His is an empire built on troubled times.
In the late 1980s, there were the apartment complexes and housing units he bought from the federal government, offered cheap in the wake of the Savings and Loan crisis, that built Wasatch Property Management’s $1.2-billion portfolio. Later, there were the Wells Fargo and Ken Garff buildings, a pair of struggling downtown Salt Lake City office towers when he bought them, that now are filled with tenants.
Hansen’s ownership evolves
Sept. 5, 2009 » Dell Loy Hansen attends a political fundraiser during a World Cup qualifying match at Rio Tinto Stadium. In the owner’s box, he expresses interest in investing in Real Salt Lake.
Nov. 18, 2009 » After initially balking at investing, Hansen is announced as the team’s new co-owner. He holds 49 percent of the club.
Nov. 22, 2009 » Real Salt Lake beats the Los Angeles Galaxy to win the MLS Cup.
Dec. 11, 2012 » Dave Checketts deposits the $33 million needed to buy out Hansen’s share of RSL, but said he later decided to sell.
Jan. 24, 2013 » Hansen and Checketts hold a news conference announcing Hansen as the sole owner of Real Salt Lake.
But Dell Loy Hansen balked when he first looked at Real Salt Lake’s books.
"What I realized quickly was the team was in some desperate financial straits," he said.
In advance of the club’s first home game, Hansen, a man whose soccer knowledge once came almost entirely from the book Soccernomics, spoke candidly with The Salt Lake Tribune about his ascension to being RSL’s sole owner. Hansen discussed his newfound love for the world’s most popular sport, his plans for RSL, his initial hesitation to invest in a franchise he described as "at the brink of collapse," his gradual takeover from RSL founder Dave Checketts — and Checketts’ effort to buy back control of the club.
In RSL, Hansen saw a team in need of saving, he said. And the Cache Valley-bred mogul believed he had the ability to do something.
"That’s my skill set," he said. "I fix broken things."
Casual observer to investor » The September 2009 game was only the second professional soccer match Hansen had ever attended but the experience swept him up: the fans and atmosphere; the guest list (including former Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner); the chicken cacciatore in the owner’s box.
Hansen was at the game between the United States and El Salvador to raise funds for Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, but when he heard Checketts pitching Eisner on a chance to invest in RSL, Hansen listened.
Later, though, as he pored over the team’s finances, he hesitated. In creating a team from scratch and building a new soccer stadium, Checketts and RSL were "hopelessly behind on their bills," Hansen said. "And they put a mortgage on [Rio Tinto Stadium] that was a death mortgage. It could never be met. They had defaulted nine times in 14 months."
Only after Checketts managed to reduce the stadium’s mortgage did Hansen reconsider. Even then, he said, another thought motivated him: "Utah will never see a major league team here in this century if we lose this."
New team, small market » Checketts bought a Major League Soccer franchise in 2005 and said he wanted to build it in the place where he grew up. With partners’ help, he launched a club in one of the league’s smallest markets.
"We took all of the risk," he said. "We did everything in our power to build a great stadium and ... a great franchise that the people of Utah could be proud of for many years. I will never get that money back, but I’m not sorry about anything I did."
RSL’s founder disputes Hansen’s view that the team was ever in jeopardy.
Checketts was able to get the $110 million stadium built in Sandy despite his major investment partner, Lehman Brothers, declaring bankruptcy just months before completion. He never defaulted on the stadium’s mortgage either, he said.
"We did all of that in the middle of the most difficult economic period of our lives at least," he said.
Still, Checketts said, he had reached a financial limit. Between RSL’s inception and his first meeting with Hansen, Checketts and his partners had spent $72 million on Real Salt Lake. But he was committed to excellence.
"We won the Cup in 2009," he said. "We had the best club in the entire league. We had a huge number of sellouts. Even as the team struggled to meet its obligations — and once I got to the $72 million I really didn’t have any more to put in — we never let any of these struggles impact the team. We had the best players, the best coaches and the finest stadium. You can fault me for a lot of things, but we didn’t let it impact a great franchise."
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