New RSL owners David Blitzer and Ryan Smith outlined plans for Real Salt Lake and Rio Tinto Stadium, while also confirming a return of NWSL to Salt Lake City.
In a press conference that also included MLS Commissioner Don Garber, the pair discussed the journey that led the sports entrepreneurs to join forces to purchase the team, stadium and other assets for approximately $400 million. (That pricing is consistent with other MLS team sales where a stadium was included) Both are veteran operators in the sports word, with Blitzer part of ownership groups in the NBA, NHL, English Premier League and the German Bundesliga, as well as sports and entertainment assets such as the Prudential Center. Ryan Smith’s SEG adds Real Salt Lake to a portfolio that also includes the NBA’s Utah Jazz, MiLB’s Salt Lake Bees, and associated team properties. SEG is focused on sports, technology and entertainment investment opportunities impacting Utah.
Though the RSL name was tarnished by scandals surrounding Dell Loy Hansen, his reported racist comments and his support of a toxic work environment, the last 16 months saw consistency on the pitch and the front office. The new RSL owners acknowledges they’re working from a solid base.
And, as hinted at in yesterday’s coverage, bringing back an NWSL team to Rio Tinto is in the works. When previous ownership shed the Utah Royals in a transaction eventually leading to KC Current, rights to bring an expansion team back to Salt Lake City and Rio Tinto Stadium in 2023 or 2024 were included. In the press conference Smith confirmed the return of NWSL, with the timing to be determined. The Royals were seen as one of the most successful NWSL teams, averaging 10,774 fans per game in 2019, second only to Portland Thorns FC. As Blitzer told the Salt Lake Tribune:
“We do have an option to bring the Royals back to Utah and back to this marketplace. And I think the best way to say is that from our perspective, that’s a function of when, not if. We’re at day one, but this has been an important item that Ryan and I have talked about a lot, and we’re very excited to bring in NWSL team back to this marketplace. They did incredibly well here. The fanbase loves it. The market is growing. The athletes are incredible. Women’s soccer is continuing to grow dramatically and this is a perfect place to have this team.”
For Garber, adding the pair is exactly the type of move the league wants to make: adding veteran operators who can bring their expertise to MLS. “Generationally, this is what the future of MLS is going to be about,” he said in a press conference via Zoom call. “You have an owner in David who’s thinking about the sport on a global basis through an American lens. And with Ryan you have one of the more successful tech entrepreneurs in the industry getting involved in pro sports, now making the decision to get involved in Major League Soccer. It’s perfect, and it’s a good ending to what’s been a challenging situation.”
Photo courtesy Real Salt Lake.