Oh, 2020. Looking back at the beginning of the year, no one could have seen that Utah Royals FC would cease operations. On paper, it still doesn’t make any sense. The club had the infrastructure, fan support (averaging 10,000 fans per game - pre-COVID-19, of course), and regular local media coverage. But behind the scenes, the organization was toxic to the core.
In August, reports on the history of racial abuse and sexist remarks from owner Dell Loy Hansen came to light. Facing pressure from MLS, Hansen agreed to sell Utah Soccer Holdings, LLC, the parent company that owns Real Salt Lake, Real Monarchs and Utah Royals FC. On the Royals side, in September, Craig Harrington, the new head coach hired in February, was placed on administrative leave of absence, apparently directly tied to the overall investigation into the culture in Utah. Two months later, Harrington was officially out as the Royals head coach.
By the end of 2020, Major League Soccer is ready to take over the RSL organization on January 8th, 2021, if Hansen does not sell by then. Utah Royals FC transferred ownership to a new group for the NWSL to return to Kansas City. The new KC team inherited all player rights, draft picks, and certain other assets formerly held by Utah.
As I write this, my final Royal Watch piece, my heart still breaks for Utah losing its NWSL club. It’s never easy to lose an NWSL team. This is the third time it happens in the league, and Utah now joins the list along with Boston Breakers and FC Kansas City. But everything we learned about Hansen and how he ran the organization needed to be public. It’s been hearsay for years that Hansen was shady, but the reports finally shed light on what was happening behind the scenes. The fight against racism and sexism continues, and no billionaire should ever be exempt from the consequences of their actions.
We say farewell to 2020, a year so uncommon, so full of loss, uncertainty, and division. I'm hoping 2021 is a better year, and it may be so, even though the road ahead is still long. We say farewell to Utah Royals FC, a club so loved and embraced in the community. Utah may be without a team only for a couple of years, though. With the transfer of ownership, there was one agreement: the new RSL ownership could re-establish the Utah Royals FC name and franchise at Rio Tinto Stadium two years from now, in 2023. So, there’s that hope, dear Utah reader.
And as for me, I say farewell to RSL Soapbox, at least covering the NWSL side of things. When FC Kansas City folded in 2017, I was just beginning to get involved with the NWSL from a media side. I was, naturally, devastated that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to cover an NWSL team in market anymore. But when I saw a recruitment form from RSL Soapbox when the NWSL moved to Utah, I filled it out, hoping I could join, even from a distance. Matt Montgomery reached out and welcomed me to the team, and eventually gave me the privilege to manage all Royals coverage.
I can honestly say that I couldn’t think of a better group of people to cover Utah Royals FC the last three years. From the beginning, they welcomed the team and myself to their community. RSL Soapbox always wanted to cover the Royals as well as it covered RSL. They definitely did so.
RSL Soapbox, thank you for all of your time, effort, and energy to cover URFC. I think we did a pretty good job, and I loved being a part of your team. I’m not sure what I can contribute anymore. I think Matt will continue to convince me that RSL is, in fact, better than SKC. He may succeed. He may not. Stay tuned.
And if you, dear reader, made it this far, thank you. I hope you continue to support the league. I know it won’t be the same. It’ll be gut-wrenching to see the players you supported play in another city, especially a rival soccer city. But if you want to continue supporting the Utah players in KC, I’ll be right there with you. I’ve joined The Blue Testament, the SB Nation site that covers the new NWSL KC team, to help in their coverage of the new KC team. The continuity of coverage of this NWSL team in KC is so important to me.
Farewell, all. Have a happy and healthy 2021! Wear a mask.