LOS ANGELES — The newest MLS club in Los Angeles, for now known as LAFC, is still more than two years away from playing its first MLS match, but the ownership group could already get a full pick-up game going.
Twenty-two names make up the decorated list of owners for LAFC, which was officially launched at a press event in Hollywood on Thursday afternoon, and the vast majority of them were in attendance.
Front and center was Henry Nguyen, the club’s managing partner, who was joined on stage by Executive Chairman Peter Guber and President Tom Penn. The trio was introduced by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who “scarved” the three, draping brand new LAFC scarves around their necks.
The LAFC ownership group also includes, among others, NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, two-time US World Cup champion Mia Hamm Garciaparra, six-time all-star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, and business strategist and best-selling author Tony Robbins, as well as a host of executives from the financial, sports, and entertainment industries.
“I get to be the mouthpiece of an incredibly diverse, talented, and smart group of owners,” said Nguyen, the managing general partner of IDG Ventures Vietnam, a private equity firm. “I can tell you, the type of track record and brainpower, experience and intellectual capital they have is astounding. That gives me great confidence that we’re going to be able to build a really terrific club.”
Nguyen, a Harvard graduate who also obtained a medical and a business degree from Northwestern, said he intends to relocate to Los Angeles in an effort to make the development of the club his top priority. Soccer, he said, has been part of his life since his youth days in the Washington, DC, area.
“Soccer is what ignited my passion in sports,” he said. “My first live sporting event was an old NASL game: The Diplomats versus the Rowdies at RFK (Stadium). And that turned me into a huge soccer fan. I’d wake up Sunday mornings watching Soccer Made in Germany on PBS, learning about the Bundesliga, hearing Franz Beckenbauer’s name over and over.
"For me, sports has been a huge part of my life, as a fan, as an athlete, and even as a business. In recent years, living and working in Vietnam, we’ve had a sports organization, starting with an academy and a professional basketball team. But all of that just whet my appetite for this."
Guber, the chairman and CEO of the Mandalay Entertainment Group, has produced some of Hollywood’s great films, including Rain Man, Batman, and The Color Purple. In sports, he is the co-owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers, and he sees the LAFC ownership group’s potential for connecting with the local community.
“We’ve assembled a team that is second to none,” Guber said. “It’s an impressive team. [Now] we have to get people to believe we’re going to be there a couple years from now, to believe we’re going to be competitive, to believe we’ll be fan engaged and be in the community. We can do that.”
The ownership group also includes many co-owners with ties to the global soccer industry. Ruben Emir Gnanalingam is a co-owner of English Premier League club Queens Park Rangers. Vincent Tan is the majority owner of English Championship side Cardiff City and FK Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Larry Berg and Bennett Rosenthal are co-owners of Italian Serie A club AS Roma.
“When you wire together Henry and his partners over in Asia, Peter and his links here, and Tom’s experience,” Commissioner Garber said, “this is a group that will help us achieve our strategy and help us have a very, very strong rival for the LA Galaxy.”
Penn, a former assistant general manager of the Portland Trailblazers and NBA analyst for ESPN, will be responsible for the nuts and bolts of building the club, or, as Guber put it, “wrangling all these cats and get their words, feet and time working together.”
“I am so thrilled,” Penn said. "To be part of this sport, in this city, at this time, is awesome. With a blank slate and with this group of partners, it’s just a privilege and an honor to be a part of it.”
Penn, who lives in Portland, Oregon, and will also be relocating to Los Angeles fulltime, related the story of his “emotional transformation” from a basketball executive to a soccer fan.
"I went to a Timbers game with my family,” he said. "When you hear the Timbers Army, 5,000 strong, singing in unison the whole game, and you see your kids look at you with those eyes like ‘This is unbelievable,’ that’s when I go, ‘Wow! What is this sport becoming in America?’ We have the chance to do that here, at this time, in this city."
Nguyen said: “In the last several months, just being able to extensively work together and collectively bring together such a terrific ownership group has been such a fulfilling part of this experience up to this point. But this is only the beginning of the beginning of the beginning.”