Sandy • In a spacious room on the second floor of a stadium some told him should never be built, Dave Checketts, the multimillionaire entrepreneur who brought Major League Soccer to Utah nearly a decade ago, announced Thursday he had sold his interest in Real Salt Lake to the team's minority owner Dell Loy Hansen.
"We created something from nothing," Checketts said, flanked by his wife, local politicians, MLS commissioner Don Garber, and the club's new top man. "There was no RSL. There was no shield. We created something from nothing. And we created something [I have to now] turn over to a very capable local owner."
Hansen, a real estate mogul whose Wasatch Property Management Inc. boasts a residential and commercial portfolio worth more than $1.2 billion, purchased 49 percent of the club in November 2009, just days before RSL won the MLS Cup. With the sale, the Cache Valley native is now the sole owner of SCP Worldwide's sports properties in Utah, which includes RSL, Rio Tinto Stadium and ESPN 700.
With Checketts' departure, RSL loses nearly three decades of sports management experience. But, Hansen said, with new ownership comes deeper pockets.
"We now know we've got more opportunities in the acquisition world," Hansen said. "... It's always been difficult to look at the cost of competing with an L.A. or New York or Chicago. I think we open that door."
Hansen said RSL has restructured and consolidated its loans on the $110 million Rio Tinto Stadium, creating a savings of $1.8 million annually. That's money that could be used to improve the on-field product, the new owner said.
The club is still a year away from operating in the black, but Hansen said he believes RSL and Major League Soccer are trending in the right direction. He views the purchase as a "family asset," something he might pass on to someone else in five years.
"I've got 10 kids," he said. "I've got a ton of sports buffs, 19 grandkids. All of those grandkids play soccer. It seems like there's someone there who will have the energy to do what I will get tired of doing."
For now, Hansen said, he sees himself as a hands-on owner, but not an executive who will meddle with day-to-day management of the team. He said he has no plans to alter the triumvirate of RSL president Bill Manning, general manager Garth Lagerwey and coach Jason Kreis.
Hansen's Logan-based Wasatch Property Management Inc. owns the Ken Garff and Wells Fargo buildings in downtown Salt Lake City.
Checketts' three-decade career has centered on sports. In 1983, at the age of 28, Checketts became president and general manager of the Utah Jazz. He went on to found SCP Worldwide, a company with assets that included the St. Louis Blues and the NHL team's hockey arena. At different times, Checketts has made bids to buy other teams, namely the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Rams. Those bids were ultimately unsuccessful, and Checketts eventually sold the Blues.
"With both the Blues in St. Louis and Real Salt Lake here, it just got to be too much," he said. "I told [my wife] at the end of last year I was going to un-complicate life."
Checketts, the chairman and CEO of Legends Hospitality Management, a concessions, merchandising and ticketing company founded by the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and Goldman Sachs, said he had discussed the possibility of selling RSL for months.
Still, for Checketts and his family, the decision to sell was a difficult one.
"It's hard because none of this existed," he said. "It was hard for us to reach the decision to let it go. But at the same time, I felt like I had accomplished what I wanted to. The stadium is going to be sold out every night. We have a spectacular group of players and coaches and the community really loves the team. So mission accomplished. Time to move on."