Salt Lake City teleconference transcript
In a media teleconference call held Wednesday, July 14, 2004, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and Sports Capital Partners Chairman Dave Checketts discussed MLS expansion to Salt Lake City, which became the league's 12th team and will begin play in the 2005 season.
Don Garber - MLS Commissioner
Dave Checketts - Chairman, Sports Capital Partners
OPENING COMMENTS BY MLS COMMISSIONER DON GARBER:
"Major League Soccer's 12th team will begin play here in Salt Lake City in April of 2005. It's a very exciting day for our sport and another one of those milestones as we continue to build the sport of soccer in America and continue to build our great league.
"It is both an honor and pleasure to have Dave Checketts sitting beside me. When we were looking at expanding by two teams in 2005, Dave Checketts was someone we met about six months ago and he came in to meet with us to find out what opportunities existed in the sport. As many of you know he had agreed to secure an option for 2006. Just 30 days ago we were able to come to an agreement to have that option turn into a purchase for that 12th team to begin play in April.
"Salt Lake City is a city that has proven it can support movements very well as it did in its show of support for the Olympics in 2002. It's a city that shows tremendous support for its basketball team and a city that has a large youth soccer population and a growing Hispanic population. We're excited about Salt Lake City but we're really excited about having one of the great sport entrepreneurs and operators over the last two decades joining the list of visionary MLS owners."
OPENING COMMENTS BY DAVE CHECKETTS:
"We had a very positive announcement today in Salt Lake City which is my hometown. We're sitting in Rice-Eccles Stadium where the announcement was made and where we will begin play in April 2005. We are looking out the window at the skyline of the city and I was born a minute from here. Despite living in New York for the past 14 years, I do have a lot of roots here and I'm proud to announce that we have the 12th team.
"We are bound and determined to build a great organization here that will contribute to MLS. The reasons I made this decision are simple. The group of owners that already exists in Major League Soccer in Phil Anschutz and Lamar Hunt and Bob Kraft and Stan Kroenke - these are people I know from my affiliation with the NBA and the NFL. I've come to know them and have great respect for them. Secondly there is the growth of MLS and the success it is having in various markets across the country. Thirdly, there is the very positive participation in soccer in Salt Lake City, the highest per capita participation in soccer anywhere in the country. There are a lot of families and a lot of kids and they play soccer and love soccer. There is also an international flavor to this city that was evidenced during the Olympics. So there is a lot of interest in the international aspects of soccer. That, plus a lot of business and real estate interests I have, and it came together all at once and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
CHECKETTS ON HOW THE EXPANSION BID STARTED:
"I knew that MLS was growing. I knew there had been some discussion once upon a time with Salt Lake City. It turns out that my office in New York is a block from Don's (Garber's) and I wandered over to see him one day. We met earlier at a sports conference and talked there. I told him of my interest and the more we looked at it and the more discussions we had, the more our people spent time at The Home Depot Center and other facilities around the country, the more we began to catch a vision of what this sport can be in the near and long term."
CHECKETTS ON SINGLE-ENTITY:
"I've been a student of sports leagues for 20 years and I've seen all sorts of set-ups and all kinds of entities. I've created rules for leagues and participated in the start-ups of leagues. And it always comes down to who are the owners and what their vision is and how the league is managed. I was not only comfortable but also enthusiastic about the ownership and management of this league. We'll work through all the issues that are created by having a single-entity which also means to spur competition. That creates interesting dynamics which I've participated in before and will again."
CHECKETTS ON THE FACILITY FOR THE EXPANSION TEAM:
"We have to build a stadium and we will build a stadium because you cannot expect this team to have a permanence about it until we do. We're committed to that and we're going to commit a significant amount of private equity and private capital to building a stadium. The way stadiums operate today, if you can build a stadium where you can also get some control over parking, concessions, naming rights and other revenue streams, there is no reason why this can't be a financial success. And I expect that it will be in Salt Lake City.
"There are no concrete plans at this point. The reality is we have a number of bedroom communities for Salt Lake that have expressed an interest and the city proper is very enthusiastic about this. They're building a soccer complex on the far west side near the airport that has tremendous freeway access north and south. That's one possibility. There are downtown locations. There are areas in other bedroom communities where cities want to participate and build. They want their children to grow up in the shadows of the stadium with their children playing soccer dreaming about someday playing for the big club. I'm not being insincere with you in saying that we don't know where it's going to be. But I do know we're going to build it."
GARBER ON THE FACILITY FOR THE TEAM IN SALT LAKE CITY:
"It's very important to note that this is a league that's young, that continues to evolve and we make decisions that we think are in the best long-term interest of the League. We have added two new owners into this league both who are going to be in great markets and who at one point are going to be playing in soccer specific stadiums. Our agreement with Dave (Checketts) is one where he has full belief and understanding that to succeed long term he is going to need a soccer specific stadium. But if we had to wait for that to be built in Salt Lake City, we wouldn't be expanding here for another three or four years and that does not make any sense either."
CHECKETTS ON THE TIME AVAILABLE TO MARKET THE NEW TEAM AHEAD OF THE 2005 SEASON:
"This is a community where news travels fast for a whole host of reasons. I remember in the early 80s I joined the Utah Jazz on September 1st and the season started in November and we had 1500 season tickets sold for an NBA team. That was real pressure. I think I've got a lot of time here. And we're going to make a big splash in this community for a whole host of reasons. We have a strong investor group. We're going to announce the team name and team logo in the next few weeks which I'm sure everyone will find unique and appropriate. We'll follow that with being in the drafts in November and January. There's going to be something in the news all the time about this franchise to say nothing of the very strong affiliation we have with one of the strongest youth soccer programs in the world here in Utah. It's not going to be easy but do we have enough time? The answer is yes."
CHECKETTS ON ATTENDANCE GOALS:
"I don't have any and I'm sincere about that because I don't want to give you a number which then if I don't hit then everybody says that I'm probably going somewhere else. I've played that game before. The way it's going to work here is we're going to have to give fans some reason to come. The first reason is it is 'Major League.' Remember Salt Lake is used to having Helena (Montana) tonight, Billings (Montana) tomorrow night. This is going to be New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. That will create some energy. The location of the stadium, the selection of players will continue to create excitement. My expectation is that our averages will not hurt the league but will be at the league averages or better in our early years. Once we move into our new stadium I expect it will be tough to get a ticket here."
CHECKETTS ON TURNING YOUTH SOCCER PARTICIPANTS INTO FANS:
"In Utah summer nights are one of the most beautiful places in the world. The nights are dry and cool and the sky is beautiful. We're going to build a stadium that shows off the beauty of this place and I think families will want to come. In my experience, and I lived here for a long time with a family and coached soccer, I was almost always done by midday on Saturday. So those families are going to go home take a nap and rest and come to our game."
GARBER ON TIMING OF CHIVAS USA ANNOUNCEMENT:
"We hope to have an announcement next week. We're off to Guadalajara for the last minute details. There is nothing other than logistics that have prevented that announcement. It will take place shortly ... We are still looking to announce the team location in a week's time. The persons speaking on where the team will play have been Jorge Vergara and Ivar Sisniega and they have not finalized their location yet. So it's a little premature to say that Chicago is out of the mix."
GARBER ON EXPANSION FEES:
"What attracted us to Chivas and to Salt Lake City were Jorge Vergara and Dave Checketts. We've established prices that are fair and reasonable and that create a sense of value for our young professional league but we did not go after the money. What we went after was the quality and capabilities of the ownership and the plan they had in place to be successful in their markets.
"This is not about expansion fees. It's about strategic relationships with good investors and the right market with the right fan base to support a team. The last consideration is price. It's not something we spend a lot of time thinking about or negotiating. The price is long forgotten when you've got a successful team and the price is remembered when you're not successful. We want to focus on the most important elements of these partnerships."
GARBER ON FUTURE EXPANSION PLANS:
"We haven't finalized agreements for 2006 yet so we haven't formalized our plans for 2006. We're going to work hard to close two new teams but we are not committed to two new teams in the League in 2006. It's a goal but not a firm decision that has been made."
GARBER ON ATLANTA'S EXPANSION PROSPECTS:
"We've spent time in Atlanta. We believe in the market. We believe it can support a Major League Soccer team and we'd like to some way find our way down there. But we're not that far along in discussions down there at this point."
CHECKETTS ON RICE-ECCLES STADIUM:
"Rice-Eccles is a field that can support soccer dimensions. Over the long term I don't think anyone is pretending it's the perfect spot. The way I see it, it got me in in 2005. I wanted to be the 12th team and I want a chance in a non-permanent stadium to incubate my team. I want to get competitive and see them play. Then as we move into the new stadium we'll be up and roaring and will have made an impact in the community and that momentum will carry us."
CHECKETTS ON HIS INVOLVEMENT WITH THE GAME OF SOCCER:
"I would not say I know as much as I would want to know and will know. But I am a quick study. I will learn quickly. I have watched international soccer and I have been to games at Manchester United and I was at a game at Arsenal last year. I appreciate European soccer. I've been to Real Madrid. I've seen that operation and it's overwhelming and stunning. As far as MLS goes, I've visited The Home Depot Center and I've seen plans for stadiums in other markets. I've watched MetroStars games on MSG which is the network that I ran for eight years. I've watched MLS games on television. I don't know how much to tell you other than that. It's no secret to anybody that my life has been in basketball. I played basketball in college. I've been a general manager for an NBA team for a combined total of 20 years between Utah and New York. But I've also been involved in other sports and I consider myself someone who knows how to run a team and make it part of a city's conscience and that's what I'm going to do with it."
CHECKETTS ON THE TEAM AS A TELEVISON PROPERTY:
"I do own a company called SportsWest Productions which is a syndicator of college sports and has the most valuable rights in this market to BYU football and basketball which we televise. But we also do a host of other college events. We'll probably do 150 events this year on College Sports Television (CSTV) and we'll have the rights to MLS in this market which we'll exploit both for radio and broadcast."
CHECKETTS ON THE UTAH BLITZZ ALIGNING WITH THE NEW EXPANSION TEAM:
"It has not been discussed. Although we do know the owners of the Blitzz and have a good relationship, we have not discussed any alliance."
GARBER ON WHAT SALT LAKE CITY'S BID HAD OVER ROCHESTER'S:
"It was that we were much further along with our discussions with Dave (Checketts) and believed that his vision for what he wanted to achieve here in Salt Lake was something he could put together in 2005. I've said this many times before - we believe Rochester will be a team in MLS in due time. We'll continue to have discussions with Frank and any groups of people he puts together. We see the success he's been able to achieve there and believe they will have a place at some point soon in our League. Nothing is holding it back. They are just continued discussions."
GARBER ON FANS IN SALT LAKE CITY:
"30 to 40 percent of MLS tickets are purchased by groups of youth soccer teams and we are getting more and more deeply engaged with our youth soccer community. I would start by thanking them for supporting our League and we hope to continue to build on that support. Beyond that we have an ethnic community from Spanish-speaking countries which understand the game and have the game as a big part of their life. In many markets that has been a group we could tap into. That market is growing here in Salt Lake and we hope to tap into that.
"But there is also another aspect of the international ethnic community - those people who have been overseas and who have experienced the game and then come back home and then bring their love of the game back to the United States. If you know anything about Salt Lake you know there are lots and lots of people who spend a couple of years of their lives overseas at a very influential time of their lives. If you leave this country and go any place in the world, you're going to go to a place where soccer is dominant. And in my travels here it's amazing to me how many young adults come up to me and say 'I came back from a mission in Portugal and I'm a huge fan, I tuned into the Euro 2004 tournament and I can't wait for the new team to come to Salt Lake.' That's something people shouldn't underestimate and that we should be able to capitalize on.
"And the final aspect is the general sports crowd. This is a town that likes events, enjoys the family experience and this team will deliver that. We are very encouraged by what the opportunities are and we will continue to work hard in all those different areas."
CHECKETTS ON TIMETABLE FOR NAMING COACH AND GM:
"We'll have the GM first by late August and a coach in September. I'd like to have both in place certainly before the expansion draft."
GARBER ON RESERVE TEAMS AND YOUTH ACADEMIES IN MLS:
T"he answer is yes and that time will be soon It could haeppne as early as next season but like everything else we do we're going to be sure we put our plans together right. We have delayed discussions on our reserve teams until we have finalized our collective bargaining discussions with our union. Those dicusssions are coming to a close and we should be able to finalize something soon. And after those diuscssions we can begin to look at expanded roster and details on how we might compensate na mange a reserve league. But our federation, starting with Bruce Arena, Dan Flynn our Secretary General and Dr. Bob Contiguglia our president are very committed to it, really believe in it and we are very focused on making it happen as quickly as we can. It's about going from top to bottom than bottom to top. We'll look to expand our roster and have an extended group of young people and we'll have a competitive environment for them to play in but those details are still to be determined.
GARBER ON EXPANSION AND POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON THE LEAGUE CALENDAR:
"We're still finalizing those discussions as we speak. I can assure you within the next couple of weeks we'll have those details. It's more about finalizing our conferences than anything else. The league schedule and numbers of games will remain the same."
GARBER ON SEATTLE'S EXPANSION BID:
"Seattle was very close. Seattle and Adrian Hanauer, his family and partners were very committed and we met with Dave (Checketts) at a time when we had not yet finalized our deal with Adrian (Hanauer) and we believed that Dave (Checketts) in this city could get going in 2005 in a fashion that would lead to more success short term and long term than what we were looking at in Seattle.
"It doesn't take away anything from the Hanauer family or our belief in the market. They are certainly at the top of the list. We've had lots of discussions in the last couple of weeks after we finalized our decision with Dave (Checketts) and I'm very excited about the opportunity there. It's a strong soccer market with a great history of success both at the A-League, college level and women's sports level. It's a great sports town. We also like to think of Seattle as the gateway to Asia and we've had a lot of interest from teams in Korea and Japan to get more involved with Major League Soccer. Adrian (Hanauer) has had great discussions with the Seahawks and as you know this League was very instrumental in helping to push the vote for the approval of funding for Seattle Seahawks Stadium. There are many things there (in Seattle) that have us encouraged."