Portland Thorns owner Merritt Paulson answered the phone to hear Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen on the day of the Utah Royals’ home opener.
“Thank you,” for bringing the opportunity to launch the Royals to him, Hansen said.
Hansen and Paulson, who also both own MLS teams, have known each other since the Portland Timbers joined the league in 2011. Hansen was a minority partner for Real Salt Lake at the time, and assumed full ownership of RSL in 2013, and they’ve formed a bond through their mutual candidness over the years.
“He and I are both the two highest-fined owners in the league,” Hansen said, laughing. “I got my fine in one, he got his over multiple.”
Now they also have their shared investment in the NWSL to strengthen their friendship.
Paulson decided to call Hansen last fall when the league saw new ownership opportunities fall through at the last minute while two of its clubs struggled to keep afloat.
“Even though this is late,” Paulson explained on an NWSL owners call, “if anybody is willing to move fast on something, I bet it’s him.”
Hansen had been asking Paulson about the NWSL since 2014, a year after the Portland Thorns kicked off their inaugural season. Hansen stressed, however, that it had to be the right situation for him to join; at that point, he was working on the launch of RSL affiliate Real Monarchs in the USL, so Hansen estimated the right women’s team situation would come sometime around 2020.
But Paulson called this fall and moved that timetable up significantly. Hansen asked four or five detailed questions, Paulson said, and that set in motion the process that would bring Utah an NWSL team for this season.
Hansen says if he hadn’t already trusted Paulson, he doubts he would have gone through with acquiring the team two years ahead of schedule.
Traveling with their respective teams has provided extra opportunities for them to spend time together. A trip to Portland for Hansen promises the continuation of a running joke about RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando’s success in Providence Park.
“He’s already an elite goalie, and when he plays against us in Portland, historically the guy just stands on his head and you can’t get anything by him,” Paulson said. “And so I’m constantly saying, ‘What do we have to do to get Nick to give us maybe one or two goals in front of our own fans?’”
On those trips, Paulson gives Hansen the owner’s box, and he goes to a small radio room with his general manager. There his reactions (“Not because I’m running around throwing stuff — people think that”) don’t run the risk of ending up on TV.
“That comes from passion and belief,” Hansen said. “… [For] both Merritt and I, it’s not a passive investment. It’s a community investment.”
So Hansen entertained the idea when Paulson called to ask Hansen if he would take on the project of using Kansas City’s roster to launch what would become the Utah Royals with just four months until opening day.
The morning of April 14, before he even got to Rio Tinto Stadium wearing a yellow Royals shirt and mingled with fans, Hansen looked at the ticket sales for the Royals’ home opener and saw it was a sellout. He got emotional, and knew there was one thing he had to do — call Paulson.
PORTLAND THORNS AT UTAH ROYALS <br>When • 7 p.m. Saturday <br>Where • Rio Tinto Stadium