A new phase of the sale of Utah Soccer Holdings is imminent.
Major League Soccer on Friday will take over the sales process of the holding company that includes Real Salt Lake, the Real Monarchs, Rio Tinto Stadium, and the training complex in Herriman. The holding company used to house Utah Royals FC, but ownership of that club transferred to Kansas City last month and the team moved out of Utah.
The league gave owner Dell Loy Hansen until Jan. 8 to find a buyer for RSL. Hansen announced late last August that he decided to sell all the teams and their facilities after allegations of racist behavior surfaced and he took a leave of absence.
But since he announced his intentions to sell, Hansen has had trouble finding a buyer. Over the course of the last several months, various potential owners — individuals and groups — have met with Hansen to discuss purchasing the holding company. At least two of those potential owners took tours of the soccer facilities, including now-Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith.
Aside from Smith, other local interest has emerged for Utah Soccer. Salt Lake City restaurateur Simon Shaner and the owners of Powdr Corp. were two of them, a source with knowledge of the situation told The Salt Lake Tribune last month. Those parties, however, fell by the wayside.
Smith is still interested in buying RSL, the source said. That is buttressed by recent comments he’s made publicly. The most recent comments came on a podcast with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, where Smith discussed going to previous Jazz owner Gail Miller about buying RSL in a joint venture.
“A soccer team came available and I talked to the Millers [and asked] ‘Would you wanna be in it with me?’ and the reality is they were like, ‘Well, no,’” Smith said on the podcast. “And I said, ‘Well how bout if I buy the soccer team and we put it together with the Jazz?’”
While Smith later purchased controlling interest in the Jazz for a reported $1.66 billion, it appears he was serious about finding some way to buy RSL. He also told The Tribune that it would be “great” to circle back and buy RSL so long as the purchase process was as smooth as it was with the Jazz.
Smith’s dealings with Hansen did not go well, and it’s been reported that Smith might just be waiting until MLS takes over the sales process to reengage in discussions to buy RSL. But there may be an international ownership group already involved in soccer competing with Smith for Utah Soccer Holdings.
It’s reasonable to think that once MLS takes over, selling Utah Soccer Holdings will move more quickly. The MLS preseason is tentatively scheduled to start later this month, and the league is still planning to start the regular season sometime in March. The coronavirus pandemic will dictate those dates, though.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber recently said that the league has “absolutely no plan” to move RSL out of the Salt Lake City market.
The sale saga started when Hansen decried RSL and LAFC deciding not to play a scheduled game in solidarity with other sports leagues that protested the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. Fans and athletes across various sports called for him to sell the team.