Bill Manning faced plenty of questions when he was hired as president of Real Salt Lake on March 17, 2008.
As Manning moves forward with a brand new four-year deal that begins immediately, the questions continue. The tenor, however, has changed.
Even now, while RSL prepares for the 2011 playoffs and an opportunity to regain the MLS Cup it won in 2009, Manning looks to the future.
"We were in such a different position when we got here," Manning said Tuesday morning. "The ship was almost sinking. We've got it turned around in right direction. Now it's just solidifying that. When I first got here it was like an overhaul. Now it's fine tuning."
Terms of Manning's contract, which runs through June 30, 2015, were not disclosed. Prior to his relocation to Utah, Manning, 46, served for four years as vice president of sales and service for the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the time since Manning was hired by RSL founder Dave Checketts, the team went from a $7 million overall operating loss to a positive cash flow in 2011. Revenue has grown 271 percent and an increase in sponsorship dollars from $1.6 million to $6.3 million.
"It's a vote of confidence to go that long with someone," said Checketts of the contract extension. "No doubt, we have really good chemistry with Bill."
Checketts said, following the hires of Jason Kreis as coach and Garth Lagerwey as general manager, Manning "pulled everything together."
Since the move from Rice-Eccles Stadium to $110 million Rio Tinto Stadium, attendance has grown to more than 17,000 a game, including three consecutive sellouts to end the regular season.
"We've built a connection in this town, they care about this team," said Manning, who believed it was possible to crack a market that included the Utah Jazz and college sports at Utah and Brigham Young.
"There's a generational shift right now," he said. "Our crowd is in their mid-20s, late-20s, early-30s. There is a younger demographic that has adopted this team. I love it, I love seeing this passion."
Manning credited the permanency of Rio Tinto Stadium with changing the perception of the business community and fans toward Real Salt Lake.
"It's a different challenge," Manning said. "How do you maintain consistently good crowds? How do you grow sponsorship? How do you continually have good teams on the field?
"For me, the most important thing is on the field. We have figured out how to produce a winning team. How do you do that year after year?"
The challenge for Manning is creating a successful youth development system that will constantly filter talent to RSL, helping it compete against the larger market teams that are able to spend more money for players. Then, fill in talent gaps with wise spending policies that have already produced the likes of Javier Morales, FabiÃ¡n EspÃndola and Ãlvaro SaborÃo, part of the current RSL core.
"If team stinks, it affects ticket sales. It affects sponsorships," Manning said. "We have such a completely different equation now. Without the stadium, the team wouldn't have made it. It allowed us to have the tools to make this successful."