As it continues to push for expansion, the USL is being helped by a growing contingent of high-profile owners and investors among its clubs.
Within the last year alone, there have been some significant developments for the USL among its ownership ranks. James Keston has overseen some major changes since taking over the franchise now known as Orange County SC last year, and Phoenix Rising FC has built considerable momentum–and is even making a push for an MLS expansion spot–under the group led by Berke Bakay that purchased the team in 2016.
Phoenix also made headlines in April, when it was announced that Didier Drogba was joining the team as a player/owner. As this has unfolded, the USL has made strides in other areas, including the announcement that it will launch a third division league in 2019.
There are cases in which owners of USL clubs are also involved in MLS expansion bids, including Phoenix, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, FC Cincinnati, Sacramento Republic FC, and San Antonio FC. However, the influx of high-profile owners is something that the USL has worked to achieve, according to league president Jake Edwards, and should help the league as attempts to grow in the coming years. More from The Los Angeles Times:
“The ownership we have now, I would stack up against any Division II league in the world,” Edwards said. “And we’ve worked hard to achieve that, to attract those kinds of owners.”
In addition to the well-heeled and well-known Phoenix group, USL owners who joined the league since 2015 include Spurs Sports & Entertainment, which owns San Antonio FC as well the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs; Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who is part of Sacramento Republic’s ownership group; and Carl Lindner III, co-CEO of American Financial Group and majority owner of FC Cincinnati.
Cumulatively USL owners — excluding MLS-managed teams such as Galaxy II — are worth a collective $4 billion.
And while some of them signed on with an eye toward joining MLS someday, others such as businessman James Keston, who bought the Orange County Blues in September, consider USL a major league in its own right.
Going forward, it will be interesting to see what ownership developments take place, especially as the league plans to add more clubs via expansion. The majority stake in one of the USL’s new clubs for 2018, Nashville SC, was recently purchased by John Ingram, who is leading the city’s expansion bid.
Image of Didier Drogba courtesy Montreal Impact.