the commissioner of the league and joked with Garth Lagerwey before and after the announcement. It was a big day for me as a reporter. But the conversation I really wanted to have was with RSL President Bill Manning. While many were excited at the news, I was skeptical.
Ownership groups make or break franchises. Dell Loy clearly loved the team, but he wasn’t Dave Checketts. RSL had been so successful under Checketts that the change was nerve wracking.
I pushed Bill pretty hard, asking him how the new ownership group would change things. A dutiful employee, he told me that this would provide extra finances for the club and the potential for big name signings if the club wanted them. He genuinely seemed comfortable with the change, so my concerns were assuaged for a time.
But by May I knew the Jason Kreis contract situation was not going well. The press hadn’t really reported it yet, and (as a blogger) I was loathe to start the conversation with an article on the subject. (As a note, I’ve since overcome such concerns, which is why this article exists.)
By MLS Cup, everyone in the media knew Jason was leaving. I went so far as to privately pull him aside and thank him after the game. I knew. Everybody knew.
The Exclusive Interview
I approached Dell Loy Hansen for an exclusive one-on-one interview following the announcement of Jeff Cassar as Jason’s replacement. Rather than focus on the news of the day, I jumped ahead and asked the next big question. What about Garth? His contract expires after the 2014 season. Will he be back?
I asked, fearful that I already knew the answer and somewhat angry with Dell Loy for letting Jason walk. I jumped the gun, overcorrecting for my hesitance to cover the Jason Kreis story. I’m sure the RSL press office wasn’t happy, but I ran the interview anyway.
You can listen to the full interview here. I strongly recommend it. In it Dell Loy revealed that the club wants Lagerwey back, but that Garth is interested in being a club president. Given that reality, Dell Loy said it wasn’t likely that Garth will re-sign.
That’s fair, and it understandably sent some shock waves through the media. But I think just reading that headline does Dell Loy and the situation a disservice. In the interview, Dell Loy explained what he was going to do and how he approached the situation.
That’s where he won me over.
(Here is the full audio of the interview…)
The Jazz Analogy
Dell Loy didn’t mention the Jazz specifically, but I’ve thought a lot about them ever since. I think many Utah fans have learned the wrong lesson from the Jazz. They remember the disappointing failures in the early 1980s, the two NBA Finals runs with John Stockton, Karl Malone, and Jerry Sloan, and the collapse of the club and its failures thereafter. But they don’t think much about how the club got where it is.
What has become evident over the last 10 years is that the Jazz organization is a substandard one that was dragged to success by a few transcendent personalities: Sloan, Malone, and Stockton. The team has been really slow to accept modern analytics. For example, in spite of what every stats guru suggests, the team it doesn’t take enough three pointers and fouls way too much. Jazz fans are finally realizing this truth after another disappointing season.
The Jazz didn’t leverage nearly two decades of success into building a world class organization. Rather, they took the route of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic: whining about difficulties as a small market and doing nothing to fix them. All the while, they’ve pocketed the league’s revenue sharing and made a killing.
I think the pinnacle of the Jazz is where Real Salt Lake was when Dell Loy came on the scene. Jason Kreis is a once-in-a-lifetime coach. Garth Lagerwey is a once-in-a-lifetime GM. And they were bound to leave eventually. Kreis will eventually manage the US Men’s National Team, and Garth will choose some much bigger arena to succeed. I could see him as a club president, a leader in US Soccer, a league commissioner, an owner, or even back in the legal world.
Even if RSL had held onto Jason and Garth for longer than was reasonable, Dave Checketts was strapped for finances and couldn’t afford to invest the money necessary into the club. Moreover, he didn’t have the business acumen to turn around the club’s finances. The club was hemorrhaging money, and he would have lost control eventually.
What Dell Loy Did
If you listen to the interview with Dell Loy, you’ll find that he understands this, far better than I did at the time. He speaks of building a world class organization, with superior access to resources.
He’s done it.
When Real Salt Lake fans walked into Rio Tinto Stadium for the 2014 home opener against the L.A. Galaxy, they found a stadium vastly different than it was before Dell Loy took over the club.
The LED signboard, and improved cell reception both came last year at Dell Loy’s request, while the improved concreted staircase to the North Lot was new this season. There are numerous other arrangements – sponsored press meals from Corner Bakery – that speak of a solid financial arrangement for the club.
All of that is capped off by the jerseys, which this year include LifeVantage as a new sponsor. The key isn’t the who, it’s how much. The LifeVantage deal is rumored to be the second largest in league history. For the smallest market in the league, that’s a coup.
Add to that a refinanced stadium that saves the club seven figures a year, over 12,000 season ticket holders, and improved sponsorships throughout the stadium.
All of this adds up to RSL having one of the best financial situations in the league. In my interview with him, Dell Loy said the club is in the top five in the league in terms of access to resources. That means Salt Lake will continue to be relevant in the league as it grows.
He has turned around and invested that money in the academy system (rumored to be growing soon) and in other features that will enhance the franchise for years to come.
So on balance, I think the Dell Loy era is one RSL fans will be grateful for years from now.
When you consider the finances, the Checketts-era Real Salt Lake was destined to eventually lose Kreis and Lagerwey. Then the club would have returned to being mediocre, much like the post-Stockton-Malone Jazz.
Dell Loy’s mantra has been that successful organizations are bigger than any one person. That’s led him to invest heavily in the club and build it into an attractive destination for players and coaches alike. He is succeeding, and he is setting up the club for long term success.
That’s why he’s a good owner.