WASHINGTON – New D.C. United co-owner Erick Thohir wants to take his new club global.
The Indonesian media and entertainment magnate has a vision to transform the four-time MLS Cup champs into a world brand. He detailed an outline of his plan to media at a hotel here on Tuesday, following his introduction – along with close friend Jason Levien – as the newest additions to United's ownership group.
"It’s very important to build a strong team in the first two years," Thohir said. "After you have this strong team, then you advertise the team to other countries through new media, tours, building a soccer academy, coaching clinics, then everything else.
"If you also do well on that side, then many fans will fly to D.C. and become suporters also. That’s what you see with Manchester United. Many Japanese supporters come and many Chinese supporters come [to watch Man. United]."
The 42-year-old, who studied marketing and advertising in the United States, is a self-proclaimed basketball and soccer aficionado. He's a part-owner in the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, but he's also immersed in international soccer.
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"Erick has a very, very deep domain, expertise and knowledge about soccer," said fellow D.C. co-owner Will Chang. "His knowledge about players globally is infinitely better than mine. He can rattle off players, how much they make, who they’re playing, how long they’ve been playing, how old they are. To the extent that Erick is so interested in soccer, Erick and I will have a greater say [in player acquisitions] and there’ll be input."
Offered United head coach Ben Olsen: "We’ve already talked tactics and we’ve already gone down the list of players and he’s got some opinions on certain players. But it’s good. I think he understands things are going pretty well and he likes the vibe of the group. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more talks in the future."
Thohir says he has had the opportunity to invest in MLS clubs in the past, but decided on United for three key reasons: 1) the club's history and brand; 2) the chemistry with the other owners and 3) the upside of a club still looking for its own stadium.
In fact, according to Thohir, a new soccer stadium would play a massive role in making the club a global attraction – "It's good to have [it] in Washington," he said. "This is the capital city" – and he went as far as talking about building a team museum when they get their new home.
In the meantime, an upgrade to RFK Stadium may be in the offing.
"The stadium is too big and the atmosphere between the fans and the game is not really close," Thohir said of the only home United have ever known. "But I think Jason, myself and Will have new ideas before we move to a new stadium. We’re going do some small renovations maybe. Because anyway, if there’s a new stadium, it takes two years."
Thohir is young, energetic and passionate about the sport. It's clear from his introduction to media and fans on Tuesday that although he'll be based in Indonesia, he's determined to make the club a world powerhouse.
"It shows you how global the game’s gotten," United veteran Josh Wolff told MLSsoccer.com. "It shows you how much growth we have in our league alone and the interest it’s reaching as far as Indonesia. … This [ownership] group is ready to make it happen. And the fans, players, this whole city needs it and is ready to see it happen."