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The Salt: RSL — and Dell Loy Hansen’s — small market mentality

Real Salt Lake’s broadcast changes provide a clear picture to the state of the club’s mentality.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake was once a club aiming for the very top of MLS.

“Small market” has, for a long time, been thrown around in regard to Real Salt Lake. It certainly bears some talking about the validity of that, because — yes. We’re not a huge market. We’re probably a small market — we’re in the top 35, but still — we’re right at 34. Areas with MLS clubs in our range are Kansas City (33) and Cincinnati (36), and Austin (39) is right there, too.

This is no secret. It was a calling card of former RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey, who spoke a lot about it. He had some very interesting comments, which we’ll talk about as we compare the club’s current position in the context of some quotes from the club’s front office.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s article on this topic is going to be referenced here. It’s well worth a read. Go on, I’ll wait.

OK. Let’s chat about some comments from Andy Carroll, Real Salt Lake’s chief financial officer. Not the former Newcastle United attacker. Anyway. Yeah.

Andy Carroll’s quotes

The article — read it! — focuses on the broadcast changes the club implemented. So that’s the context on this quote, which, frankly, is riling me up, and not just a little bit. He’s talking about the club’s impetus behind the late 2018 broadcast shift — not sending Brian Dunseth and David James to matches, for instance. He says that’s saving the club “somewhere in the mid-six figures.” We’ll break it down.

“We are small market,” Carroll said. “We have to run as efficiently and as effectively as we can. And we would rather allocate the resources that we have to players so that we can be more competitive and make the playoffs. It’s really that simple.”

So what does this mean? Carroll isn’t just saying that “small market” is about MLS rules. It’s not about attracting players. “Small market” here is, I suspect, code for something in the range between “financially weak” and “cheap.” The alternative is a bit more of a struggle to manage, and that’s the notion that people are simply not watching broadcasts — and that’s why RSL’s being a “small market” is relevant.

Here’s another graf from reporter Alex Vejar’s piece, which goes some way to explaining the financial impact involved:

He also said the cost savings allow the team to allocate more money to players and also to invest in Dunseth, James, producer Kenneth Neal and sideline reporter Samantha Yarock, who does travel to all RSL road games.


So, let’s break this down.

If the club is saving somewhere in the range of mid-six figures, I’m going to estimate, say, $700,000. That’s probably on the more generous side of things, but let’s try to be charitable in this.

Over 17 away matches, that’s a savings of $41,176.47 per match.

A previous version of this article included an inaccurate calculation owing to a missing zero

OK. Sure. I’ll buy it — he does talk about how that money is used otherwise, and frankly, I’m a little confused about part of that. Read the article and let me know what you think about that. But here’s what I’ve got:

  • Investment in four personnel, including a sideline reporter who travels to every away match. Dunseth, the article says, didn’t get a pay raise, but did sign a new contract in February. There’s some real ambiguity, but you know what? I’m not going to sit here and speculate about a commentator’s pay. Let’s say that takes up, what, 25 percent of the total mid-six-figures saving? I think that’s fair, but I have absolutely no backing on this.
  • More money is allocated to players. If that’s 75 percent of my estimate, that’s somewhere around $525,000. That money could be spent on designated players and discretionary targeted allocation money.

And you know what? That’s not very much money at all to spend on players. It also ties a direct line between different areas of the budget — TV broadcasts and player salaries and acquisitions. That’s troublesome for me, a bit. In a league with a total salary budget for a team of $4.24 million where six teams in 2018 spent more than that on a single player (Toronto FC spends more than that individually on three separate players, too), anything in the six figure range is barely a drop in the bucket.

At any rate, that’s down to Dell Loy Hansen and his budgeting needs and desires. This, to me, isn’t about RSL being a “small market” club. This is about RSL not operating in the same competitive landscape as a majority of clubs in the league. Frankly, you see this in the standings.

This is RSL being a club that can’t maintain what they were doing a year ago in service of fans and supporters, and they’re saying it’s down to the financials. And maybe that’s true, but I’m absolutely certain you aren’t going to attract new fans with diminished broadcasts. And while we might sometimes feel like there’s good market penetration here in Salt Lake City, we need only look at the Utah Jazz the last two years to see how much of a gap there is, and how much work there is still to be done.

Closing thoughts

I’m going to end the on-topic portion of this with two quotes from a 2014 Reddit AMA with former RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey. I won’t provide any of my thoughts after the fact, but these do feel relevant right now. Discuss as you’d like.

Lagerwey: Culture - the team is the star. Our locker room is very important to us and since we are all former players on both the staff and front office we value the input of our players. We go to great lengths to treat everyone with respect on a daily basis.

Continuity helps us punch above our weight. When players are very familiar with their teammates they can combine to play at a level higher than the individual parts. You need the right culture as a small market club and a true identity. We can’t beat big market teams at spending, but we can focus on youth development and keeping systems in place to solve the problem a different way. We have to think, not simply spend.

Off topic

So, my wife and I unexpectedly finished season 3 of Queer Eye tonight, and if you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out. It’s a genuine, compassionate series, and everyone can get something from it.

Other than that? Well, I’m preparing a presentation for an internal tech conference at work about chocolate. At least I’m consistent, I guess.

I’ve also been playing through Final Fantasy IX, which I nearly beat nearly 20 years ago. And now, I’m feeling old. I better get some sleep. Goodnight.