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RSL executive says there is ‘really positive momentum’ in ownership search

Real Salt Lake Interim President John Kimball has been working with several potential ownership groups, but cautioned the process takes time.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The search for a new Real Salt Lake owner continues, but team executive John Kimball said Friday that the pace has picked up with multiple groups interested in the club. MLS is requiring that any new buyer keep the team in Utah.

As Real Salt Lake prepares to welcome 10,000 fans for its 2021 home opener Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, the one question on many people’s minds still has to do with when the organization will get a new owner.

But Interim President John Kimball told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that there’s momentum on that front, with several groups “consistently coming in and looking at the team.”

Kimball discussed the ownership search at a recent meeting with the club’s fan council. The meeting was also attended by newly minted RSL Academy goalkeeping coach Nick Rimando.

A fan who apparently attended the meeting posted on the website Reddit that the club has about a half-dozen potential suitors. Kimball was not that specific, commenting: “I don’t know that I’d say ‘half a dozen.’” A person who attended the meeting told The Tribune that Kimball did not provide a specific number.

(Photo courtesy of the Utah Jazz) John Kimball speaks at a previous Tour of Utah event. Kimball is now the interim president of Real Salt Lake, helping the club through an ownership transition. He says the ongoing search for a new team owner has begun to pick up some momentum.

But it’s clear that multiple groups are seriously interested in buying the team, and that Kimball is in regular contact with them.

“I’ve been working hard with those groups and I think there’s some really good positive momentum there,” Kimball said.

Kimball could not speak to whether the groups interested in RSL were all local, all outside the market or a mix. But he did say “there are companies from around the country and really around the globe that are looking at our team.”

RSL has been for sale since late August, and Major League Soccer took over the process in January after Dell Loy Hansen could not find a buyer on his own.

Late last year, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said there were no plans whatsoever to move the team out of Utah. Some fans are anxious that the team could still get moved. But Kimball reiterated that the team is here to stay.

“Those conversations we’re having are not with any groups that have any intentions of doing that [moving the team],” Kimball said. “And quite honestly, my opinion: Why would you? It’s the hottest economy in the country. We’ve got massive growth that’s happening here. And this would be, I think, a proud home for anybody.”

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Garber said recently that he hopes to find a new RSL owner by the end of the year. Kimball did not want to speculate on whether that’s a realistic timeline, and cautioned that a sale of this magnitude has several moving parts.

“I would just say that there’s really positive momentum,” Kimball said. “But I also know that doing a deal at this level is going to take time. That could be three months, that could be a year. And it all just goes down to the details and what those groups are going to want to work through. … Even once that decision is made, there’s a lot of work that still has to go into it.”

Kimball also clarified the notion that potential ownership groups are monitoring how RSL and its fans handle home games in terms of COVID-19 protocols, and whether the games are well-attended. He said those ideas did not originate from the interested groups, but rather from his own thinking.

“I think it’s just merely common sense that the groups would want to see how things come back this season and if we can get back to full capacity,” Kimball said, “and that those factors would bode well for us as opposed to if we slip back into a COVID scenario and have another really difficult revenue year.”

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