Kansas City group interested in purchasing Utah Royals

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC forward Christen Press (23) is celebrated after scoring the first goal of the night as Utah Royals FC hosts the North Carolina Courage at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on Saturday, July 27, 2019.

With a little more than two months remaining until the start of the 2021 National Women’s Soccer League season, a potential buyer has emerged for Utah Royals FC.

An ownership group led by Chris and Angie Long are looking to move the Royals to Kansas City, The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed. The story was first reported by The Athletic.

The development is the latest in a still ongoing search for a buyer or buyers of Utah Soccer Holdings, which consist of the Royals, Real Salt Lake and Real Monarchs. Owner Dell Loy Hansen has been trying to sell the teams since late August after multiple allegations of racist and sexist behavior surfaced.

The Longs run Palmer Square Capital Management, an asset management company based just outside Kansas City, Missouri. Chris Long founded the company in 2009, and Angie is listed as its chief investment officer.

A potential move to Kansas City would be full circle for the Royals. Most of the players from 2018′s inaugural team came from the now-defunct FC Kansas City, which folded shortly after the 2017 season. Hansen decided to bring an NWSL franchise to Utah, and absorbed the club’s contracts and draft picks.

The Royals just finished their third season in the NWSL. For the first two, the team failed to make the playoffs despite having a talented roster and well-respected coach in Laura Harvey. The 2020 season brought with it a new coach and captain, and a sense of hunger to finally break through that ceiling.

But URFC struggled mightily in a season mired by the coronavirus pandemic. Star defender Kelley O’Hara played only two games, Christen Press left for Manchester United before getting chosen by Louisville in the expansion draft, and coach Craig Harrington was fired. The team might also be without midfielder Vero Boquete next season after her move to AC Milan.

Should the Royals be bought by a group or person outside of Utah, that would be a blow to a fan base that has supported women’s soccer in the state. The Royals were among the NWSL’s attendance leaders in the two seasons before the pandemic. They averaged 10,774 fans per home game in 2019, which was second in the league, trailing only the Portland Thorns (20,098 per game).

The rumblings of a potential Royals sale also could have implications for the other soccer teams.

Two sources with knowledge of the situation told The Tribune that at least two parties outside of Utah are seriously interested in buying all or part of Utah Soccer Holdings. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private sale process.

But the possibility still exists that a local buyer could emerge. Qualtrics founder Ryan Smith had expressed interest in buying RSL and took a tour of the facilities in September. Two sources told The Tribune that Smith was considered the frontrunner to buy the team.

One source said a meeting between Hansen and Smith did not go well. Smith later ended up purchasing a controlling stake in the Utah Jazz.

To date, at least one other ownership group has toured the soccer facilities in Utah, two sources with knowledge of the situation told The Tribune.

Major League Soccer has given Hansen until Jan. 8 to find a buyer for RSL before the league takes over the process, The Tribune confirmed. The deadline was first reported by The Athletic.

With the facilities already in place for RSL and the Monarchs — namely Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy and the stadium and training facility in Herriman — the Royals seem like the most likely candidate to move elsewhere. The Royals share Rio Tinto with RSL and train just a mile away at America First Field.