Major League Soccer
Anschutz finalizes deal to take over D.C. United, now controls four teams.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, February 15, 2001) -- Phil Anschutz has a one in three chance, at worst, of taking the Major League Soccer title this year. In a long-rumored deal, he took over as operator of D.C. United, giving him control of four of the league's 12 teams.
The deal gives Anschutz Entertainment Group an option to become owner of the team and ends more than two years of ownership limbo for the three-time MLS champion United which can now start negotiating for a new practice facility and stadium.
"We are very excited to assume the role as operator for D.C. United with the option to purchase the team in the future," said Bill Peterson, senior vice president of soccer operations for AEG. "It is a gem within MLS and a club that we are very excited to be involved with. They have a great fan base in D.C. It is a club that has not only national recognition, but international recognition. They have been very competitive throughout the years on the field, and the club has been very well-managed.
Anschutz now also owns operating rights to the Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy and plans to complete purchase of United's rights in about a year. With United, the Fire and the Galaxy, the group now controls MLS’s three premier franchises.
"We are very excited about the opportunity to have an East Coast presence, to have a team that has performed so well and that is structured to continue growing in the future by developing a great soccer market with MLS," Peterson said. "I think there are some other opportunities for us as a business with AEG that hopefully we can develop through our contacts and different business involvement's in the D.C. market."
Kevin Payne, with United since its inception, will remain the team’s president and general manager while Thomas Rongen will stay on for his third season as coach.
Payne said he hopes United can play in a new stadium by 2003. The team is now negotiating an extension at RFK Stadium.
"We're very excited that this day has come. It's obviously been a difficult path the last couple of years," Payne said. "One of the frustrations that we've experienced was that we were not able to make long-term commitments. You'll see a lot of things improve in regard to our organization."
AEG also owns the National Hockey League’s and interests in the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Lakers, the Staples Center in Los Angeles and several hockey teams in Europe.
MLS took over United's operations two months ago when its former owners, Washington Soccer L.P., which was unable to find a buyer. Anschutz continues to be the league’s most bullish investor and seized the opportunity to take over a team that played in the first four MLS Cups before falling on hard times and missing the 2000 playoffs.
"We certainly would have preferred a (new) investor assume the role that AEG has assumed," commissioner Don Garber said. "We have not been able to expand the group the last year and half to buy into that vision. Fortunately those in that group have not wavered."
As far as a conflict of interest in owning four teams in MLS’s single-entity structire, Garber said, "Everyone who has been fan of this league has seen that we have not had one single conflict in the history of this league amongst teams that share an operator. In AEG's case, there is a President and General Manager in place for each team, and they operate as separate entities. They are separate companies that happen to be owned by the same individuals.
"I can assure you that Phil Anschutz, who is one of the busiest people I have ever met, does not spend his time thinking about how one team or the other is performing on or off the field. Instead, he is thinking about the investment in soccer and how that can be enhanced. From the competition standpoint, all of the checks and balances are in place. To the general public, fans are used to one owner for football, baseball and basketball. To those fans, I say to them that we are in a different stage and we need to have those people involved at this level."
Despite its status as the league’s premier franchise, United has suffered much indignity over the past year. The team lost its offices and practice facilities -- the old Redskins Park -- when the property was recently sold to a church as part of the sale of the estate of the late Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke.
After failing to make the playoffs for the first time, the team traded many of its veteran stars prior the the recent draft, mostly because of salary cap concerns.
"Having the support of AEG allows us to make longer term plans," Payne said. "It has been one of the frustrations I've experienced. We were not in the position to make long-term commitments in the event that a prospective new owner might have a different idea. We now have a very clear understanding of where we want to go. I've spent a lot of time talking about these strategic issues with Bill Peterson, Tim Lieweke and Phil Anschutz and I think we all are excited about the opportunities available here, not just with a stadium, but opportunities for a long-term office and training facility that actually can be part of a recreational soccer complex. . . I think that you'll see a lot of things improve with regards to our organization as a result of this arrangement."