Kansas City, Mo. • Dell Loy Hansen is an interesting man. It has only further resonated with me after posting Part I last night following our sit-down interview Wednesday afternoon in downtown Salt Lake City. The Real Salt Lake owner, in his first full year of owning the team, was engaging, certainly putting his own patented spin on subjects, which was fascinating.
As noted yesterday, Hansen spoke about his relationship with RSL coach Jason Kreis, his approach to Designated Players and essentially calling Nat Borchers a Viking who shoots fire from his eyes.
He also talked about how RSL’s loss to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final on Oct. 1 fueled the run his team has made now a day-and-a-half away from the MLS Cup against Sporting Kansas City.
“Probably losing the Open Cup is what drew the line in the sand for this team,” Hansen said. “They should have won it, they knew it, it was theirs, they gave it away.”
Speaking of Sporting, Hansen had an anecdote to describe RSL’s counterpart in MLS Cup.
“It’s akin to rugby when you play them — they smash into you and hope-your-ribs-are-solid kind of team,” he said.
Hansen eventually addressed what his first full year as RSL’s owner has been like, touching on several topics, including RSL’s new sponsor in 2014 — LifeVantage — adding it’s the second-largest jersey-sponsorship deal in Major League Soccer history.
“More responsibility has gone with it,” he said. “There are obviously things [earlier] that I was not the manager of the team, I was more financial, so I’ve gotten much more profoundly into the operation side. I was very involved as we worked on getting a new jersey sponsor, which was very important for our future; having economic resources will make a huge difference in how successful you are in going against teams like Seattle and L.A. and New York, a small-market team like Salt Lake really depends a lot on the corporate support and the corporate sponsorship.”
Hansen said he gets to focus on the business side of soccer, while Kreis, general manager Garth Lagerwey and president Bill Manning take care of what they do. He said several times how he wants to be an approachable guy, someone the players can come to in time of need.
“I want every player to know they’re cared for in Salt Lake,” he said. “And if you’re sending a message in the league, it’s saying Salt Lake is a great place to play because, one, the owner cares about you, two, you’re going to get great coaching, you’re going to get good resources and it’s going to be a place that the team’s important and the chemistry is good. And that’s the benefit of Salt Lake right now — it’s a desired place to play — even though we’re in a snowier country, we’re not L.A., a lot of players want to come here because of the chemistry of the team, so that’s the magic we hope we can keep together.”
Hansen said he loves sitting by Lagerwey during games, so he can pick his brain, adding that he doesn’t do the second-guessing game with the likes of Lagerwey, Kreis and scout Andy Williams when it comes to talent on the field.
“It’s like Machiavelli — I get to give the gifts and Garth has to do all the hard work,” he said.
I asked Hansen if he felt spoiled a bit having walked into a situation — and a front office — as talented as currently constituted at RSL. He did, however, add that he thinks at some point Lagerwey would like to be both a president of a club and that he has the talent to be both a GM and president if so desired.
“You’ve got that convergence of just a remarkable number of talents who come to the front that make RSL a very difficult team and organization to defeat,” Hansen said. “The beauty of that is, where the team’s the star, it becomes a team of systems and that’s what they brought. Players can come and go and possibly even administrators, but the system is well-established.”
Hansen said being in situations in which you deal with successful talents in the front office comes with the territory of winning and establishing a brand in case key cogs decide to one day change sceneries.
“You’d better be building a system with contingencies that can do that,” Hansen said. “And great teams do that. Great organizations build leader after leader, they’re not stymied with one leader, they build additional leaders. That’s RSL’s challenge, to make sure we’re building ‘bench strength,’ we call it.”
In changing subjects, I asked Hansen what he’d like to improve in Year 2 under Dell Loy, and he immediately countered with improving the fan experience. He said he’s worked hard on improving food delivery services to Rio Tinto Stadium, improving cell phone functionality — he said that will happen this winter so that along with accessing Wi-Fi at the stadium, AT&T and Verizon users, among two other carriers, will have enhanced electronic capacities.
Hansen added that he’s planning on buying three new parking lot areas around Rio Tinto, which should be finished by June of next year, a revamp that would add 1,500 new parking stalls.
“I see myself much more as a caretaker of the club than a dictatorial owner,” he said. “This really is caring for the fans, caring for a team, caring for a community asset. It’s not near the ego accolade some may think it is.”
In closing, we spoke of the grueling season of MLS. RSL has been in full swing since mid-January, which is almost an entire year of play. He said when he’s given the opportunity, he treats the team as much as possible. Hansen had the team over to his house in Southern California when RSL took on L.A. in early November. He even went took some players for a spin in his Tesla around Hermosa Beach.
“It’s different than most people would think — I’m not trying to coach this team,” he said. “I’m trying to love this team, and that’s my goal.”