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Major League Soccer

D.C. United becomes first minority-owned franchise in league.

Victor MacFralane
Victor MacFarlane led a froup that became the third owner-operator of D.C. United.
-- D.C. United web site photo --
By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Monday, January 8, 2007) -- Finally, Anschutz Entertainment Group was able to sell D.C. United.

A group called D.C. United Holdings, LLC, purchased the operating rights to United from the AEG for a reported $33 million in cash, making it the largest sum paid for the rights to a MLS club. In addition, United Holdings made a sizable investment in Soccer United Marketing, the MLS related marketing arm which promotes soccer events, mostly international, beyond the league, an MLS source said.

Victor MacFarlane, 55, is the managing partner and majority investor in United Holdings. Based in San Francisco, MacFarlane is the founder and managing principal of MacFarlane Partners, the nation's largest African-American owned real estate management company and developer.

"Major League Soccer is one of the fastest growing sports in America, and I wanted to be a part of it," MacFarlane told a news conference announcing the sale this morning . "Through all of D.C. United's initiatives, we intend to keep and enhance the winning spirit of the team and the organization, the fans, current and future players, and the communities in the District and surrounding it. We want this win for us to be a win for the District. This is our goal and our commitment."

Also involved in the new company is San Francisco Giants minority owner William H.C. (Will) Chang, chairman of the global investment firm Westlake International Group, and former Duke and National Basketball Association players Brian Davis and Christian Laettner. Davis and Laettner are co-managing members of Blue Devil Partners, a real estate development firm in Durham, N.C.

Expected to join the venture later is John S. Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications, and the founder of the Women's United Soccer Association, which folded in 2003 after three seasons. Participation will also be offered to Allen Warren, president and chief executive officer of New Faze Development, a Sacramento, Calif.-based real estate development firm; and Carlos Watson, host of Black Entertainment Television's talk show "Meet the Faith."

McFarlane, will serve as the new ownership group's controlling member in league matters. "I am proud not only to assume ownership of the premier professional soccer team in the United States, but to do so as an African-American," he said. "Our group is dedicated to supporting the organization so that the team continues to build on its history of excellence."

MacFarlane Partners was founded in 1987 and specializes in urban development projects. It is closely held, but is said to manage more than $11.7 billion in assets. including $2.0 billion in investor equity and $8 billion in properties. MacFarlane told the news conference announcing the sale that his investment firm will likely be involved in between $5 billion and $10 billion in projects in the D.C. area over the coming decade.

AEG, founded by Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz, remains as the owner-operator of the Chicago Fire, Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo, which was the San Jose Earthquakes until 2006. Once the owner-operator of six MLS franchises, AEG sold the MetroStars to Red Bull Company Limited in March.

"Today's announcement is a historic one for Major League Soccer," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "Most importantly, the addition of Victor MacFarlane, Will Chang and their partners is an ownership group that represents the 'new America' that Major League Soccer is so proud to represent -- a league that is about diversity, a league that is about local reach and local involvement.

"Victor MacFarlane and Brian Davis will become the first African-American owners in Major League Soccer and Will Chang, the first Chinese-American owner. You add (D.C. United president and chief executive officer) Kevin Payne, whose heart and soul has been in this club since its inception and you will have an ownership group that will be among the best in Major League Soccer."

AEG didn't want operating rights to D.C, United in the first place, but took over the team from its original European ownership group, Washington Soccer, LP, on February 15, 2001, when that group disintegrated. AEG has had United on the blocks for two years and had a $26-million sale to a group headed by local real estate investors Willi Lauterbach and Tim Kissler in the summer of 2005 collapse a few months later over questions about the group's financial resources and the sources of its international funding.

Payne, who started with the team as general manager in its inaugural 1996 season, will continue to run the day-to-day business of the team with his current front-office staff. Payne was instrumental in putting together the new ownership group.

The key thing that attracted MacFarlane to the deal is the possibility of building a major mixed-use development, along with a new soccer-specific stadium, on a 70-acre parcel in Washington called Poplar Point, an under-developed area across the Anacostia River from the Washington Nationals' new baseball stadium.

The stadium plan has been under development for several years now and Payne continues to say he hopes the new stadium will be ready by the start of the 2009 season. However, the deal is so complex and needs approvals at so many federal and local levels, including legislation in Congress to transfer control of the land from federal to D.C. control, Payne's projections might not be realistic.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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