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Taking a closer look at multiple-club ownership groups

Crystal Palace v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

With just a few days ahead of the new season, the David Blitzer era of RSL is about to debut. It’s only been a few weeks since Blitzer’s group took over control of the club, but some new changes among player movement have already been seen, most notably with Sergio Cordova being loaned to RSL from another member of Blitzer’s portfolio, FC Augsburg.

Signing Cordova could be the first of many players being shuffled to RSL through a shared ownership pipeline, as the future of international football could start to link teams across multiple leagues together. The most notable example of this is City Football Group, the ownership group that controls English giants Manchester City F.C. and fellow MLS club New York City FC. Coincidentally, bringing NYCFC into life was what sparked City’s new venture of picking up additional clubs, as City Football Group went on to buy professional clubs in Japan, Australia, Uruguay, Spain, China, India, Belgium, and France, and just last week the group was rumored to be looking to acquire Brazilian Club Bahia.

Another prominent group who also made their first acquisition an MLS side was Red Bull, operating through the Red Bull GmbH ownership group. Red Bull’s structure is a lot more compact compared to City’s, but are arguable more notable because of how they have used their own network to build up UEFA Champions League standouts FC Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and RB Leipzig in Germany.

More recently, another American led group called Pacific Media Group have quickly burst onto the scene by taking over French side OCG Nice before targeting several lower division professional teams, including English Championship club Barnsley FC. Pacific Media Group now controls teams in France, England, Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and actually beat out the Blitzer group for Belgium top flight club K.V. Oostende in May of 2020.

FC Augsburg v Sport-Club Freiburg - Bundesliga
Ricardo Daniel Pepi of Augsburg looks on during the Bundesliga match between FC Augsburg and Sport-Club Freiburg at WWK-Arena
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

So what does all this mean for RSL? Something similar to Red Bull’s structure is ideally what would be coming in the near future. The RB structure relies significantly on its academies and places a high emphasis on youth development as part of their setup. USMNT standout Tyler Adams is a notable example, coming up through NY Red Bull’s youth structure before getting professional minutes with NY Red Bull II and NY Red Bull before being moved to RB Leipzig and becoming a regular starter. Caden Clark, the 18-year-old attacking standout, had a similar trajectory, but has subsequently been loaned back to NY Red Bull for a second season following his move to RB Leipzig last year, where he has yet to get any minutes.

Having an upward structure could help RSL hold onto younger academy standouts that have slipped away in the past. Imagine if a similar development structure had been in place when the Taylor and Zach Booth, Richard Ledesma, Sebastian Soto sagas were underway. Ultimately, those players could have still chosen to start their professional careers outside of RSL, but having direct lines into both the Bundesliga and the Premier League (along with other European leagues) would have definitely provided RSL with more options for keeping them around, even if it still meant those players would eventually move onto bigger stages.

It also remains to be seen where exactly RSL fits in this new hierarchy of clubs. Through Bolt Football Holdings, Blitzer is part-owner or full-owner of the English club Crystal Palace FC, German club FC Augsburg, Dutch club ADO Den Haag, Belgian club Waasland-Beveren, and Spanish side AD Alcorcón.

FC Augsburg already made national waves this year with their purchase of USMNT striker Ricardo Pepi from FC Dallas for a club record $20-million, a move that likely had significant impact in Sergio Cordova being moved to RSL. The German side, however, are also on the verge of being relegated from the Bundesliga, which could impact RSL significantly if Augsburg would then have to manage a significant amount of roster movement following a drop in professional divisions. This would also leave only RSL and Crystal Palace FC as first division clubs in the Blitzer group in their respective countries, as ADO Den Haag, AD Alcorcon, and Wassland-Beveren are currently second division sides.

The idea of RSL paying any kind of transfer fee feels like a pipe dream based on recent years and how the club operated in the past, especially on young players, but seeing some of the fees being used by clubs within in Blitzer organization is promising. The group also has a few MLS ties throughout the teams beyond Ricardo Pepi. Former NYCFC boss Patrick Viera manages Crystal Palace, and former Portland Timbers Academy player turned Georgetown Hoyas captain, Jacob Montes, is signed to the Premier League club while currently out on loan to Belgium. Montes was immediately signed to fellow Blitzer-owned club, Waasland-Beveren upon signing with Palace due to visa issues in England. Former FC Dallas Designated Player, Carlos Gruezo, was bought from the MLS side in 2019 for $4.5 million.

Using the other clubs for high impact loans and Designated Players options could also be something RSL seems in the future. RSL currently only has one Designated Player on the roster, captain Damir Kreilach, who was not a DP last year and can easily fit in as a TAM player once again. It remains to be seen how the new group fills the three DP slots moving into their first year, but how those positions are filled could be an early indicator of what RSL could expect from this new ownership style in the future.

The RSL tradition, and almost the entirety of its history, places emphasis on being an underdog club and organization. They’re known as a team that has to continually overcome long odds and prove it belongs, a group that has to find other ways to succeed compared to their counterparts. Because of this, it’s natural to feel cautious or wary about the team’s sudden involvement under a shared umbrella. Thankfully, early signs (and signings) among the other clubs show reason for hope and optimism and the next chapter of RSL history looks to be much more than a fresh start, but an actual turning point into something even greater.