Utah's professional sports landscape changed forever Wednesday, with the historic announcement by Major League Soccer (MLS) Commissioner Don Garber that Salt Lake City is home to the nine-year old League's 12th team, becoming the second major league organization in state history.
Utah Soccer LLC will be owned and operated by long-time sports entrepreneur David W. Checketts and associates, representing Sports Capital Partners. Salt Lake City's MLS team will begin play in 2005, along with the already announced "Chivas USA" organization owned and operated by Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara, who will soon unveil the location of that team. The 2005 MLS regular season, the League's tenth campaign, kicks off next Spring.
"The Salt Lake City bid for a 2005 kickoff emerged from a crowded pack due to the experience and savvy of Dave Checketts and his group," said Commissioner Garber today at the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the team will play its first few seasons. "The Checketts-run team will make an immediate impact in this diverse and emerging soccer community and in the League. We are proud to now call Salt Lake City home to Major League Soccer."
MLS continues to forge ahead on the League's plan to add two additional cities for the 2006 season, bringing the League's size to 14 teams for what will be its eleventh campaign. Conversations continue with several communities, including but not limited to Seattle, Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Portland, Phoenix and Minneapolis.
"MLS expansion to Salt Lake City reminds me of the early days of the American Football League," said MLS Investor-Operator Lamar Hunt. "The AFL pioneered sports development of what are now considered hotbeds, such as Denver, Dallas, Houston and Buffalo, which later led to teams also being included in Kansas City and San Diego. The inclusion of Salt Lake City is a very important step for Major League Soccer. It's a city of great vitality and achievement from a sports standpoint. The Utah Jazz has been one of the NBA attendance leaders year after year, and no one will ever forget the grandeur of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics."
The dramatic news further establishes Salt Lake City in particular and Utah in general as a progressive, growing climate for major league sports and similar events. The state has been home to the Utah Jazz of the NBA since 1979, and has played host to multiple NBA playoffs and an NBA All-Star game during that period. Utah was also the host of the enormously successful 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which brought it positive attention from sponsors, athletes and media around the world.
"I truly believe that Major League Soccer is the sports league of the future, and I want more than anything for Utah to be a part of it," said Checketts at today's event, attended by many of Utah's top government, youth soccer, business and community leaders. "Salt Lake's success on the international stage with the Olympics was part of what went into making this decision. We fought long and hard to bring this team to Utah. We faced serious competition from other cities and people who desperately wanted this team, including Seattle. We showed MLS that Salt Lake City was the place for the League's next team."
"This team will become much more than just another team to root for," Checketts continued. "Soccer, the great unifier, ensures that our team will become a rallying point for every different segment of the community and bridge divides between our ever-diversified communities."
Utah's unique demographics make it particularly appealing to MLS. Boasting a significant soccer fan base already, Utah has the highest per-capita participation in organized soccer (estimated at more than 200,000 players), a rapidly growing Hispanic and Latino population, as well as a significant Eastern European population. Beyond just the sports entertainment value, Salt Lake's MLS team will bring significant socio-economic benefits to the state. Figures on the team's estimated economic benefit to the state are currently being studied and will be released soon.
"This is a great day for MLS as we are adding a world class person in Dave Checketts to the ownership of the League and a world-class sports city in Salt Lake City," said New England Revolution Investor-Operator Jonathan Kraft.
"Dave and his group have done an incredible thing for Utah," said Rocky Anderson, Mayor of Salt Lake City. "This team will bring immeasurable benefits to our city and state for years to come."
Checketts returns to Salt Lake after spending much of his early career at the helm of the NBA's Utah Jazz and the better part of the past decade overseeing the NBA New York Knicks and varied other New York sports and media interests. David W. Checketts founded Sports Capital Partners (SCP) in September 2001. He is the Chairman of this growing consulting and investment firm for sports teams and media assets which in 2002 acquired SportsWest Communications. Checketts serves concurrently as Chairman for SportsWest Communications, a syndicated broadcaster of college sports for the Mountain West and the Western Athletic Conferences (NCAA). The 48-year-old Checketts created his sports media companies after a successful ten-year career at Madison Square Garden (MSG).
"The addition of a new team in Salt Lake City, owned by an experienced professional sports executive, is very positive for MLS," said Colorado Rapids Governor Charlie Wright, representing the Kroenke Sports and Entertainment group. "The Rapids will now have a nearby geographic rival and will undoubtedly develop a rivalry similar to the one enjoyed by the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz. This is also a positive sign that new investors are committed to devote resources to make soccer a continued success among major league sports in the United States."
Dean Howes, a partner in Sports Capital Partners, will serve as the Chief Executive of Utah Soccer LLC. Howes began his career with Bristol-Myers Squibb, spending 19 years in key executive positions in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In 1997, he became CEO, President, and Founding Executive of Professional Teams Physicians, a company that aggregated physicians representing professional teams in the NBA, MLB, NFL, MLS and NHL. The last two years, Dean has focused his efforts with Checketts looking at sports teams and media investments.
Salt Lake's team name, logo and colors will be unveiled in August. A general manager, coaching staff and additional key staff will be added in early fall in preparation for the MLS Expansion Draft in November, following MLS Cup 2004, and the annual MLS SuperDraft in January, 2005. Fans desiring more information on the new Salt Lake City Major League Soccer team or season ticket availability should visit www.iloveutahsoccer.com or the league's Official Website, www.MLSnet.com.