Expect more foreign investors in MLS, says DC president

WASHINGTON — New D.C. United co-owner Erick Thohir will be waking up at seven in the morning to watch his new club in action.

That's what happens when you live in Indonesia and invest in a professional soccer team in the US.

Thohir, a media and entertainment magnate and co-owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, had the chance to invest in any league in the world but chose Major League Soccer, becoming the first MLS investor from Southeast Asia.

D.C. United president Kevin Payne feels that like Thohir, other foreign investors will come to a similar conclusion.

"I think you’re going to see more investors who are interested in our sport from other parts of the world looking at Major League Soccer as an opportunity and as a model," Payne told a news conference on Tuesday. "The model is broken in some parts of the world, but there's a sensibility about the way we run our business at Major League Soccer that many investors from overseas find very appealing."
 

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In fact, Payne and owner Will Chang fielded interest from groups in Saudi Arabia and Asia before partnering with Thohir and Jason Levien.

"I met with people in the Middle East," Payne revealed to MLSsoccer.com. "I flew to places like Dubai and met with people who have vast, vast amounts of personal wealth ... and they were very intrigued by the way we’re running our league and the sensible and sustainable way that we’ve approached it. So I honestly believe — and I’ve told Don [Garber, MLS commissioner] and Mark [Abbott, MLS president] — that I think that this could be opening a door."

Added Chang: "I’ve talked to a number of foreign investors. I have a small interest in a soccer team in Tokyo [Machida]. I’ve talked to my partners in Tokyo. And I've talked to friends in China … In Erick, I found a partner who shared the vision of turning D.C. United into a global brand and that was a very, very important consideration."

MLS has already seen investors from Mexico (Antonio Cue and Jorge Vergara at Chivas USA), Canada (Joey Saputo at Montreal, MLSE in Toronto and Jeff Mallett in Vancouver), Austria (Red Bull's Dietrich Mateschitz) and Japan (D.C. United's Japanese-born Chang). 

Various international super clubs have also been linked with potential ownership of MLS teams and Saudi Arabian sports marketing group Sela Sport recently took over the New York Cosmos organization, which had previously indicated its intention to be part of MLS one day.

On Tuesday, D.C. United's Thohir did not hesitate when identifying what he felt was the key factor that convinced him to take the dive into MLS.

"The most important is how the major league structure how they manage the league," he said. "For me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to spend the money. I want to spend the money. But I’m a sportsman.

"One thing I like about Major League Soccer, is it’s fair," he continued. "Everybody has equal opportunity. That’s what we call sportsmanship. To win the championship only spending money is not right in my way."