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Part 2 of my exclusive interview with Real Salt Lake President Bill Manning

So yesterday I posted the first part of my interview with Bill Manning, President of RSL and all around good guy.  So today I am sharing the questions and responses when I shifted the questions to a more local flavor.

So now let's talk about RSL a bit, what is the "State of the Team"?

I think we are a much different franchise than we have ever been; we are a franchise that is no more just looking to survive but a franchise looking to thrive.  It's a big, big change in how I look at the business when I first started and how I look at it now, I think from a business stand point we could cash positive this year, which is huge.  So financially, we are in a much different place.  We have real fans, I mean who would have thought we would have got the crowd we did the other night (speaking of 12K for the Champions league match against the Crew). 

We have built a very good fanbase, with a very good roster of sponsors who have invested with us, on the field we have worked at length to lock up key players, that we have is  what I think is a roster  that fans identify with,  and of guys who can play. I feel very good about our franchise, where we are, I think we are going to be a franchise that competes consistently for MLS Cup for the next 3-4 years, we aren't going to win it every year but I feel we are going to compete. Businesswise,  I think we are going to continue to grow, the biggest challenge is we have grown our season ticket base, but how do we get to over 10K, to make that big step.  I feel very good about where we are as a franchise. 

After the jump, we talk a bit more about events at Rio Tinto and of course Champions League and the impact it has had and might have on Real Salt Lake.

Then we talked a bit about the lowering of season ticket prices (2nd straight year for most fans) and I mentioned how my seats have moved down to the front row but cost the same as they did in the 4th row 2 years ago when we moved to the new stadium.  I brought up the subject of the lower number of non-soccer events last year, to which Bill responded:

We held the largest grossing concert in Utah history with Paul McCarthy, in 2011 we will have the Journey tour coming in July, we will do another post game concert where we do a 4 song post game event, and another 1-2 concert events.  We are going to do a high school football event in September with Alta and Jordan will be facing off with teams from California and New Jersey, RSL will be promoting that event, something we are getting more into like the recent Rugby event.  Clearly this is RSL stadium and that is our first number one priority, but we add revenue by these other events and that is important as well.

We then talked a bit about the Champions League (this was a couple days before Saprissa). 

We are always concerned about no-shows, you have your season ticket base built in (both the quarter and semi-final CCL matches were part of the 2011 RSL season ticket package) and we are about 1,700 ahead of the previous match, it could be a better crowd but so much of it is no-shows, we only had about 8-9 percent, if that jumps to 25% because of the weather.  (Just a side note that not only was the attendance better is was much better up from 12K sold to 18K sold.)

I asked about the exposure of the Champions League, mentioning the international media coverage of the quarterfinals, and even the media attention of the semifinal practice session which had reporters from MLS, Costa Rica, Columbia, and others attending. How does that level of attention impact sponsorships, and TV coverage.

I would say the general market place, not the RSL fan base that knows what this is, the general market place in Salt Lake and Utah are still getting to know it, I wouldn't say it is generally helped us but the papers have gotten into it "Hey this is a pretty good competition", and I think they have explained it to the general public.  I think our fan base and that group around our fan base are like Wow this is a big competition, so I think within the soccer world our brand has grown but within the general market place they are still trying to figure it out.

I think that making the final is a big step, and then I think this town with an Olympic tradition and still with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder for being the "little guy", then I think now we not only are representing Salt Lake and Utah, now we are representing the United States, here in Utah people will rally around it.  Then you will see more of a market place driven, Wow this games sells out and is a big time event.  Soccer wise there are a lot of people around the country talking about us, it's not just  here in Salt Lake. 

Soccer wise our brand has grown because of this competition, but I would also add I think we were "first team to take this overly serious", there have been other teams that have taken it serious but it hasn't worked out, but from day one before we ever played a game we said how important this competition was.  From our ownership to our front office to myself, to Garth, Jason and the players everyone is on the same page, from the first kick in the group stage that we wanted to win this competition.  I think it has helped add to the relevance of the competition that a MLS side didn't play its reserves in any games in CCL play, we went to win games, and that hasn't always been the case with other MLS teams who have played in this competition in the last few years.  We wanted to make a statement from day one how important this competition was.

I then asked about the Ole' Ole' chant during the Columbus match. 

Bill responded with, I thought it was amazing, someone forward me a youtube clip of it where they were recording it while watching it on TV at home and you can hear it, spontaneous.  The one thing I have learned is that when you try to force things on a crowd, fans are not dumb, it is one of the things I have learned in 17 years of sports you can't tell them what to do, you can suggest things but that was spontaneous.  It was emotional and it came when we were ahead 2-1 and you also found that lead was precarious, that if Columbus scores another goal we are out.

So they came together and the entire building was singing and to me that is atmosphere, I was so proud of our stadium, the fans, whoever started it that it didn't just die out it went on for a good long time, for me that brought our building to a whole new level.  Nick Rimando told me, did you hear that, and I was like heck yeah I heard that.

That is where I left the conversation.  It was a great time to sit down again with one of the good guys in Major League Soccer who was there on day one, left and was brought back in by Dave Checketts and has been a huge part of the turn around of Real Salt Lake both on and off the pitch.  A clear choice for me if you want to look at a game changing MLS Executive.

OFF MY SOAPBOX