Alumni in the News

Mr. Dell Loy Hansen – B.S., Political Science, 1982

His is an empire built on troubled times. In the late 1980s, there were the apartment complexes and housing units he bought from the federal government, offered cheap in the wake of the Savings and Loan crisis that built Wasatch Property Man¬agement's $1.2-billion portfo¬lio. Later, there were the Wells Fargo and Ken Garff build¬ings, a pair of struggling down¬town Salt Lake City office tow¬ers when he bought them, that now are filled with tenants. But Dell Loy Hansen balked when he first looked at Real Salt Lake's books. 'What I realized quickly was the team was in some desperate financial straits,' he said. In advance of the club's first home game, Hansen, a man whose soccer knowledge once came almost entirely from the book Soccernomics, spoke can¬didly with The Salt Lake Tri¬bune about his ascension to be¬ing RSL's sole owner. Hansen discussed his new found love for the world's most popular sport, his plans for RSL, his initial hesitation to invest in a franchise he described as 'at the brink of collapse,' his gradu¬al takeover from RSL founder Dave Checketts and Checketts' effort to buy back control of the club. In RSL, Hansen saw a team in need of saving, he said. And the Cache Valley-bred mogul believed he had the ability to do something. 'That's my skill set,' he said. 'I fix broken things.' Casual observer to investor » The September 2009 game was only the second profes¬sional soccer match Hansen had ever attended but the ex¬perience swept him up: the fans and atmosphere; the guest list (including former Disney Chief Executive Michael Eis¬ner); the chicken cacciatore in the owner's box. Hansen was at the game between the United States and El Salvador to raise funds for Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan, but when he heard Checketts pitching Eisner on a chance to invest in RSL, Hansen listened Later, though, as he pored over the team's finances, he hesitated. In creating a team from scratch and building a new soccer stadium, Checketts and RSL were 'hopelessly behind on their bills,' Hansen said. 'And they put a mort-gage on [Rio Tinto Stadium] that was a death mortgage. It could never be met. They had defaulted nine times in 14 months.' Only after Checketts man¬aged to reduce the stadium's mortgage did Hansen recon¬sider. Even then, he said, an¬other thought motivated him: 'Utah will never see a major league team here in this cen¬tury if we lose this.' New team, small market » Checketts bought a Major League Soccer franchise in 2005 and said he wanted to build it in the place where he grew up. With partners' help, he launched a club in one of the league's smallest markets. 'We took all of the risk,' he said. 'We did everything in our power to build a great stadium and... a great franchise that the people of Utah could be proud of for many years. I will never get that money back, but I'm not sorry about any¬thing I did.' RSL's founder disputes Han-sen's view that the team was ever in jeopardy. Checketts was able to get the $110 million stadium built in Sandy despite his major in¬vestment partner, Lehman Brothers, declaring bankrupt¬cy just months before comple¬tion. He never defaulted on the stadium's mortgage either, he said. 'We did all of that in the middle of the most difficult economic period of our lives at least,' he said. Still, Checketts said, he had reached a financial limit. Between RSL's inception and his first meeting with Hansen, Checketts and his partners had spent $72 million on Real Salt Lake. But he was committed to excellence. 'We won the Cup in 2009,' he said. 'We had the best club in the entire league. We had a huge number of sellouts. Even as the team struggled to meet its obligations and once I got to the $72 million I real¬ly didn't have any more to put in we never let any of these struggles impact the team. We had the best players, the best coaches and the finest stadi¬um. You can fault me for a lot of things, but we didn't let it impact a great franchise.' A businessman at work » Hansen knew little of the sport when he first bought in, but his passion and business savvy were undeniable. Immediately, he dove into sponsor¬ships and ticket sales, he said. 'I went out, being a Utah businessman, and networked,' he said. 'If I've done business with you, I'm inviting you to be a part of it.' When Hansen first came on, RSL was bringing in $2.8 million in sponsorships a year. This season, the club will bring in $8.5 million, he said. That number will cross the $10 million mark next year with a new jersey-front sponsorship deal. But for Hansen, who once said he learned the impor¬tance of investment from a great-grandfather who grew up in a dugout basement home and put 50 cents of every dol¬lar into ajar. RSL is unlike any other investment he's made. 'One thing that's black and white: I will never make mon¬ey running this,' he said. The club's profits, he said, will go back to the team in hopes of making RSL perenni¬ally one of Major League Soc¬cer's top four clubs. 'We're under a salary cap, but that doesn't mean you can't buy really good talent,' he said. RSL isn't a passion project at all costs, though. Hansen acknowledges he has frustrated RSL staff and President Bill Manning as he reworks the club's financ¬es, cutting in some places and breaking off media and other components into separate en¬tities. Spending has to make business sense, Hansen said. Players on board » RSL play¬ers love Checketts. 'You have to acknowledge first and foremost how much Dave Checketts did for this club,' center back Nat Borchers said. 'He built it from the ground up. This club was his idea. He put in a lot of time, effort and money into creating this whole idea of Real Salt Lake. We're all indebted for life to Dave Checketts for do¬ing that.' Checketts knew his players' names, and the names of their wives or girlfriends. He com¬manded a room. Borchers re¬called his pregame speech be¬fore a playoff game against Seattle last year. 'He refer¬enced Winston Churchill and never giving up.' Borchers said. 'When Dave gets in front of a group of people and speaks, you're moved.' But players see a promising future nevertheless with Hansen. Midfielder and cap¬tain Kyle Beckerman said he hopes his new boss 'can take the team to the next level and continue to build on what Dave started.' 'We're really looking for¬ward to having him as an own¬er,' Borchers added. 'He's going to be a little more hands-on than Dave was because he lives here locally. There's a lot at stake for Dell Loy Hansen in this project.' Ownership evolves » Checketts' partnership with Lehm¬an also opened up the door for Hansen to acquire greater con¬trol. When he first invested in Checkett's SCP Worldwide sports properties in the fall of 2009, Hansen owned 49 percent of the club. By fall 2012, Hansen had ac¬quired 62 percent of RSL. 'Literally for the last three years, whenever... we'd do the capital call and he'd try but couldn't get them to fund it,' Hansen said. The percentages, however, did not bother Checketts. He had anticipated he might have trouble meeting those obligations. The partnership agreement with Hansen was set up so that Hansen could acquire more equity if Check¬etts could not meet the capital calls, but Checketts would re¬main the managing partner. 'I would call the shots,' he said. 'The coaches, players, front office would continue to report to me. As long as that was the case, I frankly didn't care if I owned 10 or 90 per¬cent. I wanted to build a great franchise.' The agreement also includ¬ed a mechanism that would al¬low either party to buy out the other after three years. In late 2012, Hansen said he wanted full control or none at all. Hansen said Checketts brought a proposal to the league to buy Hansen out that ultimately was rejected. Checketts, however, disputes Hansen's version of events. In December, MLS com-mission Don Garber presided over a sealed auction, Check¬etts said. Checketts won the bid and on Dec. 11 deposited the $33 million needed to buy his partner out, Checketts said. At that point, he had until Jan. 15 to close on the deal. 'I had a lot of sleepless nights in early 2013 thinking about what I wanted,' he said. 'Do I want to continue? Can I con¬tinue? 'I woke up and told my wife we were going to sell.' Checketts said he is satis¬fied that he left a franchise that was on solid ground and capable of continued on-field success. Hansen agrees, and he thinks he can help take RSL to another level. 'If there's one takeaway from this,' he said, 'what I do think I will bring to this team is the resources to be more competitive.'